The Braves seem determined to break a record that’s stood 38 years. It came one year after Ted bought the team and one year before Bobby was hired as manager.
The ’77 squad got off to a surprising 8-5 start, and in Game 13 staged a dramatic 9th inning comeback to defeat the first-place Dodgers, 6-5. Expectations were low, but they had improved considerably on offense, trading for Jeff Burroughs and signing Gary Matthews. The pitching was questionable, though with Knucksie, Andy Messersmith and Dick Ruthven atop the rotation there was some reason for optimism.
But all hope was lost within a week of that win over the Dodgers. In the rubber game of that LA series, Frank LaCorte — the worst Atlanta Braves pitcher ever, according to us — surrendered 6 runs in 2-1/3 innings. The Dodgers added 10 more runs, capped by pitcher Charlie Hough’s solo shot in the 9th, for a 16-6 win.
The defending world champion Reds followed up with 23 runs the following night at Fulco. Johnny Bench, George Foster and Dan Driessen combined for 10 hits and 15 RBI. The Braves, meanwhile, committed 6 errors though they did score 9 runs.
The Braves managed to hold the Reds to single digits in Game 2 of the series — barely. LaCorte got shelled again while the Bravos were held to three hits in Cincy’s 9-1 win.
In three games the good guys were outscored 48-16. The Braves would go on to lose their next 13 games, giving up 8 or more runs in five of them. Ted managed the 17th consecutive defeat, a 2-1 loss to the Pirates. Max Leon finally ended the streak on May 12, pitching 7 innings of 1-run ball while driving in three. But the season was effectively over for the 9-22 Braves.
I attended my first Braves game three days later, the finale of a weekend series vs. the Cardinals. St. Louis won the first two, but anticipation that Ted might be back in the dugout attracted a unusually large Sunday afternoon crowd of 36,693. The Braves trailed 10-1 after four innings, then, inexplicably, rallied for 8 runs to close the gap to one run. The Cards responded with two in the top of the 8th to take a 12-9 lead. But the Braves were not going to lose this game.
With two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game, Barry Bonnell singled to center, clearing the bases and giving the Braves a 15-12 lead. Don Collins survived the 9th for the save.
For one day, at least, the Braves weren’t the worst team in baseball. It was a pretty good baptism for a 7-year-old fan.
I was hooked for life.