Grading the General Managers: Bill Lucas (1976-’79)

Baseball’s first black GM gave the Braves something they lacked: Credibility. Bill Lucas joined the front office in 1965, working in the sales and promotions department before switching to the player development side, eventually becoming the team’s farm director. In September 1976, Ted named him vice president in charge of baseball operations, another way of saying general manager.

Lucas’ first big hire: Bobby Cox.

His first big trade brought Jeff Burroughs to Atlanta, sending Ken Henderson, Dave May, Carl Morton, Roger Moret and Adrian Devine to the Rangers. Burroughs had two outstanding years in Atlanta (an OPS above .900 from ’77-’78). The quintet dealt to Texas combined for none.

One year later, Lucas pulled off the biggest trade — involving four teams and 11 players — in Braves history, acquiring Devine, Tommy Boggs and Eddie Miller for Willie Montanez. Boggs, the second overall pick in the 1974 amateur draft, was worth the risk but couldn’t stay healthy. His best season: 1980, when he won 12 with a 3.42 ERA. Montanez didn’t do much after he left Atlanta. A wash.

Lucas was known for spotting young talent, and he had a helluva draft in 1978, selecting Bob Horner, Steve Bedrosian and Gerald Perry. That year also saw the trade of Dick Ruthven for Gene Garber — a decent starter for a decent reliever.

His final transaction? Dave “Chopper” Campbell for Pepe Frias. Lucas died early in the ’79 season amid a nasty dispute over Horner’s contract.

Horner’s agent, Bucky Woy, claimed that Turner wanted to pay Horner some $83,000 less than he made his first year if the signing bonus were included. Woy publicly called Bill Lucas a liar, saying Lucas had offered a suitable contract earlier.

Early on May 1, (Braves public relations director) Bob Hope overheard Turner and Lucas in “a verbal brawl” over how the deal with Woy was progressing. After work, the weary Lucas went home to watch a Braves game televised from Pittsburgh, where Phil Niekro won his 200th game. Lucas telephoned congratulations and told the pitcher to have a celebration on the Braves’ tab. Shortly after midnight, Lucas collapsed. On May 5, he died without gaining consciousness, victim of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Grade: B+

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2 comments

  1. I remember when the Burroughs trade was made, some critics said it was unwise to trade 5 major league players (none of those guys was a minor-leaguer) for 1, but some others pointed out the team had swapped 20% of a last-place team for one of the better right-handed hitters in the game. And the guys the Braves traded didn’t just not produce, within a little more than a year of the trade, Rogelio Moret was in a psychiatric ward and Carl Morton had dropped dead in his in-laws’ driveway after his morning jog.

  2. Carl Morton was one of the more under-rated and under-appreciated pitchers in history. An 18-game winner in the early days of the Montreal Expos, he was very “steady” during his Braves years. By 1976, he was done. I believe it was in 1983 when he passed at age 39. The Braves Illustrated summed him up best: “all work and no play makes Carl”. Carl started as an outfielder in the minors. The story is that in a throwing contest from center field, he threw a ball into the press box. The next day he was a pitcher.

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