A LOOK BACK: 1982 Offseason - 1983 Season

The Internet has created a tremendous forum for fan discussions. We are able to second guess the Manager, predict the next move by the General Manager, and slam any player's performance. But the Internet was not around twenty years ago. Did you ever wonder what would have been on our Internet site and our message boards back then? As part of a series that will carry through the winter, BravesCenter.com Editor Bill Shanks will take a look back at past seasons .......

Each profile will start with the offseason, analyzing what the Braves were needing, who was acquired and promoted from the minors, and what transpired throughout the regular season. If you love trade rumors and analyzing player movement, you'll love this series. Also, the seasons in the early 80's are really the roots of what is happening now with the Atlanta Braves. Please discuss on our message board

A LOOK BACK
1982 OFFSEASON - 1983 SEASON


The Braves were coming off a 89-73 season in 1982, one game better than the Los Angeles Dodgers to give the team its first division title in 13 seasons. But there was little doubt what was needed to make this team better. The Braves finished tenth in the National League with a team ERA of 3.82. Therefore, General Manager John Mullen set his sights on pitchers as the team looked to improve for the 1983 season.

The 1982 Braves pitching staff was led by future Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro. He was 17-4 on the season and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. But take Niekro off the team, and the Braves were no better than a .500 club. Rick Mahler (9-10, 4.21 ERA in 33 starts), Bob Walk (11-9, 4.87 ERA in 27 starts), and Rick Camp (11-13, 3.65 ERA in 21 starts) were the next three best starters, but it's obvious from their numbers none was going to scare other teams.

Tommy Boggs made ten starts in 1982, but was constantly battling shoulder troubles. There was continued hope he'd be a contributor in 1983. Pascual Perez was acquired from the Pirates in June for lefthander Larry McWilliams and quickly made an impression. Perez went 4-4 with an ERA of 3.06 in eleven starts in 1982. Joe Cowley started 8 games in Atlanta (1-2, 4.47) after going 4-2 for AAA Richmond

Ken Dayley was the Jason Marquis of the early-80's Braves. Drafted in the first round of the 1980 draft, Dayley made his big league debut in 1982, going 5-6 with an ERA of 4.54 in 20 games (11 starts). He had gone 29-14 in two and a half minor league seasons. The Braves were hoping he'd step out and become a member of their 1983 starting rotation.

The bullpen was led by veteran Gene Garber, who had 30 saves and an ERA of 2.34. "Geno" was one of the best closers in the game. Steve Bedrosian, a hard throwing 25-year-old righthander, saved eleven games in 1982 as a rookie. "Bedrock" had outstanding numbers (102 hits allowed in 137.2 innings, 57 walks, 123 strikouts), and many wondered if he needed to be moved to the starting rotation. Bedrosian had been a starter throughout his entire minor league career (36-28, 2.89 ERA) and there was a faction in the Braves organization that wanted him back in the rotation.

"Yes it was debated," says Pat Nugent, Atlanta's Assistant Vice President at the time. "Steve turned out to be a fine reliever. He had all the pitches to do either. Anyone who has that type of talent, you're constantly talking about which way to use him."

The farm system was a source of possibilities for the 1983 Braves. Tony Brizzolara, who had gone 6-9 in 19 starts as a 22-year old in 1979, was 15-11 in Richmond in 1982. He was only 25 years old and was really needing one more chance to reach his potential. Craig McMurtry helped lead Richmond to its first International League title in fifteen years by leading the league with seventeen wins. McMurtry was a tall, but soft tossing righthander who was one of the best pitching prospects in the game. Finally, Rick Behenna had won 13 games in AA Savannah. He was a 23-year-old righthander with an outside chance at making the Braves 1983 roster.

"We were so pitching poor if you showed any life we gave you a chance," Nugent says.

There was not a huge need when it came to the position players. Dale Murphy and Bob Horner led a very young and talented team. First baseman Chris Chambliss, at 33, was the veteran leader of the team, along with his 36-year-old backup Bob Watson. But the average age of the starting lineup was just over 26 years old, giving the Braves one of the best young lineups in the game.

The biggest question was who would play leftfield. The Braves really wanted to play Dale Murphy in centerfield everyday. There were several candidates going into spring training of 1983 to win the leftfield job. The leading candidate was Brett Butler, who had 22 stolen bases and gave the Braves a tremendous spark at the top of the lineup. Butler was only 26 years old and had great potential. Terry Harper, who hit .287 in a limited role off the Atlanta bench in 1982, was also a candidate to get playing time.

The phenom who everyone was waiting on was 21-year-old Brad Komminsk. The 1979 first round draft choice hit .273 with 26 home runs in AA Savannah. Everyone, including home run king Hank Aaron, had annointed Komminsk as the next great star in the Atlanta lineup.

The high priority for the Braves during the 1982-83 offseason was lefthanded pitching. Atlanta did not have one lefthanded pitcher on its postseason roster in the NLCS against St. Louis. There were only thirteen starts by lefthanded pitchers in the 1982 regular season (11 by Dayley and 2 by Larry McWilliams). Al Hrabosky (31 games) was released in late August and Carlos Diaz (19 games) was traded to the Mets in September for Tom Hausman. Those were the only four lefthanders on the Atlanta roster for the entire 1982 season.

Ever heard of the Re-Entry Draft? No it's not the amateur draft in June. The Re-Entry Draft was the first step in the offseason back in the 1980's. Each team would have to draft the free agents it would want to negotiate with. The Braves drafted all lefthanded pitchers: Mariners starter Floyd Bannister, Dodgers reliever Terry Forster, Mets swingman Pete Falcone, Reds starter Bob Shirley, and Brewers starter Bob McClure.

Bannister was the pitching prize of the free agent sweepstakes. At 27, he was in his prime and had performed very well for the struggling Mariners. Bannister was coming off a 12-13 season with an ERA of 3.43. The White Sox signed him to a 5-year contract. Atlanta offered him a very good contract, but Bannister expressed concern over pitching at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, widely known then as a hitters paradise.

Milwaukee was able to re-sign the 28 year old McClure, who had spent his entire career as a Brewer. Shirley, who had been a journeyman lefty that finally found success in Cincinnati, hit the jackpot with a four year deal from the New York Yankees.

The Braves set their sites on Forster and Falcone. Forster was a 31 year old reliever who came up with the White Sox at the age of 19 in 1971. He had great seasons with Chicago before spending one year in Pittsburgh and then five seasons in Los Angeles. The Braves saw a lot of him in 1982, as he went 2-1 against them for the Dodgers. Forster was 5-6 in 1982 with an ERA of 3.04 and 3 saves. Ironically, it was his pitch to Giants second baseman Joe Morgan in October of 1982 that gave the Braves the division title. There were a number of teams interested in Forster, but he signed a 3 year contract with Atlanta.

Falcone was a 29 year old lefty who had been both a starter and reliever during his eight year big league career. The previous four seasons were with the Mets, where he went 8-10 with an ERA of 3.84 in 40 games (23 starts). Braves manager Joe Torre knew firsthand about Falcone, since he was the Mets Manager from 1977-1981. Falcone also had a family tie to the Braves, as Atlanta bullpen coach Joe Pignatano was his second cousin. Falcone signed a two year contract with Atlanta to battle for a spot in the rotation.

"We concentrated mostly on Forster," Nugent remembers. "Falcone was recommended by Pignatano, and we thought he could start and relieve. I don't think we ever had any serious negotiations with Bannister."

So here's how the Braves pitching looked like going into spring training 1983:

STARTING PITCHERS:

Phil Niekro
Bob Walk
Rick Mahler
Pascual Perez
Ken Dayley
Pete Falcone
Tommy Boggs
Craig McMurtry
Rick Behenna


RELIEVERS:

Gene Garber
Steve Bedrosian
Terry Forster
Rick Camp
Donnie Moore


Several things happened that caused an immediate stir in the rotation. Walk and Mahler pitched horribly in spring training, losing their jobs in the rotation to the two rookies, Craig McMurtry and Rick Behenna. Walk would pitch in only one game all season for Atlanta, while winning eleven games for Richmond. Mahler, who started 33 games for the Braves in 1982, had only ten relief appearances in 1983. Mahler won twelve games for Richmond.

Craig McMurtry was brilliant as a rookie in 1983, going 15-9 with an ERA of 3.08. He was named The Sporting News National League Rookie of the Year. "McMurtry was a sinker ball pitcher," Nugent said. "He relied on the ground ball. We expected him to be a big winner."

Pascual Perez became a fan favorite with his antics on the mound, and he won aclaim with his 15-8 record. Phil Niekro struggled with consistency at age 44, going 11-10 in 33 starts.

But after that it was a huge dropoff. Ken Dayley (16 starts), Rick Camp (16 starts), and Pete Falcone (15 starts) split duties as the fourth and fifth starters. Camp started the season as the fourth starter, but was replaced by Dayley in mid-June. Manager Joe Torre used a four man rotation for much of the season. Behenna struggled in his time as a rookie, going 3-3 with a 4.58 ERA.

The bullpen was fairly effective. Despite battling hamstring injuries, Forster turned out to be a great addition. The lefty went 3-2 with 13 saves and a 2.16 ERA. Bedrosian assumed most of the save duties from Garber, and he saved 19 games while striking out 114 in 120 innings. Garber missed the entire month of July with arm trouble, forcing Donnie Moore to step up and get more innings in the setup role. Moore had six saves in 43 games.

The offense was not a problem, at least until a warm night in Atlanta in mid-August. Atlanta led the league in runs scored and was fourth in home runs. They were six games ahead of the Dodgers when Bob Horner broke the navicular bone in his wrist against the Padres causing him to miss the rest of the 1983 season. Chris Chambliss was having his best season when he pulled a side muscle in Los Angeles in early August. Chambliss spent fifteen days on the disabled list, but was not the same for the rest of the season.

Atlanta's war with the Los Angeles Dodgers was waged on and off the field. Both teams were trying to improve their pitching before the rosters were frozen on August 31st.

There were two American League pitchers who were the primary targets: Texas lefthander Rick Honeycutt and Cleveland righthander Len Barker. Honeycutt was the favorite of both teams. He was a lefty, which both teams needed, and he led the American League with a 2.42 ERA. Honeycutt was also 14-8 on the season. Barker was 8-13 with a 5.11 ERA for the lowly Indians.

On August 19, 1983, the Dodgers acquired Honeycutt for pitchers Dave Stewart (who later became a great pitcher for the Athletics and Blue Jays) and Ricky Wright. The Braves were in first place at the time, but panicked thinking the trade would give the Dodgers the edge. Nine days after Los Angeles acquired Honeycutt, Atlanta acquired Barker from the Indians for three players to be named later. The next day, Atlanta fell out of first place and would not get it back.

"The Len Barker deal was pure panic," remembers Gerry Fraley, Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Constitution at the time and now a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. "The Braves were in on Honeycutt, but the Dodgers beat them to him. The Rangers wanted Brad Komminsk and Albert Hall. Ted (Turner) got so mad that he ordered GM John Mullen to get a pitcher within 72 hours. The result was Barker. Cleveland also wanted Komminsk and Hall, but the Braves convinced them to take Butler, Jacoby, and Behenna."

"It was always our thought that we needed another pitcher," Nugent says. "Barker had thrown a perfect game previously. Our scout, Bill Wight, followed him forever that summer and thought he'd put us over the hump."

"Pat Nugent called me at home that night and told me we had gotten Barker," says Wayne Minshew, Public Relations Director for the Braves from 1978-1987. "He kept on reading off all these names of who we were giving up for him. I remember thinking at the time that it was a little much to give up for Barker."

The real drama was in the players to be named later. Problem was they were named, but not suppose to be. Word leaked out that outfielder Brett Butler, rookie pitcher Rick Behenna, and Richmond third baseman Brook Jacoby were the three players heading to Cleveland. Butler, a fan favorite and a resident of Atlanta, was in shock. He asked team owner Ted Turner if the report was correct. Turner, always honest, leveled with Butler and admitted he was, in fact, going to the Indians after the 1983 season.

Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn fined Turner $25,000 for telling Butler about the deal. He then threatened to force Butler to go to Cleveland immediately. But on September 21st, Kuhn announced Butler could remain with Atlanta for the rest of the season.

Butler would go on to have a remarkable career. He played with Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the New York Mets. Brett almost returned to the Braves on two other occasions. Then Braves General Manager Bobby Cox tried to trade for Butler during the 1986-87 offseason, but refused to give up lefthander Zane Smith. Then in the winter of 1991, Butler was a "new look" free agent. Despite discussions with the Braves, Butler signed a long term contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After his trade from the Braves, he played fourteen seasons and racked up 2375 career hits (2137 after the 1983 trade to Cleveland) and 558 stolen bases (489 after the trade).

The Braves believed they had a number of prospects to replace Butler. Brad Komminsk hit 24 home runs and drove in 103 in Richmond that season. He split time in left field in 1984 for Atlatna and hit .203 in 301 at bats. Komminsk was traded after the 1986 season to Milwaukee, ending his career as a Brave with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 642 at bats. His career batting average as a Brave was .217.

Gerald Perry was the other half of the left field platoon in 1984, but "Gerald was never a very good outfielder," Nugent says. "He had some decent years at first base, though. We really thought Albert Hall would give us the speed and defense Brett gave us, but he never materialized."

Albert Hall did have eye-popping numbers in Richmond. In 1982, he hit .263 with 62 stolen bases. He had 100 stolen bases for Durham in 1980 and then 60 stolen bases for AA Savannah in 1981. Hall would go on to spend parts of 8 seasons (1981-1988) with Atlanta. His best season was 1987 when he hit .284 with 3 home runs and stole 33 bases. For his career, Albert hit .251 with 202 hits and 67 stolen bases.

Jacoby was a tremendous prospect in his own right. He had hit .299 with 18 home runs and 58 runs batted in for Richmond in 1982 and then .315 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI in 1983. Atlanta. Atlanta did not Jacoby much of a chance to replace Bob Horner when he was injured in August. Instead, he was headed to Cleveland to help pay for Len Barker. Jacoby would go on to hit collect 1220 hits and 120 home runs for the Indians over an impressive nine year career.

Behenna battled injures and was never a factor for the Indians. But the solid careers put together by Butler and Jacoby and the constant struggles for Len Barker made this the worst trade in Atlanta Braves history.

As for Barker, he signed a five year contract after the 1983 season despite going 1-3 in six starts after the trade. Barker, only 28 years old at the time of the trade, went 7-8 in 1984 and 2-9 in 1985. He was released on April 1, 1986 in what was termed the April Fools Day Massacre (Rick Camp, Terry Forster, and Pascual Perez were also released). Barker finished his Braves career with a 10-20 record and an ERA of 4.64.

The Braves would go on to lose the division by three games to the Dodgers. Their 1983-84 offseason started with a bang right after the end of the season.

LINGERING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE 1982 OFFSEASON AND 1983 SEASON:

1. What if the Braves had signed Floyd Bannister? Would that have been enough to help them win in 1983? Would that have eliminated the need for the trade of Len Barker?

2. Should Steve Bedrosian have been moved to the rotation? Would that have eliminated the need for the trade of Len Barker?

3. Why didn't Ken Dayley live up to his potential? If he had, would that have eliminated the need for the trade of Len Barker?

4. What if Bob Horner had not broken his wrist in mid-August? Would the Braves have won the division if he had stayed healthy?

5. What if the Braves had gotten Rick Honeycutt instead of the Dodgers? Would that have allowed them to maintain their first place lead? Would Rick have helped in the mid-80's more than Barker?

6. What if Brett Butler had never been traded? Would he have played most of his great career as a Brave? Would that have made us a better team in the mid-late 80's?

7. What if Brook Jacoby had never been traded? Would he have stepped in for the injured Bob Horner in 1984 when the third baseman was injured again and helped us against the Padres? Would Jacoby have been better than Ken Oberkfell, acquired in 1984 after Horner was hurt? How would Jacoby have helped our lineup through the 80's?

Just some questions to ponder?

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Draft Notes from 1983:

- The Braves lost their first round pick (to the Mets for the signing of Pete Falcone) and their second round pick (to the Dodgers for the signing of Terry Forster).

- Atlanta's third round pick was Marty Clary, a righthander from Northwestern University. Clary spent parts of the 1987, 1989, and 1990 seasons with the Braves. His best year was 1989, when he went 4-3 with an ERA of 3.15 in 18 games (17 starts). Marty was released following the 1990 season, and now serves as the Greenville Team Chaplain.

- Atlanta's fourth roudn pick was Ron Gant, an infielder from Victoria High School in Victoria, Texas. Gant made his debut with the Braves in 1987. He played parts of seven seasons with Atlanta (1987-1993) before playing with the Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, Angels, Rockies, Athletics, and Padres. He did not play in 2003, but will turn 39 next March and is hinting at taking one more shot at the big leagues. Gant has 1645 career hits and 320 career home runs.

- The Braves 9th round selection was Jay Buhner from McLennan Junior College. Buhner did not sign and later signed with the Yankees. He went on to have a great career, mostly with Seattle. Buhner finished his career with 1273 hits and 310 home runs in his career.

- Kevin Coffman was the Braves 11th round draft choice in 1983. Coffman was a teammate of Gant at Victoria High School in Texas. He had two brief stints with Atlanta in 1987 and 1988, compiling a 4-9 record in 23 games (16 starts). Coffman was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with Kevin Blankenship for catcher Jody Davis. Coffman would make only eight appearances for the Cubs in 1990 (0-2, 11.29 ERA).

- A late selection in the 1983 draft that was an excellent choice was infielder Mark Lemke. A 27th round pick out of Notre Dame High School in Utica, New York, Lemke spent parts of ten seasons with the Braves. He also played 31 games with the Red Sox in 1998. Lemke finished with 745 career base hits, and still has more World Series hits (31) than any player in Braves history.

Part Two of this series will be available next week. Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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