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#Braves open thread, 7/4, Rick Camp-aganza

My recollection for the local organ, a long form piece worth your time and 19 things you may not know about the most bizarre game in Braves history. A perfect game by today’s starter Joel De La Cruz would be almost as improbable as Camp’s homer.

Watch for Mets LF Danny Heep’s reaction when the ball clears the fence.

Check out the banner at the 1:44 mark.

Don’t forget the fireworks.

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A performance for the ages, 50 years ago today

No Brave has ever had a better game than Tony Cloninger, 50 years ago. Except maybe Tony Cloninger.

On July 3, 1966, Cloninger set three records, becoming the first National League player to hit two grand slams in a game and the only pitcher ever to do so. And no pitcher has ever driven in 9 RBI in a game, as Cloninger did that afternoon in San Francisco. He also pitched a complete game in the Braves’ 17-3 win.

He might’ve been even better three weeks earlier, when he allowed just one run and five hits in 9 innings. The Braves scored 17 that day as well; Cloninger drove in five on three hits, two homers. He entered the game batting .121.

To sum up:

10 AB, 4 HR, 6 hits, 14 RBI

18 IP, 2 CG, 12 HA, 4 ER, 2 wins

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201 pitches

That’s how many pitches were thrown by 42-year-old Warren Spahn 53 years ago today. Willie Mays homered on Spahn’s 201st to break a scoreless tie. In the bottom of the 16th.

“He ought to will his body to medical science,” said Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, who was in attendance at Candlestick Park for the epic duel won by Juan Marichal, who threw 227 pitches. But he was just 25.

Marichal was scheduled to bat third that inning. (Orlando) Cepeda later recalled the moment in a 1998 memoir. Manager Alvin Dark asked Marichal if he had had enough. Cepeda remembered Marichal barking at Dark, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out!”4 Dark accepted — or was startled into acceptance by Marichal’s ardor — and let him bat. Marichal flied out to complete the inning, and the game pushed forward.

Seven Hall of Famers appeared in the game. The Cooperstown-bound moundsmen fared best; Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Mays, Willie McCovey and Cepeda were a combined 4-for-26 against Marichal and Spahn.

Five days later, Spahn — did I mention he was 42 — shut out the Houston Colt .45s. Naturally, he went the distance

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Pascual, the Padres, the Sourpuss and Smoltzie

Big day in Braves history.

Thirty one years ago, the brawl to end all brawls went down on a Sunday afternoon in Fulco. It’s striking how many players from this game have passed away: Pascual, Alan Wiggins, Tony Gwynn, Donnie Moore, Rick Camp …The stars remain the fan in the yellow pants, shirtless Ed Whitson and Bob Horner’s cast.

Two years after the brawl, noted sourpuss Doyle Alexander was traded to the Tigers for a young pitcher who didn’t want to leave Detroit. You know the rest by now.

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Letterman and the ‘Fat Tub of Goo’

Via SI:

Letterman devoted the opening monologue on his June 17 late-night TV show to a weighty issue—Atlanta Braves relieverTerry Forster. “The fattest man in all of professional sports,” said Letterman, who had caught a Braves game on TV the previous weekend. “I mean the guy is a balloon. He must weigh 300 pounds. The guys doing the ball game. Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson, not once do they mention that this guy is enormous. They pretend the guy couldn’t be in better shape.

“He is a L-O-A-D. Not once, when they see this mammoth figure, this silo, get up in the bullpen…I just want them to say ‘ Terry Forster’s warming up, he’s a lefthander, an ERA of 3.5…what a fat tub of goo.’ Nobody says a thing. It ruined my weekend.”

Terry was a pretty good sport, considering. (Forster owns the highest career batting average of any player with at least 75 ABs. Terry hit .397, with a .474 slugging percentage, in 78 ABs.)

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Remembering the April Fools Day Massacre

Twenty nine years ago today new Braves GM Bobby Cox began what would be a painful five-year rebuilding project, releasing pitchers Rick Camp, Pascual Perez, Terry Forster and Len Barker. That same day fabled prospect Brad Komminsk, after two miserable seasons in the majors, was sent back to the minors.

Releasing Barker only reinforced the awfulness of the trade that brought him to Atlanta. He was 10-20 with a 4.64 earned run average for the Braves; meanwhile, the players sent to Cleveland, Brook Jacoby and Brett Butler, had become stalwarts for the Indians. Butler hit .311 and stole 47 bases in 1985 while Jacoby batted .274 with 20 homers and 87 RBI.

Optioning Komminsk was an acknowledgement that the franchise’s next big thing was instead one of its biggest miscalculations. He’d appear in only five games for the parent club before being traded to the Brewers for Dion James.

Camp never pitched in the majors again. Forster’s career would end one year later while Barker retired after a brief comeback with the Brewers in ’87. That same year, Pascual forged a brilliant comeback with the Expos, winning 7 of 10 starts with a 2.30 ERA and 0.967 WHIP. He was even better in ’88, allowing only 133 hits in 188 IP with 12 wins and a 2.44 ERA.

“It was a rough day, but we think this is the way we have to go, ” Cox said.

The next five seasons would be even rougher.

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Maybe Benedict or Claudell is your fave

A rundown of local sports teams and their novelty theme songs, a 1980s thing not restricted to Atlanta (Super Bowl Shuffle, anyone?)

There’s Talkin’ Baseball (and the Braves), via The Baseball Attic, starting at the 3:42 mark;

Atlanta’s Air Force, performed by another local relic, Tom Grose & The Varsity;

And finally, A 12 Days of Falcons Christmas, “on a Leeman Bennett Super Bowl team.”

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Previewing the ’85 #Braves

Pretend you’re a Braves fan in March 1985. You’re thrilled by the acquisition of free agent Bruce Sutter and hopeful new manager Eddie Haas will have the local nine playing smarter while developing promising talents like Brad Komminsk and Gerald Perry. A lot of people are predicting a return to the playoffs, and had we been around then we’d probably do the same. Or would we? 

The Braves are at a crossroads. Was last year’s second-half collapse an aberration or a sign of things to come? Most seem to think the former. We’re told new manager Eddie Haas will have the Braves playing more fundamentally sound ball while developing the team’s young talent, in contrast to Joe Torre, who took the blame (unfairly) for the team’s sloppy play and the struggles of phenoms Brad Komminsk and Ken Dayley.

Dayley’s gone, traded for Ken Oberkfell, who was awful in 50 games with the Braves. Unfortunately, the man responsible for the trade, John Mullen, is still here. While we applauded his decision last September to reject Boston’s offer of Jim Rice, who is seeking a 5-year, $11 million contract, for Komminsk and Steve Bedrosian, his offseason work was underwhelming, Bruce Sutter aside.

Acquiring Rick Cerone would’ve been a coup four years ago, when he hit 14 homers and drove in 85 for the Yankees. Since then he has three fewer homers and one less RBI total. The Braves didn’t appear to give up much — Brian Fisher has struggled since his impressive ’82 campaign in Single-A Durham, walking 100 last year in Richmond — but I’m skeptical Cerone will be much of an improvement over Bruce Benedict.

The longtime Braves backstop remains on the team, with Alex Trevino likely the odd man out. (I’d rather see Trevino as the starter.) Meanwhile, Randy Johnson and Milt Thompson, solid off the bench last year, are headed back to Richmond. It would make sense to package some spare bats for some pitching depth, but Mullen has proven to be an unimaginative GM.

I’m still pissed about the Len Barker trade. Barker was mediocre last season while Brett Butler blossomed as Cleveland’s lead-off hitter. And Brook Jacoby also showed promise — he’d be an improvement over Oberkfell, at the very least.

Fortunately, it appears Horner will be manning 3B on Opening Day. Horns has played only 136 games the last two years, but he’s still just 26. If he can stay healthy the Braves shouldn’t have trouble scoring runs.

Across the diamond, it looks like Chris Chambliss has beaten out Gerald Perry for the first base job. So much for developing young talent.

At least Komminsk will get a chance to play everyday in LF. He flopped badly last year but lest we forget Murph hit just .226 in his rookie season. Perry, Terry Harper and Albert Hall are waiting in the wings if Komminsk struggles, but I don’t see that happening. He’s been hitting with authority this spring, enough so that Haas plans to bat him third. The 24-year-old won’t have to carry the offense — that’s what Murph is for — but if the Braves are going to win the West, Komminsk will have to start fulfilling his potential.

They’ll also need Claudell to stay clean. His troubles off the field in ’84 belied what may have been his best year offensively with the Braves, and he’s the only viable lead-off option.

It would help if Hubby and Raffy bounced back at the plate. Slick-fielding prospect Andres Thomas is coming fast, so Ramirez might be hearing footsteps.

The biggest question marks are in the rotation. Rick Mahler, Pascual Perez and Rick Camp were the only dependable starters a year ago. Bedrosian is an intriguing option and is poised to become a starter if Craig McMurtry, who took a big step back last year, and the sore-armed Barker don’t deliver. Fortunately Zane Smith looks primed to emerge, giving Haas the lefty starter Torre never had.

Last year Bedrock, Gene Garber and Donnie Moore combined to give the Bravos a solid triumvirate of closing options, but Mullen decided they were better off with just one. Sutter (1.54 ERA, 45 saves) had his best year since winning the Cy Young Award in ’79 with the Cubs but is 32 now and is coming off a career-high 122 innings. Geno, Terry Forster, Jeff Dedmon round out the ‘pen, which should be a team strength, with or without Bedrosian.

I wish I was as optimistic as some other local prognosticators. Atlanta Journal Braves beat writer Chris Mortensen picks the Braves to win the division, while Constitution columnist Jesse Outlar is predicting a trip to the World Series. The West should be better than last year, when only the Padres finished above .500. That’s a reasonable expectation for the Braves, but a return to the playoffs will require a productive Komminsk, a healthy Horner and a deeper rotation.

We can only hope Haas is the right man for the job.

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‘We gonna fight tonight’

From the Office vault: 

I have to pass along this hilarious story I heard from a friend yesterday. I believe it to be on good authority.

A lot of you probably remember the June 16, 1984 brawl ignited when Mario Soto repeatedly brushed back Claudell. Claudell tossed his bat toward the mound, went to pick it up, and then turned toward Soto with malice in mind, and rightfully so. I didn’t remember this part, but according to Wikipedia , Claudell tossed umpire Lanny Harris to the ground to reach the Reds’ combustible hurler.

I recall that Soto threw the ball at Claudell while he was being restrained, but hit Braves coach Joe Pignato instead.

All that’s pretty funny, but here’s the funnier part I just heard. That night was Ken Oberkfell’s first game as  a Brave. He’d been traded from St. Louis the day before. Rick Camp greeted Oberkfell when he arrived in the clubhouse. After pleasantries, Camp told him, in his Trion, Ga. accent, “We gonna fight tonight.”

Thinking he meant the two of them, Oberkfell asked why, as they had just met. Camp said no, there’ll be a brawl on the field because Mario Soto was pitching and “Claudell Washington hates Mario Soto.” Apparently, Camp, and presumably everyone on the Braves team, knew Soto would throw at Claudell at some point. He did, and they did fight.

 

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WTBS (“We’re the Bomb Squad”)

Via the Associated Press:

Atlanta`s `Bomb Squad` No Flop

June 10, 1986

After a dismal season last year, a group of bench-warmers has Atlanta Braves fans talking about a pennant in 1986.

Some fans at Braves` games carry posters that say, “I love the Bomb Squad,“ and wear old-fashioned aviator`s caps.

The cause of all the excitement is six backup players who are hitting .295 as a group with 50 RBI.

The group, named by catcher Ted Simmons during spring training, has been given credit for several Atlanta victories.

Joining Simmons on the squad are Chris Chambliss, Billy Sample, Omar Moreno, Bruce Benedict and Andres Thomas.

“It was a concept that I hoped would bring the bench players together, help them see they can contribute as a group,“ Simmons said. “It`s hard to sit.”

 

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Worst month for #Braves since 1990

The local nine have been outscored 85-40 in September and are poised to become the first Braves team in nearly a quarter century to give up twice as many runs in one month as they’ve scored.

Two years removed from the franchise’s worst season in Atlanta, the 1990 Braves lost their season opener 8-0 to the Giants. The next day Smoltzie, Sergio Valdez, Tony Castillo and Dwayne Henry allowed 13 runs to San Francisco. Three days later, the Reds scored 13 off Tom Glavine and four relievers. The Braves were outscored 18-6 in the season’s 8th and 9th games, dropping their record to 1-8. They’d finish April with four wins, 49 runs scored and 98 runs allowed.

 

 

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Them was better times

Between the miserable end to the NL East division race and the groundbreaking for the Local Baseball  Concern’s Mixed-Use Stadium (which has Braves fans “overjoyed,” according to Terry McCorporate), I figure we could all use a flashback to better days.

*I predicted Francisco Cabrera would deliver the winning hit in Game 7 of the ’92 NLCS a month before it happened. I have a witness. 

Big Frank didn’t believe me, either, but he graciously autographed this inscription for me when I met him in the Dominican 10 years ago. 

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Geno and Charlie, 36 years ago tonight

Two days after losing 19-0 to the Expos, more than 31,000 fans showed up at Fulco to watch a Braves team that was 14 games under .500 play the Reds. One night earlier, a season-high 45,007 showed up at the House Ivan Allen Built.  The attraction: Pete Rose’s hitting streak, extended to 44 games.

Facing a rookie pitcher, Larry McWilliams, and a team with the worst ERA in the NL, odds were good Rose would reach 45 games. He led off with a walk as the Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The Braves responded with 2 runs in their half of the first and by the 9th were up 16-4. Gene Garber, who came in the 7th inning when the lead was just 4 runs, struck out Junior Kennedy and the Mayor of Statesboro. With one out to go, Rose came to the plate looking for his first hit. He struck out on a change-up, ending the game and the Hit King’s streak as the crowd went wild.

Rose made an ass of himself, whining that Garber should’ve challenged him with a fastball. Never mind that, two weeks earlier, Rose had extended the streak with a bunt single against the Phillies.

Bitching aside, it was the highlight of the year for the Bravos. Listen to the game here.