No April Fool's Day Joke

Bill Shanks reminds us of a big event in Braves history.

It was April Fool’s Day, but it was no joke. The players involved probably thought it was a gag, but the Braves were dead serious.

Let’s take you back to April 1, 1986. Bobby Cox was in his first season as the Braves’ general manager. Chuck Tanner was the manager. The Braves were ready to break camp when a bombshell happened.

The Braves released four pitchers: Len Barker, Pascual Perez, Rick Camp and Terry Forster.

The release of four veterans, particularly those making money, doesn’t happen like that often. It was a sign there were new sheriffs in town.

The Braves had to eat Barker’s $2.86 million and Camp’s $600,000. Only those two had guaranteed contracts. But it wasn’t about the money. The Braves were turning a page. Cox wanted pitching to be a priority, and those four pitchers were simply no longer effective.

Cox gave roster spots to Joe Johnson, Duane Ward and Paul Assenmacher. All three were rookies, and yes, that meant they were also cheap. The minimum salary back then? $60,000.

Ironically, later in the 1986 season, Cox traded Johnson and Ward to Toronto in separate trades. Johnson fetched reliever Jim Acker, while Ward, a better prospect, got Doyle Alexander in return. Of course, a year later Alexander would be used to get a prospect from the Tigers named John Smoltz.

It’s not like the Braves were releasing Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Perez had gone 1-13 in 1985 and had an ERA of 6.14 in 22 starts. Barker was 2-9 with a 6.35 ERA. Camp pitched out of the bullpen in 1985 and had a respectable 3.95 ERA, but he was 33 years old and had a bad spring training. Forster was really good the previous season. He had a 2.28 ERA in 46 games, but Forster was always dealing with weight issues.

Google David Letterman and Terry Forster for more on that!

Perez did not pitch in the big leagues in 1986, but he came back in 1987 with Montreal and had three productive seasons. Then Perez signed a big-money contract with the Yankees and got hurt. Perez continued to have drug problems throughout his career.

Of course, Perez's claim-to-fame in Atlanta was when he got lost on I-285 during the 1982 season. He was famously labeled "I-285" after that and even wore than nickname on his jacket for the rest of his time in Atlanta. Perez was tragically killed in 2012 in a robbery.

Barker, who was in one of the worst trades in Atlanta’s history when he was acquired from Cleveland in 1983 for Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna, would only pitch in 11 more games in his career. Barker signed with the Expos after being released. But he stayed in the minors that entire season and finally made it back up the next season with the Brewers. After those 11 games, Barker’s career was over at the age of 31.

Forster signed with the Angels and pitched in 41 games that season, but his 16-year career was over after that 1986 season. Camp, who had been in the Braves’ organization since 1974, never pitched again in pro ball. His career was over when he was 33 years old.

Most people thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke when the Braves released the four veterans, but it wasn’t. It was the first sign the Braves were using more young pitchers in the new era with Bobby Cox in control of the front office.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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