Bob Horner, utilizing that trademark compact swing, hit 48 HR in 1978 — 25 with Arizona State, 23 with the Braves, who drafted him with the first overall pick that year. Bypassing the minors, “Horns” went directly from the College World Series to Fulco, debuting on June 16 with a homer off Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven.
The Braves, desperate for a gate attraction since the departure of Hank Aaron in 1975, had their star.
“Nobody’s ever come straight into the majors and done what he’s done,” owner Ted Turner told SI. “So all he is is the best there ever was.”
Alas, the honeymoon was brief. A nasty salary dispute caused Horner to miss all but the last week of Spring Training in ’79. Then, on Opening Day, Horner hurt his ankle and missed six weeks. He returned to have his best season as a Brave: .314-33-98 in 121 games. He hit 35 HR the following year despite missing 38 games, though injuries were not the primary culprit.
The Braves had gotten off to a horrendous start, and Horner was a convenient scapegoat since he was batting .059 with six errors after 10 games. (John Vukovich he’s not.) Against the advice of both Cox and Aaron, Turner and Thornwell decided to send Horner to Richmond to teach him a lesson. With some justification Horner refused to report, but was finally reinstated after three weeks. He spent the rest of the season teaching Turner a lesson.
“I didn’t play angry,” says Horner.”Let’s just say I remembered what they tried to do to me.”
Horner had a .287 batting average and a .533 slugging percentage after three years in the majors, with a ratio of one HR/14 AB — far better than Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Ted Williams had in their first three years.
And he was only 23.
But stardom proved elusive for Horner, a one-time All-Star who never finished higher than 9th in MVP voting. He missed 188 games between 1983-’84, when he should have been in the prime of his career, and appeared in more than 140 games in only two of his 9 seasons with Atlanta.
Finally, in 1986, the Braves decided to move on. With the owners secretly agreeing not to pursue any free agents, Horner was forced to spend the next season in Japan. The Cards brought him back in 1988 but a bum left shoulder limited him to 60 games and 3 HR. He hooked on with the Orioles but retired that spring at age 30.
Horner finished his career with 218 HR and a .499 slugging percentage. A lot of players would be thrilled with those numbers, but Horner seemed capable of so much more.
Hall of Famer Luke Appling, a hitting instructor for the Braves, says Horner will hit 70 homers some season. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox predicts Horner will win the Triple Crown some year, if not this one. Braves Director of Player Development Henry L. Aaron offers the opinion that someday Horner will erase some of Henry L. Aaron’s records.