One year after Frank Robinson broke the managerial color barrier, Bill Lucas quietly assumed the GM duties for the Braves. He joined the front office in 1965, working his way up to farm director in ’72 before making history as the majors’ first black executive.
Lucas is also responsible for some of the franchise’s signature moves, drafting Dale Murphy and hiring Bobby Cox. He didn’t waste any time rebuilding the club after being appointed director of player personnel, signing Gary Matthews and trading four players for Jeff Burroughs, a former MVP coming off consecutive disappointing seasons in which hit .226 and .237. Lucas bet wisely on Burroughs, who hit 41 homers in his first year as a Brave and followed that up with a career-best .961 OPS.
Hours after watching Phil Niekro win his 200th game, Lucas, 43, suffered a a massive cerebral hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. He died the following day.
“I look back and wonder if I could have made it without him in a position that he was in,” Murphy said. He stuck with me. It’s unusual to have a friendship with somebody who is your boss. You’re really lucky when you can experience that.”