Nicknames couldn’t save the ’76 Braves

Leave it to Ted Turner to attempt to profit from nicknames. The erstwhile tycoon probably needed the dough, having just purchased the laughingstock of the NL, fresh off a 67-win season. The ’75 Braves weren’t just bad, they were boring, drawing only 534, 672 fans .

Ted made a big splash in 1976, signing baseball’s first free agent, Andy Messersmith, to a $1.4 million contract (including a signing bonus). As you know, Ted also owned Channel 17. Not coincidentally, Messersmith was assigned #17 and a new nickname: Channel, which was sewn onto the back of his uniform.

For the sake of legitimacy, all Braves had monikers affixed to those fantastic red pinstriped unis, though Commissioner Bowie Kuhn eventually forced the team to ditch the sobriquets. Fortunately  someone took photos.

(pictured: Messersmith, Jim “Cannon” Wynn — who led the ’76 Braves with 17 HR and 66 RBI — and Jerry “J.Bird” Royster)

The 2 best games by an Atlanta Brave

They belong to one player — not Hank, Chipper or Mad Dog, but a good ole’ boy with a  career 4.07 ERA.

They occurred during the Braves’ inaugural season in Atlanta, one in which Tony Cloninger would lead all NL pitchers with 116 BB. Overall, a forgettable year, save for those two games that are the envy of every Brave. Hell, Babe Ruth would be jealous.

The Braves tallied 17 runs in each. Of the 34 runs scored, 14 were driven in by Cloninger.

You’ve probably read about the second of those contests. Cloninger set three records that afternoon in San Fran, becoming the first National League player to hit two grand slams in a game and the only pitcher ever to do so. And no pitcher has ever driven in 9 RBI in a game, as Cloninger did that day.

The first game, roughly three weeks earlier, previewed what was to come. Cloninger, who started the night with a .121 BA, collected three hits, including two homers, driving in 5. He didn’t pitch badly, either, going the distance, just as he would on July 3.

To sum up:

10 AB, 4 homers, 6 hits, 14 RBI

18 IP, 12 HA, 4 ER, 2 wins

Evil Empire eyes Ross

Disquieting news, via Ken Rosenthal:

The Yankees, who want to re-sign Russell Martin, long have had interest in another free-agent catcher, David Ross.

Signing the best back-up backstop in baseball is a must for the Braves, who will likely be without B-Mac for the first month of 2013. Bet on him returning, as Ross seems quite comfortable in Atlanta.