Top questions facing the 1985 Braves

Can new closer Bruce Sutter make a difference in 1985?

Let’s take a look back 30 years to see what the big topics were about the Braves heading into the 1985 season. There was no Internet then, so the water cooler was where these topics usually were discussed.

Yes, it’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since the 1985 season. But what were Braves fans talking about going into that season? Here are some of the questions heading into the first season after the Joe Torre-era of Braves baseball.

1. Can Eddie Haas be better than Joe Torre?
The Braves fired Torre in October after three seasons. He won a division title in 1982 and then finished twice in both 1983 and 1984. The Braves front office believed they needed a teacher, so Eddie Haas takes over after being the hitting coach last season. Haas managed in the Braves farm system from 1966 through 1972 and again from 1978 through 1983. While Torre was considered a motivator and more of a showman, Haas is more of an instructor. The Braves still have a young core, so Will Haas get more out of this team and take it to the next level? He has the full backing of the front office, including general manager John Mullen, farm director Hank Aaron and scouting director Paul Snyder. Those three were often at odds with Torre. Haas has Johnny Sain in to replace Bob Gibson as pitching coach, with Dal Maxvill the only returnee from Torre’s staff as the third base coach.
ANSWER: No, he was not. Haas was a failure. He was awful with the media and did not communicate well with his players at all. The Braves fired Haas on August 26 after the team started 50-71. Bench coach Bobby Wine replaced Haas for the rest of the season. Haas was a fine minor league manager, but he was the biggest failure as a major league manager in Braves history.

2. Can Bruce Sutter save the Braves pitching staff?
The Braves have tried for years to sign a marquee free agent. A year ago they struck out on Goose Gossage, who signed with the Padres and helped them get to the World Series. Two years ago it was Floyd Bannister. Others such as Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Pete Rose and Don Sutton all flirted with the Braves but signed elsewhere. The Braves finally got one when they signed Sutter in December to a six-year, $4.8 million dollar contract, with more money being deferred. Sutter will replace Gene Garber as closer, who has saved 106 games since being acquired from Philadelphia in 1978. Sutter has been incredible for the Cardinals. In four seasons, Sutter saved 127 games and had a 2.72 ERA. With Garber settling into a setup role, along with the expected return of left-hander Terry Forster, the Braves bullpen should be a strength.
ANSWER: Sutter saved only 23 games and his ERA ballooned to 4.48, the worst in his career. Sutter started having shoulder issues. He pitched in 58 games in 1985 but would pitch in only 54 games the rest of his career with Atlanta in 1986 and in 1988. He was a failure as a free agent signing due to his injuries.

3. Will Rick Cerone be better than Bruce Benedict?
Last season Bruce Benedict hit only .223. He split time with Alex Trevino, who hit only .244. The Braves traded pitching prospect Brian Fisher to the Yankees for Cerone, whose average has decreased from .277 when he finished 7th in the AL MVP voting to .208 last season. The Braves are banking on a rebound. Cerone will turn 31 this May, so he’s not a veteran and not a young kid anymore taking over for Thurmon Munson. The Braves believe he can be better out of the Yankees’ environment.
ANSWER: Cerone was a disaster. He hit only .216 and Benedict did not much better, hitting only .202. The Braves tried to fix the catcher’s position a year later when they acquired Ozzie Virgil, Jr.

4. Can Bob Horner make the transition to first base?
Horner obviously battles his weight, but if he’s athletic enough to play third base, the belief is he can play first. Ken Oberkfell was acquired last June when Horner got hurt, and the Braves believe their lineup is better with Oberkfell hitting second compared to the aging Chris Chambliss at first base. Plus, they hope Horner can stay healthy not having to dive as much at first compared to third base. Chambliss is now 35 and his average dipped to .257 last season. The Braves hope Horner can do well defensively, but he can’t be as solid as Chambliss was.
ANSWER: Horner did fine at first base. He wasn’t great defensively, but the lineup was better with him at first and Oberkfell at third. Chambliss was pretty much done, relegated to a bench role as a pinch-hitter.,

5. Can Bob Horner stay healthy?
Well, that’s the question on everyone’s mind as Horner tries to return from a season when he played in only 32 games in 1984. Horner played in 104 games in 1983, and his injuries were a big reason the Braves dropped to second place in both season. Torre might wonder if he’d still be the manager if Horner had stayed healthy. The Braves can only hope his move to first base will be less taxing on his body.
ANSWER: Horner did stay healthy in 1985. He played in a then career-high 130 games and regained his power hitting 27 home runs. The move to first base helped. He played in 141 games in 1986 before bolting for Japan.

6. Is Brad Komminsk ready to take off?
One of the reasons the Braves front office wanted Torre gone was his inability to connect with the younger player, notably Komminsk. The Braves, specifically Aaron, still believe Komminsk can be a star. But last season he hit only .203 and eight home runs in 334 plate appearances. He’ll be 24 when the season starts, so the time is now for Komminsk to break through and become an everyday player. Komminsk played well for Haas in the minor leagues, so the hope is the new manager can make a difference.
ANSWER: Komminsk hit only .235 in April with no home runs and was replaced by Terry Harper, who went on to have a very solid season for the Braves. The Braves traded Komminsk two years later to Milwaukee for Dion James. He is considered one of the biggest busts as a prospect in Braves history.

7. Can Len Barker stay healthy and become an ace pitcher?
The Braves gave up Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna for Barker. Butler and Jacoby are becoming stars for the Indians, while the Braves saw Barker battle injuries last season in his first full year with the Braves. Barker did well, with a 3.85 ERA in 21 games (20 starts), but the Braves need him to make at least 30 starts. He missed the last two months of the 1984 season with an elbow issue, so the Braves desperately need him to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
ANSWER: Barker was horrendous and was a big reason the Braves season fell apart. His ERA was 6.35 in 20 games (18 starts). He never got on track and the Braves wound up releasing him on April 1, 1986 – making his trade one of the worst in Atlanta’s history.

8. Is Zane Smith ready to join the rotation?
Smith is now 24 years old, and with Ken Dayley being placed in the deal with the Cardinals for Oberkfell, Smith has taken over as the best young pitcher in the organization. Smith made three starts at the end of last season and did very well, posting a 2.25 ERA. Smith was 14-4 between Greenville (nine starts) and Richmond (19 starts) last season, with a 3.33 ERA. So it looks like Smith is ready to stick. The Braves will give him a chance in spring training to win a job in the rotation.
ANSWER: The Braves didn’t place Smith into the rotation until June. He did well and would remain in the Atlanta rotation through 1989, when Smith was traded to Montreal. Smith had a 39-58 record with a 4.06 ERA on some very bad Braves teams in the late-1980s.

9. Can Craig McMurtry bounce back to his 1983 form?
The young right-hander was the best rookie pitcher in baseball two years ago when he was 15-9 with a 3.08 ERA in 35 starts. But last season McMurtry was 9-17 with a 4.32 ERA in 37 games (30 starts). Which season represents the real Craig McMurtry? They need him to join Barker, Rick Mahler, Pascual Perez and maybe Steve Bedrosian to solidify the Atlanta rotation.
ANSWER: McMurtry struggled. He went 0-3 and had a 6.60 ERA in 17 games (six starts). The next season McMurtry had an emergency appendectomy and pitched in 37 games but made only five starts. The Braves traded McMurtry to Toronto in February 1987 for Damaso Garcia. The fact McMurtry, Barker and Pascual Perez combined for a 3-25 record was a big reason Atlanta struggled in 1985.

10. Can Steve Bedrosian make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation?
The Braves have toyed with the idea for a couple of years, but they seem serious that Bedrock can become a starting pitcher. Remember, he was a top starting pitching prospect before the Braves needed him as a setup man in 1982. He was 14-10 in Double-A in 1980 and 10-10 in Richmond in 1981. Bedrosian made four starts last season and had a 3.86 ERA. Bedrosian did very well as a reliever (1.71 ERA in 58 innings with 63 strikeouts), but with Sutter on board the Braves feel comfortable enough to move Bedrosian to the rotation.
ANSWER This was the one positive for the pitching staff in 1985. Bedrosian was very good. He had a bad record (7-15), but his ERA was 3.83 in a whopping 37 starts. He allowed 198 hits in 206.2 innings pitched. The Braves traded him after his successful 1985 season to the Phillies for Ozzie Virgil. Bedrosian returned to the bullpen and won the Cy Young award in 1987 as he led the NL with 40 saves. Bedrosian returned to Atlanta for the last three years of his career from 1993-1995 as a setup man.

The 1985 season was perhaps one of the most pivotal season in Braves history. They were expected to do well, with Horner back healthy and Sutter in the bullpen. But the rotation was a disaster. Haas was overmatched as manager. The horrid season forced team owner Ted Turner to start over, as he hired Bobby Cox to return to the organization as general manager after the 1985 season. Cox implemented a philosophy that turned the Braves into a successful organization, with him returning to the dugout as manager in 1990. But it might not have ever happened if the Braves had fulfilled expectations in 1985.

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