One and done, #Braves edition

He was the Braves’ first round draft pick out of UNC, the 8th player taken in 1967, and less than two years later Garry Hill was in the majors. The right-handed starter adapted easily to pro ball, finishing his rookie year in Double-A with a 3.11 ERA and 82 Ks in 84 innings. Hill got off to a brilliant start in 1968, posting a 1.16 ERA and 0.893 WHIP in six starts before an injury cut short his season.

He returned in 1969 and clearly his stuff wasn’t as sharp. After averaging a strikeout per inning his first two years, Hill had only 36 Ks in 56 IP for Richmond. Still, he got the call on June 12 to face the red-hot Cubs, off to a 38-18 start. The Braves had a doubleheader four days earlier and another scheduled three days after so it was a one-night only gig, albeit one featuring perhaps the team’s best pitching prospect. No one would’ve guessed it would be the last time Garry Hill would pitch in the majors.

Hill is one of six players in Atlanta Braves history to play just one game in the majors. All but one were pitchers (John LeRoy ’97, Al Autry ’76, John Cornely ’15 and Scott Sobkowiak ’01). The lone everyday player to appear in one game: Hank Small, whose life took a sad turn after his sip of coffee with the Braves.

LeRoy and Autry fared the best in their cameos, recording wins, though Autry had few witnesses for his start on Sept. 14 vs. the Astros at Fulco: 970 to be exact. Hill was the only other pitcher of the one-and-done club to start. He was chased in the third after giving up four runs but can always say he struck out Ernie Banks.

Small was probably the most ballyhooed of the Braves’ Moonlights Grahams. The Atlanta native and University of South Carolina legend hit 25 homers, drove in 101 runs and hit .289 for the Richmond Braves in 1978. With Murph alternating between first and catcher, showing little aptitude for both, there seemed to be an opening for Small in Atlanta.

He finally got his chance on Sept. 27, 1978 vs. the Astros, batting sixth and playing first base. Small went 0-for-4, ending the game by grounding into a double play off Joe Sambito. One year later he’d be out of baseball.

Atlanta’s decision to go with free-agent first baseman Mike Lum at the expense of Small weighed on Small for years. Some say Small never sorted out all the questions and never found answers to why Atlanta ultimately shunned a hometown hero.

Small returned to Richmond in 1979 but lost his swing, clubbing just 6 HR and batting .220. He asked for and was granted his release before the season’s end. Small eventually found work as a groundskeeper at Chastain Park, where he had once starred in youth baseball.

In 2010, Small’s fortunes had improved. He had just gotten engaged and moved into the couple’s dream house. Two days later, Small, then 56, fell on the front steps of the house and never regained consciousness.

 

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