Ten years after his first major league homer, Rafael Belliard went deep against the Mets’ Brian Bohannon for his only HR as a Brave after more than 1,200 AB’s. It came a month shy of his 35th birthday in what would be his next to last season with the local nine.
Too bad he didn’t hit it on May 7, 1991, when he fell just a HR shy of the cycle. Raffy drove in 5 that night vs. the Cardinals and followed that up with 2 doubles and 3 RBI in the finale of a two-game set at Fulco.
“This one hurts,” said Gene Michael, the general manager of the Yankees, who did manage to trade for Jim Abbott on Sunday. “He’s the best one out there. I never thought I could say this. But he’s a steal at $28 million. He’s a steal.”
Needless to say, Stick was right.
I remember where I was when Mad Dog signed: Atkins Park on Highland Ave., with CD. We were stunned, because, as you recall, JS liked to operate under the radar, and Barry Bonds was his supposed target.
Instead, the premier rotation in baseball got better, and for $6 million less than the Yankees offered. Maddux wanted to win, and in December 1992 the Braves afforded him the best opportunity.
How times have changed.
Actually, that’s not fair to Assenmacher, who was better than Al Hrabosky, at least as a Brave. And he was more affordable than the Mad Hungarian, signed to a ridiculous (at its time) 5-year, $2.2 million contract prior to the 1980 season.
Geno flopped as the Braves closer in ’79, but Hrabosky wasn’t much better for the Royals. He had a 1.662 WHIP and saw his strikeouts drop from 60 to 39. But Ted liked personalities and was willing to overspend to get one.
Unfortunately, jerks don’t sell tickets, and neither do middling set-up men. Three Braves had more saves than Hrabosky in 1980, including the late Larry Bradford. Hrabosky was released halfway through his contract and never pitched in the majors again.
His two most memorable moments as a Brave say it all:
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)
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
10. Bobby/Gerald Perry and Jim LeMasters to Kansas City for Charlie Leibrandt and Rick Luecken. Charlie was the steadying veteran influence the Braves’ young rotation needed in the early 90s, especially in ’91, when he won 15 games and pitched 229 innings. In three years as a Brave Leibrandt won 39 with a 3.35 ERA. Perry batted .255 over the rest of his career and topped 50 RBI in a season just once.
9. Frank Wren/Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu for Michael Bourn. What was the difference between the Braves offense in the first half of the season compared to the second? Michael Bourn. As he went so went the Braves, and, assuming he signs elsewhere, his speed and defense will be sorely missed. Each of the prospects shipped to Houston regressed in 2012.
8. JS/Jimmy Kremers and Keith Morrison to Montreal for Otis Nixon and Boi Rodriguez. A 31-year-old career fourth outfielder before coming to the Braves, Otis emerged as an Atlanta folk hero, stealing 72 bases in ’91 with a career-best .371 OBP. Kremers never played a game for the Expos.
7. JS/Joe Roa and Tony Castillo to the Mets for Alejandro Pena. Without Big Al the ’91 miracle doesn’t happen.
6. John Mullen/Barry Bonnell, Joey McLaughlin and Pat Rockett to Toronto for Chris Chambliss and Luis Gomez. Chambliss was to the batting order in the early 80s what Leibrandt would be to the pitching staff a decade later. See, John Mullen wasn’t all bad.
5. JS/FW (tie) Andy Marte to Boston for Edgar Renteria; Edgar to Detroit for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. In two seasons with the Braves Edgar hit .310. Then he turned into Neifi Perez. Though he’s about to be non-tendered, JJ’s contributions (50 wins, 3.58 ERA) should not be overlooked.
4. JS/Roberto Kelly, Tony Tarasco and Esteban Yan to Montreal for Marquis Grissom. For two part-time OF’s and a future “Simpsons” punch line the Braves received a two-time Gold Glove winner, clutch hitter and clubhouse leader.
3. JS/Donnie Elliott, Vince Moore and Melvin Nieves for Fred McGriff. If I need to elaborate you’re reading the wrong blog.
2. JS/Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas to Oakland for Tim Hudson. I place this deal ahead of the heralded McGriff trade because Huddy has spent 8 mostly productive seasons in Atlanta; the Crime Dog was a Brave for just five seasons.
The Cardinals gave up Dan Haren to acquire Mark Mulder, who, like Huddy, was dealt by the A’s following the ’04 season. Haren has won 113 games since the trade; Mulder, 12. Huddy has 105 wins with the Braves despite missing the equivalent of a full season. Cruz can be found in Webster’s under journeyman reliever while Meyer, with 3 wins and a 5.46 ERA to his credit, last pitched in the majors in 2010. Meanwhile, Charlie’s post-Atlanta BA was .100.
1. Bobby/Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz. One of the 10 best trades in baseball history, IMHO.
JS/Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for Rafael Soriano. BMF was a decent closer and a helluva set-up man, while Horacio devolved into the worst pitcher in baseball post-Atlanta — 9-13, 6.32 ERA, 1.728 WHIP.
JS/John Rocker and Troy Cameron to the Indians for Steve(s) Karsay and Reed. The two relievers were merely adequate with the Braves but this deal stands out because it rid the team of its biggest asshole, a clubhouse cancer with a dying arm.
John Mullen/Larry McWilliams to the Pirates for Pascual Perez and Carlos Rios. Despite his atrocious ’85 campaign (1-13, 6.14 ERA), Pascual finished his Braves career with a winning record and sub-4.00 ERA. After missing the ’86 season, I-285 returned to post a 2.80 ERA and 1.025 ERA over his next three years with Montreal.
FW/Casey Kotchman for Adam LaRoche. Rochey spearheaded a spirited run to the playoffs in ’09, hitting .325 with a .957 OPS in 57 games. Hope Casey speaks Japanese.
FW/Jose Ascanio to the Cubs for Omar Infante and Will Ohman. Two useful pieces for the poor man’s Manny Acosta.
FW/Jon Gilmore, Santos Rodriguez, Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge to the White Sox for Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez (238 K’s and 44 BB in 219 IP).
JS/Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez to San Francisco for Russ Ortiz. The Braves squeezed every last bit of ability from Ortiz, who won 36 during his two-year stint in A-town. Moss would win only 10 more games with an ERA above five after leaving the Braves while Valdez has spent as much time on the DL as he has on the field.
JS/Ricardo Rodriguez to Kansas City for Matty D, who hit .299 as a Brave.
FW/Todd Redmond to Cincy for Paul Janish. Offensively, he’s another Paul Zuvella. But without Janish’s steady glove the Braves would’ve struggled to make the playoffs this year.
JS/Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and Andrew Brown to LA for Gary Sheffield. Shef was a beast — in the regular season — compiling a .974 OPS in two years. But I’ll never forgive him for the 2002 NLDS:
Last fall, Sheffield became so emotionally involved with Barry Bonds trying to end his October blues that he turned himself into a pumpkin in the playoffs. …
“I still went out there playing hard, but I kept focusing on him, ” said Sheffield, who had spent the offseason working out with Bonds. “It didn’t help that he was at my house during the playoffs. So, I knew the persona he was putting out was wrong. He kept saying he didn’t care [about his October demons], but it killed him. He never thought in a million years he’d get by the Braves.”
Shef had one hit — a single — in that 5-game series against the Giants. He batted .100 with no extra base hits in 10 playoffs games as a Brave.
A little tardy on two anniversaries of note.
Twenty years ago yesterday, we danced in the streets:
Fifteen years ago Friday, we cursed the name Eric Gregg:
Chris Jaffe recounts Phil Niekro‘s finest moment as a Brave: 10/1/82. I know I’ll never forget it.
Despite a stretch in which they lost 19 of 21, the Braves entered the season’s final weekend leading the Giants and Dodgers by one game. The lead seemed a little bigger with Knucksie on the mound.
Teams with 43-year-old aces typically don’t make the playoffs. But Niekro was more than an ace — he was the only pitcher you could depend on in a rotation populated by the likes of Bob Walk and Ricks Mahler and Camp.
Though he rarely pitched in games that mattered during his Braves career, Knucksie shined in the few that did. In 1969, when the Braves won their first division title, he started and won three of the team’s final seven regular season games.
Thirteen years later, with one week left to play, Knucksie took the mound in Candlestick Park to face the Giants, who were tied with Atlanta, one game behind the Dodgers. Nine innings, no runs and two hits later, the Braves were tied for first.
On 10/1/82, Niekro, pitching on three days rest, hurled another complete game shutout while slugging his first homer in 6 years. In cavernous Jack Murphy Stadium, no less. With 1 out in the 8th inning of a 1-0 game. Three runs were more than enough for Knucksie, who walked none and allowed just three hits, retiring 17 consecutive batters at one point.
Altogether Niekro recorded five wins, two shutouts and no losses in five of the team’s biggest games up to that point.
Knucksie added four more shutout innings in Game 1 of the ’82 NLCS before the game was called due to rain. Three nights later, the greatest knuckleballer of them all wasn’t at his best but left the game after six innings up 3-2. Unfortunately, Gene Garber couldn’t hold the lead, giving up a game-winning single in the bottom of the 9th to (!*#&) Ken Oberkfell.
Exactly one year to the date after that playoff defeat, Knucksie was released by the Braves. I cried like hell when the TV cameras showed him cleaning out his locker. I was just 13 and had grown up in an era when No. 35 was the only Brave that mattered.
He may not be the greatest Brave, but it’s easy to see why, for many, he’s the most beloved.
Levi Walker Jr. is alive and well in living in Cleveland, Ga.
Parker Field, Richmond, 1978
Jim Bouton on the mound. Ted Turner umpiring at third. The Chief was there, and so was Murph, Jeff Burroughs, Jerry Royster …
There was the Smoltz trade, referenced in the previous post, and this:
All hell broke loose at Fulco between the Braves and Padres.
Greg Maddux walked Steve Finley after going 72.1 innings without allowing a free pass.
On the night the Braves effectively ended Carlos Zambrano’s Cubs career, we learned that Ernie Johnson Sr. died.
Thanks to Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times for the tip.
A bad trade set up the best deal the Braves ever made, consummated Aug. 12, 1987.
On July 6, 1986, the Braves, 4 games out of first, traded promising right-hander Duane Ward for 35-year-old sourpuss Doyle Alexander, who was hardly a difference-maker. The Bravos finished in last place, while Ward would go on to save 121 games for the Blue Jays.
But he was no John Smoltz.
Nearing the end of another lost season, Bobby made Alexander available. The Tigers, locked in a tight race for the AL East title, made no secret of their interest but were reluctant to part with Steve Searcy, a highly touted southpaw.
[John] Hagemann, now a scout for the Phillies, was the Braves’ scout in the Northeast for decades. He saw Smoltz pitch just twice for Glens Falls: once in a bullpen session, another time in a game. Yet the report that he submitted changed the career of a pitcher and the course of two franchises.
“I think my words were, ‘The best arm I’ve seen so far,’” said Hagemann. “Top-of-the-rotation guy. That’s how I saw him. I’m not a genius. I just recall a real live arm.”
Hagemann, in fact, said that Smoltz was not on the initial list of names that he was sent to Glens Falls to scout.
“(The Tigers) gave us about three or four names (of trade candidates). I went in and watched them in about a three or four game series. I didn’t like any of the names that they gave us,” said Hagemann. “(Smoltz) showed me just a great arm. He was raw at the time, but showed me a real live fastball, really good stuff. I called (Cox) and I said, ‘Bobby, I would just try to get Smoltz.’
“He said, ‘Smoltz—who the hell is he?’ I said, ‘He’s just an outstanding arm here.’
“(Cox) called back about 30 minutes later,” Hagemann continued. “He said, ‘John, they’re willing to give him up. Should we do that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely—you’ll be real happy you got this kid.’ The rest is history.”
Smoltzie was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA and 1.631 WHIP at Double-A Glens Falls. He turned the corner the next year at Richmond, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.149 WHIP.
“(The Tigers) changed just about everything about me. I thought I had a good delivery. I searched for two years and tried to figure it out,” said Smoltz. “I got to Atlanta, and (Mazzone) said let me see you throw a baseball. I threw a baseball and he said, ‘That’s a great delivery. That’s how you naturally throw a baseball.’
“From that point on, I was very relaxed and he said, ‘Now we’re just going to work on your pitches.’ That’s all I worked on. I actually was able to progress because I didn’t have to think about 14 different spots I was going to in my delivery. I just had to worry about throwing a pitch.”
Smoltz insists that there is “no way” that he would have been in the majors, let alone a successful major leaguer, for at least three years had he remained with the Tigers. With the Braves, however, he moved quickly, and enjoyed rapid success.
On Aug. 17, 1987, five days after the Smoltz trade, a young left-hander made his major league debut for the Braves. Tom Glavine walked 5 and allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in just 3-2/3 IP that night against the Astros, but it was all uphill from there for the former hockey center and the Bravos.
Your Office proprietors were in attendance that night, but neither of us saw Otis’ miracle grab from our seats in right-center field. The roar of the crowd informed us that we had just missed the greatest catch in Atlanta Braves’ history.
You tend to forget The Catch came in the 9th inning of a 1-0 game. Charlie Leibrandt, whose contributions to those early 90s Braves teams are often overlooked, shut out the Pirates through 8. The Braves had only one hit — a homer by David Justice.
Big Al Pena gave up Van Slyke’s thwarted blast so, with Bonds due up, Bobby called on Kent Mercker to record the final out. His second pitch was grounded weakly to first and the Braves had their first 13-game winning streak in 10 years.
We stopped by Manuel’s on the way home just as the late local news started. The lead story was the catch, and after the replay the entire tavern was on its feet chanting, “Otis, Otis, Otis!” For a few years, Atlanta was a helluva baseball town. It didn’t last long.
I was back at Manuel’s the night the Braves won the World Series. After Grissom caught the final out I leaped on to my chair and high-fived an old-timer at the next table. I was told to get off the furniture. A tepid celebration followed.
Some cool footage of the “Ball Four” author as an Atlanta Brave, w/ Ernie behind the mic (starts at 3:06 mark):
A little before time but I’m sure someone here remembers this short-lived sitcom version of “Ball Four”:
Terry Harper had five hits and drove in four, Bruce Sutter blew his sixth save and Rafael Ramirez committed his 11th error.
Oh, and Rick Camp homered in a game that ended at 4 a.m.
The boxscore, for your perusal.
Claudell Washington sums up the Eddie Haas era, though he could just as easily be referring to Fredi’s tenure:
“This is a positive step,” Washington said. “For us to win this year, we had to have a three-or four-run lead in the eighth inning. A one- or two-run lead, and he was going to mess it up, I guarantee you that. It’s hard getting up for that every day.
“I don’t understand what they were doing upstairs. There was no way we could have gotten this far out and made some move. This wasn’t a triple-A team, but he ran it like a triple-A team.”
What might’ve been (from a 1983 SI profile of Hubie Brown):
Brown was such a dazzling success with the Hawks that at one point Turner tried to persuade him to manage his Atlanta Braves. Brown almost went for it, but eventually decided the scheme was too crazy to work.
Soon after Francisco Cabrera was called up in 1992, I turned to my roommate at UGA and said, “He’s going to drive in the winning run in Game 7 of the NLCS.” I know that’s unbelievable, but he’ll vouch for me (check comments later).
CD and I were there on Oct. 14, 1992 sitting in the OF seats, between center and right. After Jeff Blauser struck out to end the 8th, I retreated to the concourse for a cigarette. A Pirates fan, wearing an oversized hook on his hand, passed by, mocking the chop. I said nothing. No one did. We were defeated.
I didn’t recall my fateful prediction when Big Frank strode to the plate, but I had confidence he’d deliver. There was something about Francisco Cabrera. …
Since I’ve never married or had a kid I can easily say Sid’s slide was the most euphoric moment of my life. Hands down. When I finally got back to Athens the party had spilled out into the streets. I drove through downtown, windows down, screaming, “I was there, I was there,” high-fiving all the drunks. Imagine that happening today.
When I got home my roommate greeted me enthusiastically, “You predicted this!” Even I was incredulous.
Some 15 years later, I interviewed Big Frank in the Dominican Republic. He was going to be my guide in a quest to find Pascual Perez but I could tell he wasn’t excited about it. Apparently Pascual owns a lot of guns and doesn’t take kindly to visitors.
We ended up hanging around the Braves complex in San Francisco de Macoris, chatting about his career and, of course, Oct 14, 1992. I told him about my prediction. Naturally, he was skeptical but indulged me when I asked for an autograph.
It reads: “To Christian, You were right, Francisco Cabrera, #19.”