How much can change on a city’s sports scene in 25 years? To provide a frame of reference, we asked longtime Atlanta sports and public-relations executive Bob Hope to reflect on all that happened here in the period from 1965-90.
Georgia Tech football ruled Atlanta sports in 1965, and coach Bobby Dodd was king. Baseball ran a distant second to college football, but the Atlanta Crackers were beloved. We called them the Yankees of the South.
In 1965, I was in college and working as an usher and then promoted to scoreboard-keeper at the brand new Atlanta Stadium. It was a transition year. The Milwaukee Braves had already announced they would become the Atlanta Braves in 1966, but the team had to fulfill one more year of its contract in Milwaukee. The Crackers played their final season at the new stadium.
We were excited about our big-league team coming to town, but we really didn’t know much about Major League Baseball. Our exposure had been the NBC “Game of the Week” with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese on Saturday afternoons. All of the boys in town grew up collecting baseball cards, but big-league baseball had always been a sport played in faraway places like New York and Chicago. It was a mystical time for our town.
Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. led the way for our journey into big-time sports. Quickly after the Braves decided to move, we learned the NFL would grant us an expansion team. A contest was held to name it. The winner was Falcons over runners-up including Fireballs, Firebirds, Knights and Rebels.
The St. Louis Hawks became the Atlanta Hawks. A great new arena called The Omni was built. We thought it was dazzling. Our city got an NHL team, the Flames, and then lost it.
In the 1970s, Atlanta hosted Major League Baseball and NBA All-Star games. I became PR director of the Braves in 1972. Our grandest highlight was when Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, to break Babe Ruth’s career record. I was vice president of the Braves and Hawks after Ted Turner bought the teams.
Our teams lost more than they won.
I was on the Braves’ board of directors in 1990, and things seemed pretty hopeless. We had finished in last place four of the previous five seasons, and next to last in the other. I attended the Opening Day meeting of the board. Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent came to Atlanta to meet with us and read us his riot act. The Braves were an embarrassment to baseball. If we didn’t get serious, something bad would be done.
I knew we were losing, but it seemed we were losing with better players. We finished last again in 1990.
However, the next year was the first of 14 (consecutive division titles). To quote the great poem “Casey at the Bat,” hope springs eternal.
As told to staff writer Tim Tucker