America's Jiminy Crickett: The Ted Turner Story

STEVEN R. SCHAEFER, AFP, Getty Images
STEVEN R. SCHAEFER, AFP, Getty Images
After my previous post mentioned Ted Turner's promotional antics as owner of the Atlanta Braves, a reader suggested I write more about the man who became known as "The Mouth of the South." In three decades of sports writing, I've never come across anyone quite so outrageous. So you don't have to twist my arm. Moscow, 1986: We are in a downtown conference room to interview Turner along with the Soviet press and a lineup of grim men in dark suits and sunglasses (KGB?) along the back wall of the room. Turner's inaugural Goodwill Games are about to begin. Cynics believe he has launched them purely as programming for his Atlanta superstation, WTBS. Turner claims a deeper purpose. After the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympic games in 1980 and the Soviet's right-back-at-you boycott of the L.A. Olympics in 1984, Turner believed bringing Soviets and Americans together would make for a good TV show, yes, but also that the Goodwill Games -- an event he trumpeted as "a major, major undertaking of colossal proportions" -- would in turn promote peace and understanding. Or as Ted reminded us, "Friends don't bomb friends." During the course of the next hour, it became clear the Soviets in particular wondered if Turner had arrived by plane or spaceship. He welcomed a Soviet comrade by saying, "Sitski here, Sovietski." And to a Polish reporter: "Hey, Poland. I like that Polish vodka. Here's my room number. Bring me some, Poland." I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. While some other American media outlets sent a reporter to chronicle Turner's Goodwill Games brainstorm, the AJC was there in force. Dave Kindred, our gifted columnist and future winner of the Red Smith Award, made an inventory of the people, places and things Turner mentioned in that single hour for a column the next day:
Hitler, Jiminy Crickett, Helmut Kohl, General George Patton, Robert E. Lee, Caspar Weinberger, Jacques Costeau, Carl Sagan, Gorbachev (naturally), JFK, Lester Maddox, Finland, the National League, Seattle, Cuba, Ceylon, the Middle Ages, F-111 Jets, Nigeria, Australia, oxen, nuclear weapons, mountain goats and elephants (that's not even Dave's complete list).
I remembered the main points of Turner's press conference. But Kindred saved it for posterity in a collection of his columns titled Heroes, Fools and Other Dreamers. The title wasn't specific to Turner but he certainly qualified on all counts. Turner ended the press conference with an appeal for nuclear disarmament and self-reflection:
"If there's a nuclear war between our countries, we're killing everybody. That's Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Switzerland, Sweden, Nigeria, India, Ceylon. Ceylon? They call it something else now. Perez de Cueller said it. By what right do the superpowers feel they have the right to decide the lives and fates of all mankind? "Carl Sagan said it in Breaking the Spell. We've been here millions of years, 10 million years, human existence, that we've slowly evolved, that our parents worked to make us better and send us to better schools and get better education and improve airplanes and communications. All the things we've done, our books, our art, our literature. And what have we done with our opportunity? Get ready to blow ourselves up. And not just ourselves. What about the elephants?"
"What about the elephants" became a catchphrase among the American press during the remainder of the Goodwill Games: "How did Carl Lewis do," one would ask another. "Won his heat easily," came the answer. "What about the elephants?" Turner hit Moscow like a cyclone. He walked the streets and sports arenas trailed by his future ex-wife, Jane (not Fonda, that Jane would come later). She was usually 20 paces behind. Every so often, he'd turn around and wave his arm like a third-base coach sending a runner home: "C'mon." At the spectacularly choreographed Opening Ceremonies, every spectator flipped their cards on cue, revealing an amazingly realistic portrait of Lenin. The Soviet press could not wait to hear what Ted thought. They crowded around him on his way out. Asked about the card display, Turner said, "It was great, great. This Lenin guy's a big deal...like Jesus Christ and George Washington all rolled into one." The following summer Ronald Reagan challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Ted Turner never claimed he helped change the world with the Goodwill Games, though he most certainly did as a pioneer of satellite TV and 24-hour news. But he did administer a spanking to the two biggest kids on the block with another of his gems from Moscow, 1986:
"I think (the U.S. and Soviet Union) ought to be taken out behind the woodshed and some Big Daddy take a board and give it to us. You know, bend down, and hold your ankles. That's what I think. Speaking figuratively, I think it's just time we grew up."
Twenty three years later, Turner is America's largest landowner with over two million acres and a herd of 50,000 bison. He's in the Business Hall of Fame, the America's Cup Hall of Fame and is a winner of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award for his philanthropy. I can't watch the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign without thinking of Turner. The character is shown bench pressing Asian women, playing jai alai, freeing a bear from a trap, engaged in a sword fight and other eccentric activities. He signs off by admitting he doesn't always drink beer but when he does he makes it Dos Equis. Then he says, "Stay thirsty my friends." At age 70, Ted Turner's had his fill.

Ted Turner's Memorable Moments (in no particular order)

"¢ Born in Cincinnati Nov. 19, 1938. Attended Brown but was expelled for having a woman in his room. When he announced he was going to be a Classics major, his father wrote him a letter. The elder Turner said he was "horrified" at the news and that he "almost puked" upon hearing it. "¢ When 15 sailors died off the coast of England in the Fastnet Race won by Turner in 1979, Turner told the British Press: "It's no use crying. The King is dead. Long live the King. It had to happen sooner or later. You ought to be thankful there are storms like that or you'd all be speaking Spanish." (A reference to the troubled seas that foiled the Spanish Armada.) "¢ In an attempt to turn his woeful Atlanta Braves fortunes, he sent manager Dave Bristol on a "scouting trip," put on a uniform and managed the team from the dugout. The Braves lost. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened, telling Turner that MLB managers could not by rule have a financial stake in the team. "¢ Told Sports Illustrated in 1986, "I want to be Jiminy Crickett for America. Remember how Jiminy always told Pinocchio to go to school, to do wise things? That's what I want to be for America." "¢ On male-run governments: "Men should be barred from public office for 100 years in every part of the world. The men have had millions of years where we've been running things. We've screwed it up hopelessly. Let's give it to the women." "¢ To SI, on his plan to curb overpopulation: "It would take only a billion dollars a year to furnish birth control devices to all the women in the world who would use them. That would cut the world population growth in half. That's about the cost of one Trident submarine."  "¢ Founded the first cable superstation (WTBS) and the first 24-hour news station (CNN). Kuhn told him to cease and desist after he put the name "Channel" on the back of Atlanta pitcher Andy Messersmith's uniform No. 17. "¢ Miss America 1983 said Ted Turner was the person she'd most like to meet. "¢ Before becoming Braves owner he said, "What do you have to know about baseball? Both teams have 10 guys?" Or, more accurately, nine. "¢ Turner took over Turner Outdoor Advertising at age 24 after his father's suicide. He grew a $1 million a year business into a media empire. "¢ Called Christianity a "religion for losers" and abortion opponents "bozos." Issued an apology and later worked with church groups to fight malaria. "¢ To Charlie Rose in April 2008, on the impact if we don't curb global warming: "Most of the people will have died and the rest of us are cannibals." "¢ Stan Kasten, his righthand man with the Braves and Hawks, on Turner: "He has a hundred ideas a day, and only two of them are good. But how many people have two good ideas a day?" "¢ After launching CNN, Turner said: "We won't be signing off until the world ends. We'll be on and we will cover the end of the world. That will be our last event. And when the end of the world comes we'll play 'Nearer, My God, To Thee' before we sign off."

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.
Triple7Deals

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

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2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.
BetaFresh

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
XtremeTime

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.
Triple7Deals

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.
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You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Double Play: The Curious Life and Career of Ozzie Canseco

Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images
Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images

“Jose, we love you! Jose, you suck!” It’s 1992 in Louisville, Kentucky, and a man who bears a striking resemblance to major league home run king Jose Canseco is smashing baseballs out of Triple-A ballparks for the Louisville Redbirds, the minor league sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A screen erected specifically for home runs at Pilot Field in Buffalo, New York, fails to contain one 550-foot drive. The ball goes over the screen and past the highway.

“Good job, Jose!”

Before and after games, the six-foot-two, 220-pound slugger will be asked about dating Madonna (he didn’t), antagonized into fights (he avoids them, mostly), and begged for autographs. When he signs his name, fans appear confused. They tell him to stop joking around. Doesn’t he know he’s Jose Canseco, perpetual All-Star and prolific masher of baseballs? Who ever heard of Ozzie Canseco, Jose’s identical twin, born two minutes earlier to Jose Canseco Sr. and his wife, Barbara? And if they are identical, why is it that Jose was earning millions as a member of the Oakland Athletics while Ozzie only made sporadic appearances in the majors?

Ozzie tried to explain all of these things over and over again. Every time he thought people got the message, he would head back out into the world, hearing his brother’s name. Once, a car veered and tried to run him off the road. When Ozzie hit the shoulder, the other driver laughed, as if it were a joke, and then referred to him as Jose.

 

There are relatively few examples of twins who excelled equally in sports. Ronde and Tiki Barber were both selected in the 1997 NFL Draft and had successful careers; Karyne and Sarah Steben, both accomplished gymnasts, toured with Cirque du Soleil and credited their psychological connection with helping them perform difficult aerial feats.

More often, siblings of star athletes idle in the shadows cast by their high-achieving counterparts.

Hank Aaron’s brother Tommie joined him in professional baseball. Hank hit 755 home runs during his career; Tommie connected with 13. There were three DiMaggio brothers, though it was Joe—the onetime husband of Marilyn Monroe—who stood out both on and off the field. Had any of these men looked identical to their famous brother, it would have compounded the comparisons. It’s unlikely anyone ever tried to run Tommie Aaron off the road.

Ozzie Canseco plays for the Oakland Athletics in a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Born on July 2, 1964, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Capas Canseco and Jose Canseco would soon be another sports sibling story.

The two were barely a year old when their parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Both grew up learning to play "the great American pastime." Jose, an outfielder who could wallop a ball out of sight, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1982 straight out of high school. After polishing his skills in the minor leagues for three years, he briefly debuted as a late-season call-up for the Athletics in 1985. His official rookie season came in 1986, when he went on to hit 33 home runs and knock in 117 RBIs, resulting in Rookie of the Year honors.

Ozzie, who had played as much baseball as his brother, decided to take a year for college. Instead of being a power hitter, Ozzie had gravitated toward pitching. The New York Yankees drafted him in 1983. After four largely unimpressive years on the mound in the minor leagues, he was released by the Yankees and picked up by the Oakland Athletics organization in 1986 to further develop his skills.

It amounted to a genetic experiment in sports: Two men, nearly identical in build—Jose was an inch taller and perhaps 10 pounds heavier—who played the same game for the same amount of time. In 1989, the two even suffered the exact same injury to the hamate bone in the hand. Yet it was Jose who became a sensation, earning exponentially increasing millions and stats for the Athletics and the Texas Rangers, while Ozzie struggled to get called up.

The problem, according to Ozzie, was that he had pitched for too long, refining a skill that wouldn’t pay the same dividends as an outfielder and star hitter. All those years pitching put him behind Jose and behind the game. When he was finally called up to the Athletics as an outfielder in 1990, the difference in ability when compared to Jose was obvious. After 20 homers and 67 RBIs with the Huntsville Stars farm team, he managed only a .105 batting average in nine MLB games during his first season, striking out in 10 of his 19 at-bats. Meanwhile, in 1988, Jose became the first MLB player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season—a feat only three players have replicated since. When Ozzie struck out in his first Athletics game, Jose hit two home runs.

 

Pundits tried to break down Ozzie’s deficiencies. Superficially, he had everything Jose had, including a powerful build that was likely bolstered by steroids. (Jose admitted to using performance-enhancing substances in his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced; Ozzie was arrested for driving in a car that contained vials of steroids during a traffic stop in 2003. Jose later told VICE that Ozzie "used the same type of steroids I used and in equal amounts.") But experts pointed out that Jose was more flexible, with a better range of motion in his swing and a faster sprint. He seemed to be more aggressive during play, too. These were subtle differences, but enough for Jose to make three World Series appearances while Ozzie toiled in the minors.

Ozzie Canseco bats for the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Dejected, Ozzie headed for Japan to play for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes to sharpen his game against different kinds of pitches. Playing for the Japanese equivalent of a farm team in Osaka, he quit midway through the season to return to the U.S. minors, joining the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals Triple-A team. In 1993, he got a chance to jump on the Cardinals for six uneventful games. When Bernard Gilkey came off the disabled list, Ozzie was bumped back down. In frustration, he briefly quit baseball before signing a contract with the Triple-A arm of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the Florida Marlins.

After being released by the Marlins in 1996, he remarked it was the first summer he had not played baseball since he was a kid. While other people may have confused him for Jose, baseball’s management did not.

 

If Ozzie was never quite his brother’s equal on the field, he found parity in other ways. For years, rumors circulated that Ozzie would show up in place of Jose for autograph signings. The two also got in nearly equivalent legal trouble for a 2001 nightclub brawl in Miami Beach that ended in probation and a civil lawsuit against both.

In what was probably their most audacious attempt to fool people, Ozzie reportedly showed up for a 2011 celebrity boxing match claiming he was Jose, who had performed in prizefights against the likes of Danny Bonaduce. Promoter Damon Feldman claimed he had paid Jose $5000 and that he was confused when Ozzie finally removed his shirt. (He lacks the bicep tattoo sported by his brother). Feldman had him escorted out and filed a complaint for breach of contract, winning a default judgment against Jose for the $5000 advance and travel expenses. Feldman later expressed doubt he had ever actually met Jose. (On Twitter, Jose Canseco denied Feldman’s claim that he had sent Ozzie in his place.)

In 2015, Ozzie was named the hitting coach for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a Double-A team in South Dakota. Not long after, he and his brother once again confused onlookers when Ozzie fooled his on-air correspondents into thinking “Jose” had arrived to film a segment for his role as an analyst for an NBC broadcast. It was a bit of levity that may have indicated that the years removed from the field had allowed Ozzie to feel more comfortable—both in his own skin and his brother’s.

It was a long time coming. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in 1994, Ozzie lamented the peculiar reality of resembling his brother in every aspect but the one that mattered to him most. “It’s difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis,” he said.