A LOOK BACK: 1983 Offseason - 1984 Season

Bill Shanks continues his series on off seasons from the Braves history. This week we focus on the 1983-84 off-season and the 1984 baseball season.

A LOOK BACK: 1983 OFFSEASON – 1984 SEASON

BY BILL SHANKS

BRAVESCENTER.COM EDITOR

 

Bill Shanks continues his series on off seasons from the Braves history. This week we focus on the 1983-84 off-season and the 1984 baseball season.

 

            The 1983 season was supposed to be the year the Atlanta Braves took that next step. They had won the National League West in 1982, the first season under manager Joe Torre. But 1983 was a disappointment, as the Braves finished 3 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers with an 88-74 record.

            Atlanta had been in the driver’s seat to win its second straight division crown, an accomplishment unheard of in those days. They led the Dodgers by 5.5 games on August 1st. But then things fell apart. The Dodgers won eight straight in late August to make up 3.5 games in the standings. Then, starting the same day the Braves made the Len Barker trade with Cleveland, Atlanta lost six in a row to fall out of first place.

            The 24-33 record from August 1st through the end of the season sealed Atlanta’s fate: second place.

            Surely, the Barker deal did not help the Braves as they expected. Atlanta went 12-20 after the trade, while the Dodgers fared only slightly better at 17-18, but good enough to win the division.

            The Braves 1983 season was peculiar. They led the National League in runs scored (746), runs per game (4.6), and batting average (.272). Atlanta’s pitching staff finished seventh in the NL (out of 12 teams) with an ERA of 3.67. But they were 4-8 in extra inning games, and 19-29 in one-run games.

            After the season was over, several big decisions had to be made. The first, and most important, was about veteran right-hander Phil Niekro. The 44-year-old was at the end of his contract, and the Braves had to make a decision on his future. Niekro went 11-10 in 1983 with an ERA of 3.97. For a 44-year old, it wasn’t bad. But it clearly was not an easy season for the Braves veteran.

            Niekro started 33 games in 1983, but had clearly become a 6-inning pitcher. With 23-year old Craig McMurtry establishing himself as a solid pitcher, and the Braves desire to add 24-year old Ken Dayley to the rotation, youth was being served on the pitching staff. Unfortunately, the 45-year old Niekro was not in the Braves plans for 1984.

            Pat Nugent was the Braves Assistant Vice President for Baseball at the time.

            “It wasn’t that we didn’t believe Phil couldn’t get hitters out, but there was a great concern that he couldn’t protect himself on the mound,” Nugent remembers. “The belief was that his legs were gone and that teams might bunt him to death.”

            The Braves were a bit coy about Niekro’s future. They really wanted him to retire, so they could retire his #35 jersey and name him as a minor league manager. But Niekro still wanted to pitch, despite being 45 years old on Opening Day of 1984. The Braves brass had a meeting in late September and decided Niekro would not return in 1984, but he wasn’t told until October 7th.

            The period of time in between is almost surreal. It was almost like the Braves were afraid, or possibly ashamed, to tell Niekro he was gone. Team Owner Ted Turner told Joe Torre that he would tell Niekro, so Torre avoided Niekro for several weeks. But then Turner went out of town, causing the delay in the official announcement.

            Niekro clearly saw the writing on the wall. He told the media he expected to be released, but was adamant about his desire to continue pitching. Phil’s brother, Houston Astros’ starting pitcher Joe Niekro, blasted Torre in the Atlanta papers. Joe Niekro believed his brother was being used as a “scapegoat” for the Braves disappointing finish to the 1983 season, and that Torre was threatened by Phil’s presence on the club.

            Niekro had applied for the Braves’ manager’s job when Torre was named in October of 1981. There was always talk that Niekro would one day be the Braves manager. Maybe that did bother Torre. But the real problem might have been with Torre’s pitching coach Bob Gibson.

            The Hall of Fame pitcher was critical of Niekro throughout the 1983 season. Gibson and Niekro were exact opposites. Gibson was a hard throwing headhunter when he was a pitcher, and he expected his pitchers to be the same way. Niekro was a soft-tossing knuckleballer who rarely threw above 85 miles an hour.

            Niekro claimed after he was released that “a coach on the staff (all signs pointed to Gibson) believed I should have retired in June.”

            “Gibson just liked power pitchers,” recalls former Braves Public Relations Director Wayne Minshew. “I know that there was inner turmoil all the way around because no one wanted to lose him (Niekro). But Joe (Torre) didn’t mind letting him go.”

            A more logical reason for the release of Niekro was the presence of several young pitchers. The Braves really wanted to insert Ken Dayley into the starting rotation in 1984. Dayley started 16 of 24 games in 1983, and went 5-8 with an ERA of 4.30. He was the best left-handed pitching prospect in some time, and the Braves wanted to give him a full-time opportunity.

            Also, several members of the Braves staff, especially Gibson, wanted to move Steve Bedrosian from the bullpen to the starting rotation. “Bedrock” had been a starter for his entire minor league career, but mostly a reliever with Atlanta in 1982 and 1983. Bedrosian had great stuff, including a mid-90’s fastball that Gibson (and others) believed would fit great in a starting rotation.

            “Bedrosian and Dayley had to have a chance,” Nugent says. “Ken was a tremendous competitor, and we didn’t need Phil there to shake his confidence. It was always debated (about Bedrosian being a starter or reliever). He had all the pitches to do either. Anyone with that talent, you’re constantly talking about which way to use him.”

            So on Friday, October 7th, Phil Niekro cleaned out his locker at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. The scene was almost surreal. He had been a Brave even before the team arrived in Atlanta, and was synonymous with the team.

            “He was Mr. Brave,” Nugent says.

            The debate about Niekro’s release did not center on the Braves decision, but on the way it was handled by the organization. General Manager John Mullen defended the tactics, saying Turner was the one who wanted to tell Niekro, causing the delay.

            Niekro’s teammates was shocked. Several showed up the day he cleaned out his locker to wish him well. Some of the players were visibly upset.

            “I think a lot of people will really examine how this was handled,” Braves pitcher Rick Camp said at the time. “I can’t imagine him not being around here.”

 

***

           

The same week the Braves were saying goodbye to Phil Niekro, they were trying to say hello (again) to Brett Butler. This is the same Brett Butler who had been dealt to Cleveland in the Barker deal six weeks earlier. He was still the property of the Braves, as his contract had not yet been “delivered” to the Indians.

            Public outcry against the trade was deafening. Fans were outraged the team had traded its newest favorite player in a deal for a pitcher. Butler had become extremely popular during the 1982-83 seasons, and the Braves decided to try to change the trade so they could keep him.

            Turner, who had blundered at the time of the deal by telling Butler he was the player to be named later, promised fans he would do his best to change the deal. But the Indians were determined to keep Butler, even though they still did not have his contract. Atlanta still had to negotiate to keep the speedy leftfielder, and trade talks were held.

            It was somewhat peculiar for a team to try and trade for a player they had just dealt away six weeks ago, despite the fact that the contract had not been delivered to the Indians.

            Turner offered to give the Indians outfielders Terry Harper (.264 with 3 HR and 26 RBI in 201 at bats in 1983) and Albert Hall (.294 average with 46 stolen bases with Richmond in 1983) if they’d allow the Braves to keep Butler. But the Indians said no, and countered with an offer of Hall and Ken Dayley. After just using Dayley as an excuse to release Niekro, there was no way the Braves would have agreed to the deal.

            So on October 21, 1983, Brett Butler officially became a Cleveland Indian.

 

***

 

            The Braves believed they had numerous young prospects ready to potentially replace Brett Butler in left field: Brad Komminsk, Gerald Perry, Albert Hall, Milt Thompson, and Terry Harper. But there was one veteran major leaguer who offered to give the Braves a little experience at the position.

            Philadelphia released 42-year-old Pete Rose on October 19th. The Phillies wanted Rose to return in 1984, but only as a part-time player. Rose asked for his release so he could seek full-time employment elsewhere.

            Rumors started circulating that Rose was headed to the Braves, who had reportedly offered him twice the money the Phillies gave him in the winter of 1978.

Rose was interested in the Braves.

            “I got along great with Ted Turner five years ago,” Rose said at a press conference announcing his release, “and, sure, I’d like to talk with him again. The Braves are a winning team, and they play in a great hitter’s park. Five years ago, the thing was I wanted to play on a team that had a chance to go to the World Series immediately. I still want to play on a winning team, and the Braves are a winning team now.”

            The Braves were not interested.

            “I just don’t see how he could fit in now,” Braves Executive Vice President Al Thornwell said at the time. “Where would he play? I don’t think he could play the outfield regularly. Anyway, we’ve discussed all the free agent possibilities, and we haven’t given this any thought at all.”

            At the time, Rose was 201 hits shy of tying Ty Cobb’s all time hits record. He hoped the Braves would see that as an attraction for WTBS. The Braves didn’t bite.

 

***

 

            The Braves had settled on their free agent targets for the winter of 1983: Yankees reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage, Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve, and Dodgers’ starter Jerry Reuss. The Braves knew their offense was solid, even with Butler leaving. But the pitching staff still needed help. Gossage and Tekulve would immediately give the Braves a dominating closer, and allow Steve Bedrosian to move to the rotation full-time.

            Gossage was the Braves favorite target. He had just turned 32 years old, and had averaged 25 saves a season in the previous six years with the New York Yankees. Gossage threw a blazing fastball, and was one of the most intimidating closers in the game. He was also the best friend of Terry Forster, a left-handed reliever for the Braves.

            Tekulve was a 36-year-old workhorse. He had averaged 75 games per season for the Pirates from 1976-1983.

            Reuss was a 34-year old left-handed starting pitcher. He had averaged 14.5 wins over the previous four seasons for the Dodgers and was 12-11 in 1983. Reuss clearly wanted to return to Los Angeles, and re-signed with the Dodgers even before the Re-Entry Draft was held on November 7th.

            So Gossage and Tekulve were the Braves only selections in the Re-Entry Draft. The Braves were one of 12 teams to draft Gossage, but the early line had him returning to the Yankees or signing with Atlanta. The Braves allowed Forster, who had been traded with Gossage by the White Sox to the Pirates, to talk with his friend about joining the Braves bullpen.

            Atlanta’s offer was for 5 seasons, and $5.5 million dollars. The White Sox, Angels, Pirates, and Padres all said that was out of their financial neighborhood. This furthered the speculation that Gossage was heading to Atlanta or returning to New York.

            The chase for a reliever would last past the winter meetings in early December. The Braves lost out on another potential closer by waiting for Gossage and Tekulve. Ron Reed asked the Phillies to trade him back to the Braves, the team he came up with in 1966 and spent parts of the next ten seasons with. Reed was 40 years old, but was still effective for the Phillies in 1983 (9-1. 3.48 with 8 saves in 61 games). The Braves were interested, but were so involved in getting Gossage that the Phillies grew impatient. Reed was traded to the White Sox for Jerry Koosman, and would save 12 games for Chicago before retiring after the 1984 season.

            Braves General Manager John Mullen and Manager Joe Torre flew to San Diego on December 20, 1983 to meet with Gossage and his agent, Jerry Kapstein. The only reason the meeting was in San Diego was that was where Kapstein’s office was located. Unfortunately, the only thing that happened out of the meetings Gossage held on that day was the he eliminated the Yankees from the sweepstakes.

            Again, it appeared the Braves were in the driver’s seat.

            But another option disappeared the next day. Tekulve re-signed with the Pirates on December 21st to a 4 year, $4 million dollar contract. The side-armer would go on to pitch a year and a half with the Pirates before being traded to Philadelphia. He would close out his career with the Reds in 1990.

            So Gossage was the lone hope. Ted Turner got involved in the negotiations and increased the Braves offer a bit. Gossage dragged out the process through the holidays and into January. San Diego, just off the signing of Steve Garvey a year earlier, felt they needed a reliever to compete with the Braves and Dodgers in the National League West. The Padres stepped up their offer (after originally saying they would not pay Gossage what the Braves had offered) to match what Turner offered in his last proposal.

            So on January 12, 1984, Gossage signed a 5-year contract with the Padres. The Braves were spurned once again.

            It had happened so many times before. Back in the winter of 1978, Turner offered Pete Rose a huge contract, only to see him sign with the Phillies. A year later, Turner wanted Twins’ right-hander Dave Goltz, only to see him sign with the Dodgers.

            Perhaps Turner’s biggest show in wooing free agents was the winter of 1980-81. Dave Winfield, a San Diego outfielder, was a free agent. Turner brought him to Atlanta, took him to Atlanta Hawks games, showed him around town. But Winfield took a huge deal with the New York Yankees.

            The other free agent that off-season was Don Sutton, who at the time was one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the game. Turner offered Sutton a five-year pitching contract and a long-term broadcasting contract. Sutton turned Turner down in order to accept a deal with the Houston Astros.

            Reggie Jackson was the prize in the winter of 1981-82. Turner flew to California to meet with Reggie, offered him a huge deal along with a spot on CNN and WTBS. But Jackson loved Hollywood and the American League. He signed a five-year contract with the California Angels.

            And, finally, the Braves went hard after Floyd Bannister in the winter of 1982-83, only to see the left-handed starter sign with the Chicago White Sox.

            But the inability to sign Gossage really hurt.

            “The Goose” went on to lead the Padres to the National League pennant in 1984. He would be traded to the Cubs in the final season of his contract in 1988, but would play through the 1994 season. Gossage would have given the Braves a dominating closer. Who knows if we would have helped the Braves win the pennant in 1984? But his presence would have allowed Steve Bedrosian to be a full-time starting pitcher. The bullpen of Gossage, Gene Garber, Terry Forster, and Donnie Moore would have been one of the best in baseball.

 

                                                            ***

 

            The Braves lost two players in the Rule V draft in December, 1983. The Blue Jays picked catcher Terry McCormack, and the Indians selected reliever Tom Waddell. The Braves had a 40-man roster crunch, and expected to lose Waddell. The right-hander went on to have two productive seasons with Cleveland, going 7-4 in 1984 with an ERA of 3.06 in 58 relief appearances. Waddell would pitch 49 games in 1985 (9 starts), before seeing his last big league action in 1986.

            Trade activity that off-season was limited. Reserve First Baseman Bob Watson made noise about finishing his big league career in Houston. The Astros wee interested, but the Braves could not pry left-handed starter Bob Knepper away from Houston.

            Rick Mahler, who spent most of 1983 in Richmond, was on the block. The Braves almost traded Mahler to the Blue Jays (where he would have been reunited with Bobby Cox) for Mike Morgan (0-3 in 16 games with Toronto in 1983). Morgan would spend 1984 back in the minors, but would go on to win 132 more major league games over the next 18 seasons.

            The Orioles, Athletics, and Royals also expressed interest in Maher that winter.

            Atlanta tried to get teams interested in Bob Walk, who like Mahler, had returned to the minors in 1983 after being contributors to the team in 1982. The Braves talked with the Tigers about outfielder Glenn Wilson (.268, 11 HR, 65 RBI in 1983), but Detroit said no. Wilson would go on to be traded to the Phillies that off-season and spent several solid seasons with the Phillies. The Braves signed him to a minor league contract in 1991, and he played a handful of games in Richmond before retiring. Wilson could come out of retirement a year later to play a few games with the Pirates in 1993.

 

***

 

            Former Brave Phil Niekro had no trouble finding teams with interest in him. The Cardinals, White Sox, Athletics, and Yankees expressed the most interest. For almost two months, the Cardinals were considered the favorite. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog expressed a sincere interest in Niekro, but the two sides could never strike a deal. On the day the Yankees were eliminated by Goose Gossage, they turned their attention to Niekro. He signed a two-year contract with New York on January 6, 1984.

 

***

 

            So the Braves went to spring training with the following roster:

 

STARTING PITCHER CANDIDATES (1983 numbers)

Craig McMurtry (15-9 in 35 starts)
Pascual Perez (11-10 in 33 starts)

Len Barker (1-3 with the Braves in 6 starts)

Ken Dayley (5-8 – 16 starts)

Rick Camp (10-9 – 16 starts)

Pete Falcone (9-4 – 15 starts)

Rick Mahler (12-7 in 24 starts at Richmond)

Bob Walk (11-12 in 28 starts at Richmond)

 

RELIEVERS (1983 numbers)

Steve Bedrosian (19 saves)

Terry Forster (13 saves)

Gene Garber (9 saves)

Donnie Moore (6 saves)

Jeff Dedmon (13 saves, 2.41 ERA in AA/AAA)

 

CATCHERS

Bruce Benedict

Biff Pocoroba

Matt Sinatro

 

INFIELDERS

Chris Chambliss

Glenn Hubbard

Rafael Ramirez

Bob Horner

Jerry Royster

Paul Runge

Paul Zuvella

Gerald Perry

Randy Johnson

Bob Watson

 

OUTFIELDERS

Dale Murphy

Claudell Washington

Brad Komminsk

Albert Hall

Terry Harper

Milt Thompson

Rufino Linares

Mike Jorgenson

 

There were several huge questions heading into the 1984 season.

  1. Would Bob Horner stay healthy? He broke his right wrist on August 15, 1983 and the Braves were not the same team without him. Horner was getting a reputation as a soft, often-injured player. His presence in the lineup was crucial.
  2. Who would replace Brett Butler as the leadoff hitter? Butler was very productive from the top spot in the order. Joe Torre named Claudell Washington his leadoff man early in spring training.
  3. Who would get the majority of playing time in left field? Perry, Harper, Hall, and Komminsk were the candidates.
  4. Could Len Barker replace Phil Niekro? Niekro had been the ace for 18 seasons, but the Braves acquired Barker to be their new ace.
  5. Would Ken Dayley take advantage of his opportunity? The Braves made room for him by releasing Niekro. 1984 was Dayley’s chance.
  6. Who would lead the bullpen? Bedrosian struggled as a reliever in the second half of 1983. Garber had elbow/nerve problems, and Forster battled hamstring trouble.

 

The Braves got a piece of bad news as soon as they hit spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida. Pascual Perez was arrested in his native Dominican Republic for cocaine possession. Perez would miss all of spring training and the first month of the season.

In his absence, the Braves would count even more on Barker to be the ace. McMurtry, Dayley, and Falcone would round out the top four in the rotation with Mahler and Camp battling it out for the fifth starter’s job. The Braves sniffed around baseball to see if there was any pitching available, but even offering first baseman Chris Chambliss could not trigger a deal.

Bob Walk was released in March after a tough spring training. Walk would move on to the Pirates organization. He spent much of 1984 in AAA, but got back to the majors in 1985. Walk would go on to pitch nine years in Pittsburgh, compiling an 80-60 record.  

The Braves started off slow in 1984. They were only 9-12 in April, and it took until May 11th to get over the .500-mark. Part of the trouble was the injuries. Terry Harper dislocated his shoulder in spring training and missed out starting the season as the number one left fielder. Then Bob Horner got hurt. Atlanta’s third baseman had a collision at home plate on April 28th and would spend the next two weeks on the disabled list.

            The pitching started slow as well. Ken Dayley was terrible in his first four starts (0-3 with an ERA of 5.30, 18 runs and 28 hits in 18 innings), and was sent down to Richmond. McMurtry was clearly not the same pitcher he was in 1983, and the Braves didn’t get Perez back until May.

            Atlanta made a move at the end of April that cut ties with a veteran and popular player. The Braves released Biff Pocoroba on April 24th, and acquired Alex Trevino from the Cincinnati Reds. Pocoroba was a bright catching prospect back in 1975 when he made his major league debut. Biff made the All Star Team in 1978 and was Phil Niekro’s personal catcher.

            Pocoroba suffered a torn rotator cuff injury in 1979, forcing him to put down the catcher’s gear for most of the rest of his career. He did, however, remain a fan favorite, as he became a dependable left-handed pinch hitter off the bench.

            Trevino had played for Torre in New York for the Mets, but had been traded to Cincinnati in the huge George Foster trade. He was built as the replacement for Johnny Bench, and never lived up to the expectations. Even though Torre said the Braves got Trevino as a backup, he would split most of the playing time at catcher with Bruce Benedict. Trevino hit .244 with 3 home runs and 28 RBI. Benedict hit .223 with 4 home runs and 25 RBI in 95 games at catcher.

            For all practical purposes, the Braves season crashed and burned on May 30th. Horner broke the same right wrist he had broken ten months earlier. His season was over after playing in only 32 games, hitting 3 home runs, and driving in 19. The injury made the small tiny bone in the wrist called the navicular bone part of the nomenclature in Atlanta forever.

            The Braves scurried to replace Horner. Randy Johnson, a 28-year-old reserve would assume the majority of playing time. Johnson did an admirable job, but was nowhere near the player Bob Horner was. Johnson finished the season with a .279 average, 5 home runs, and 30 RBI in 294 at bats. He would play 81 games at third base.

            General Manager John Mullen scanned the league for an experienced replacement. He spoke with the Twins about Roy Smalley, but settled on Cardinals third baseman Ken Oberkfell. The left-handed hitting Oberkfell was a valuable member of the Cardinals 1982 World Championship team. But again, he was a different player from Bob Horner. Oberkfell provided solid defense, but was more of a #2 hitter in the lineup.

            The Braves traded Ken Dayley and Mike Jorgenson to the Cardinals for Oberkfell. Obviously, the Braves gave up on Dayley after he struggled early in the 1984 season. He was sent back to Richmond, and the Braves were skeptical if he could ever escape the shadow of Phil Niekro. Fans put a lot of pressure on Dayley to live up to his high expectations, and he never could produce. Dayley would become a quality left-handed reliever for the Cardinals (39 saves in 6 ½ seasons). He would battle vertigo problems after he signed a three-year contract with Toronto before the 1991 season. Dayley retired after the 1993 campaign.

            Ken Dayley’s failure was another disappointment in the Braves quest to find a left-handed starting pitcher. As of 1984, no Atlanta Braves left-hander had ever won more than 13 games in one season. Larry McWilliams and Mickey Mahler (Rick’s brother) never panned out. The Dodgers had Valenzuela, Reuss, and Honeycutt, but the Braves could never develop a quality left-handed starting pitcher.

            Ironically, eleven days before the Braves traded their latest left-handed hopeful Ken Dayley, they drafted a left-handed pitcher out of Billerica, Massachusetts.

            His name was Tom Glavine.

 

***

 

            So with Horner out, the Braves struggled to find consistent offense. The lineup was constantly changing. Chambliss and Perry were sharing duties at first base; Oberkfell and Johnson were platooning at third base; Trevino and Benedict split time behind the plate; and left field was like playing musical chairs.

            Gerald Perry had 53 starts in left field, most on the team. But Perry was clearly a first baseman, and with Chambliss aging at 35, Gerald’s future was in the infield. Perry did show good offensive promise, hitting .265 with 7 home runs and 47 runs batted in.

            Brad Komminsk was the enigma. When Claudell Washington missed most of the last two months of the season with injuries, Komminsk had to move to right. Washington was having the best season of his career, so again Komminsk had a lot of pressure to perform. His first full season was a disappointment, as Brad hit .203 with only 8 HR and 36 RBI. The Braves believed Komminsk could develop into another Dale Murphy. Instead, he was developing into a major bust.

            Albert Hall played 48 games in left field and hit .261 with 1 HR, 9 RBI and only 6 stolen bases. Harper battled his shoulder injury and played in only 28 games in left field. It did not help that as his replacements struggled, Brett Butler hit .269 in 602 at bats for the Indians with 3 home runs, 49 RBI, and 52 stolen bases.

            Atlanta’s two middle infielders struggled all season. Second Baseman Glenn Hubbard hit .234 with 9 home runs and 43 RBI. He had a number of nagging injuries after the All Star Break, and hit only .194 during the second half of the season. Shortstop Rafael Ramirez got off to a fast start, hitting .300 at the All Star Break to be one of Atlanta’s three representative at the Mid-Summer Classic. But he also tailed off dramatically after July 1st, and finished with a .266 batting average.

            The Braves had a disastrous stretch in July and August, going 23-33 and allowing the San Diego Padres to get a huge lead in the division. Atlanta struggled against the National League East, going 32-40 against the Mets, Cubs, Cardinals, Expos, Phillies, and Pirates.

            One of the highlights, if you will, of the 1984 season happened on August 12th. It is still known as one of the best baseball brawls in history. San Diego was visiting Atlanta on a Sunday afternoon. The Braves had gone 3-7 in their first 10 games on the home stand, and they had dropped to 10.5 games behind the Padres in the N.L. West.

            After a two-hour rain delay, the game started around 4:00pm. The first pitch from Pascual Perez hit Padres Second Baseman Alan Wiggins. It started a series of brawls. Later in the game, the Padres hit Perez when he was batting, sending him running around the field with his bat in hand ready to hit whomever came near him. Bob Watson, one of the leaders on the team, protected Perez from several Padre players who wanted a piece of him.

            Earlier in the day, Bob Horner was seen in the press box in street clothes. He had a device hooked up to his wrist to try and make it heal quicker. Later, after about the third brawl, Horner was seen at the top step of the Atlanta dugout keeping Padres outfielder Champ Summers from going after Perez. Horner, still with the device on his hand, pushed Summers out of the way until more of the Braves got in front of Horner.

            The Braves retaliated late in the game when Donnie Moore hit Graig Nettles in the butt. This final brawl also triggered some over-beveraged fans to break through the security at Fulton County Stadium and run on the field. It was, without a doubt, a wild day.

            While the Braves won the battle by winning the game that Sunday, the Padres won the war. San Diego won the division by 12 games with a record of 92-70. Atlanta finished in a tie for second place with Houston with a record of 80-82.

            Dale Murphy continued to establish himself as one of the best players in the National League. He hit .290 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI. Murphy’s 36 dingers led the league (can you imagine 36 home runs being the tops in the league?) and he was tops in slugging percentage. Murphy also captured another Gold Glove Award for his terrific play in centerfield.

            The pitching staff actually improved from 1983. The team ERA went from 3.67 to 3.59. Barker didn’t pitch that poorly until he got hurt during the second half of the season. He was placed on the disabled list August 8th and on August 24th underwent surgery to relocate the ulna nerve in his right elbow and remove a bone spur. Before his injury, Barker went 7-8 with an ERA of 3.85. He allowed 120 hits in 126.1 innings pitched and had 95 strikeouts.

            Perez went 14-8, which is pretty good considering he missed April due to his legal troubles. At 27, Perez was clearly in his prime. Rick Mahler bounced back after spending 1983 in Richmond. Mahler went 13-10 in 1984 with an ERA of 3.12. Craig McMurtry struggled with control problems, walking 102 and striking out only 99 in 183.2 innings of work. McMurtry went 9-17 in his sophomore season.

            Rick Camp, who went 8-6 with an ERA of 3.27, mainly filled the 5th starter’s role. Camp started 21 of the 31 games he appeared in. Pete Falcone also pitched admirably in splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. The left-hander went 5-7 with an ERA of 4.12. Falcone started 16 of his 35 games that season.

            The bullpen was besieged by injury problems, but was generally effective. Steve Bedrosian went 9-6 with an ERA of 2.37 in 40 games. He had eleven saves, but missed the final six weeks of the season with tendonitis in his right bicep. Terry Forster had five saves and an ERA of 2.70 in 25 games, but he injured his hamstring on June 23rd. Forster attempted to come back in August, but was still hampered by the injury, and was able to work only a total of two innings in five appearances before returning to the disabled list for the remainder of the season.

            Gene Garber was the workhorse of the staff, pitching 106 innings in 62 games. Garber didn’t have much of a choice but to work more than the normal one inning of relief with Bedrosian and Forster out of action a lot. The Braves did see Donnie Moore emerge as a quality major league pitcher in 1984. Moore became Atlanta’s closer, saving 16 games and finishing with an ERA of 2.94 in 47 games. Jeff Dedmon was a quality rookie reliever with Atlanta, going 4-3 in 54 games with an ERA of 3.78.

            But overall, 1984 was a disappointment to the Atlanta Braves. It was a season full of injuries, players adjusting to new roles, and simple disappointing performances. The second straight second place finish was not good enough to keep one man’s job.

 

***

 

1984 DRAFT NOTES

SECONDARY PHASE (JANUARY)

 

Round Three  Mike Yastrzemski            OF            Highland Beach, Florida

The son of legendary Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski played for only two years in the Braves farm system. He hit .270 with 11 home runs, 63 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 1985 for the Durham Bulls

 

REGULAR PHASE (JUNE)

 

Round One     Andrew Denson            OF            Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati

Drew Denson was a very heralded prospect throughout his years in the Braves farm system. Hank Aaron called him one of the best hitting prospects he had ever seen. But Denson struggled in his six seasons in the Braves organization. He never hit more than 14 home runs in a season, and his batting average was always in the .250 range. The Braves moved him to first base in the late 80’s, but it did little to trigger his offense. Atlanta brought him up to the big leagues at the end of the 1989 season. He hit .250 in 36 at bats. The Braves released Denson before the 1990 season. Two years later, he signed with the Chicago White Sox. He had 5 at bats with the Sox in 1993, and never played in the big leagues again.

 

Round Two      Tom Glavine              LHP            Billerica High School, Billerica, Mass.

Tom Glavine ended the curse against the Braves with regards to left-handed starting pitchers. He finished his Braves career after the 2002 season with astonishing numbers: 242 wins and 143 losses. When he moved on to the New York Mets in 2003, he finished with 9 wins and 14 losses. It was the first time in 12 years he finished with a losing record, and the first time in 14 years that Glavine didn’t finish with ten wins or more. He’s in the second season of a four-year contract with the Mets.

 

SECONDARY PHASE (JUNE)

 

Round One      Jeff Blauser                INF            Sacramento Junior College in California

Blauser had a great career with the Braves, making his major league debut in 1987. The shortstop went on to play eleven seasons in Atlanta, hitting .268 with 109 home runs and 461 runs batted in. Blauser was a huge part of the Braves Championship team in 1995. He left Atlanta as a free agent, and played two seasons with the Chicago Cubs in 1998 and 1999 before retiring. Blauser spent part of 2003 as a roving minor league instructor in the Atlanta Braves organization.

 

Bill Shanks hosts a regional television program on the Atlanta Braves during the season. He can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com



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