Thirty three years ago today, reserve clause killer Andy Messersmith inked a three-year, $1.75 million deal with the Bravos.
“I signed a piece of paper,” said Ted. “He will be in uniform tonight.”
Messersmith was assigned number 17. Ted, sensing a promotional opportunity, decided his players should have nicknames stitched above their uniform numbers. (Yes, Tom Paciorek had “Wimpy” on the back of his uni.) The team’s highest-paid member was nicknamed “Channel” (as in WTCG, Ted’s fledgling UHF station that eventually became TBS).
NL President Chub Feeney eventually ruled against Ted’s blatant advertising ploy, so Messersmith had to find a new moniker.
The “Channel” was out, Messersmith replacing it with “Bluto,” which he insists is his nickname, although it is also the name of Olive Oyl’s perennial abductor in the Popeye cartoon.
The issue was rendered academic a few weeks later when Messersmith, once again taking the lead, suggested to his teammates that maybe wearing nicknames on their backs had jinxed them. Their record at home with nicknames was an appalling 3-13. The players, forever superstitious, agreed. Off went the lettering. Since that day in mid-June the Braves have won 11 and lost eight at home.
The Braves would win only 72 that year, due mainly to an anemic offense that finished 11th in BA (.245) and last in slugging percentage (.334) among NL clubs. Jim Wynn’s 17 homers led the team.
Messersmith was solid, winning 11 and posting a 3.04 ERA in 207 IP. Still, Braves fans had expected more from the 30-year-old righty, who had finished the previous two years among the top 5 in NL Cy Young voting, winning 39 games with ERA’s of 2.59 and 2.29.
The New Jersey native struggled through an injury-plagued 1977 campaign, winning five with a 4.40 ERA. He was sold to the Yankees that winter, winning only two more games before retiring in 1979.