It’s been really really really really really really slow!
If you’d like to write for the blog, reach out to me at the email address in the top right corner. Pitchers and catchers are just a few days away!
It’s been really really really really really really slow!
If you’d like to write for the blog, reach out to me at the email address in the top right corner. Pitchers and catchers are just a few days away!
According to Mark Bradley, the Braves think that they got a lot closer to being done with their rebuild than they’d previously hoped, basically entirely because of how badly they swindled the Diamondbacks.
Man, it feels like the offseason gets longer every year.
A mass psychosis infected major league baseball in the 1970s, and it cost Larry Whisenton a major league career.
The installation of artificial turf in several ballparks in the ‘70s (with the attendant assumption that turf emphasized the value of speed), along with Lou Brock’s high-profile pursuit of both the single-season and career stolen base records (he achieved the former in ’74, the latter in ’77) sent the game into full-blown stolen base mania. Some teams attempted to install speedy players throughout the lineup, and many of those who didn’t ran anyway (true fact – the Indians attempted 1017 SBs from ’72-’78, and were caught 497 times, for a whopping 51% team success rate). Certainly some teams bought in more completely than others, but even teams who didn’t go full Charley O. found a way to capitalize on the trend. They could develop their very own Stolen Base Hero.
Larry Whisenton, the team’s 2nd round pick in the 1975 draft, was alas not a Stolen Base Hero. He was fast enough – his minor league season seasonal totals in his formative years averaged out to 21-for-31 in SB attempts, and he would occasionally run a double into a triple – but he was not a blazer in the Brock mold. In fact, the Braves were late to this particular party. An Albert Ryan swiped 50 in single-A in 1975, but topped out in AA. Gary Cooper auditioned, but also proved to be miscast. For lack of a Brock (or a LeFlore, or even, and careful what you wish for, a Moreno), the organization promoted Whisenton up the ladder, including a September cup of coffee in ‘77. He wasn’t setting the world on fire, but the young outfielder displayed a broad base of skills, including an above average ability to reach base.
Then, on December 8, 1977, thunder struck in the form of a blockbuster 4-team trade. The Braves, Mets, Pirates, and Rangers concocted a deal that included Bert Blyleven, Al Oliver, Jon Matlack, and several other proven major league ballplayers – 214.7 cumulative WAR among them. The Braves’ role in the trade was relatively minor – they dealt a disappointing and discontented Willie Montanez to Texas in exchange for prodigal son Adrian Devine, Tommy “The Pride of Poughkeepsie” Boggs….and, best of all, minor league speedster Eddie Miller. At long last, the Braves had their Stolen Base Hero.
Miller, like Whisenton, was a 2nd round pick in 1975, and he hit the ground running in pro ball. He stole 30 bases in 51 rookie league games that year while posting a .428 OBP, and followed up in ’76 and ’77 with more of the same at A and AA (.264/.390/.316, 65 SBs and .294/.394/.380, 80 SBs, respectively). The Rangers’ minor league affiliates played in some gaudy run environments, a factor often ignored at the time in judging prospects, but there’s no arguing that Miller was performing as advertised.
Miller and Whisenton, both 21 years old, reported to Richmond in 1978 and were everyday outfielders for the AAA team for much of the next three seasons, Miller in CF, Whisenton a corner OF (the record doesn’t show whether he was primarily in LF or RF – he would later play both in the majors). On the surface it appeared they were getting the same shot, but look a little closer and you can discern which of the two was more intriguing to the Braves. They received September callups in ’78, but Miller (.249/.335/.316, 2 HRs, 36 SBs in AAA) got the first playing time over Whisenton (.241/.348/.381, 10 HRs, 14 SBs) – Miller debuted on 9/20 and received 24 total September PAs, while Whisenton got into his first game three days later, tallying 17 total PAs.
1979 played out in similar fashion – Whisenton (.269/.354/.384, 6 HRs) again outhit Miller (.234/.311/.340, 5 HRs), but Miller finally donned his Stolen Base Hero cape as a Brave prospect, swiping 76 bases in 99 attempts, as was the style at the time. I can report that his exploits began to filter into Ernie, Skip, and Pete’s radio broadcasts that summer, and if he wasn’t the most promising Braves prospect since Murph he was certainly one of the most hyped. Again the treatment they received upon being called up in September hinted at their respective status – Miller was installed as the Braves starting CF upon arrival on 9/1, and played every inning of the remainder of the season. He made the most of the opportunity, hitting .310 and flashing his speed to the tune of 15/17 SBs. Whisenton, meanwhile, finally got into a game on 9/11, and received 41 September PAs (.243/.300/.351).
In 1980 Miller broke camp with the big club as their starting CF and leadoff hitter, and the team traveled to Cincinnati for a season-opening 4-game series against the Reds, who featured a Stolen Base Hero of their own in CF Dave Collins (whose 79 steals that year represented over half the team total). The series was an utter rout – the Reds swept all four games, winning three by shutout. Collins played the catalyst role to perfection, reaching base 11 times, stealing three bases and scoring five runs. Miller, meanwhile, scratched out just three hits and scored only once. While four games seems awfully quick to pull the plug on an experiment, perhaps the contrast between one SBH who his team hoped could hit and another who actually could was too stark to ignore, and Bobby Cox benched Miller in favor of Brian Asselstine. Miller was quickly lost on a roster that also included Murph, Gary Matthews, and Jeff Burroughs, and a couple of weeks later resumed his accustomed role alongside Whisenton in Richmond.
At this point, their performance diverged even more greatly – Miller bombed upon his demotion, hitting a paltry .209/.281/.241, his 60 SBs cold comfort to an organization still hoping he could be “taught to hit” (a phrase often used in those days, and a hill many SBHs died upon). Whisenton kept plugging along, with slash stats of .252/.335/.389. Not showing off, not falling behind. A regular Steven Koren. September arrived, but the team, perhaps fearful of giving Whisenton the impression he’d moved up in the pecking order, passed on both players’ services, opting instead to take their first look at Terry Harper (by then in his eighth year as a Braves farmhand, so don’t feel too bad on Larry’s account).
At this point I should address the glaring non-stolen base related issue in comparing Miller and Whisenton – the point can be made that, with Miller being a CF and Whisenton a corner OF, they weren’t actually in direct competition, and Whisenton’s advantage as a hitter is negated by the greater offensive demands of the positions he played. While true as far as it goes, this may have had more to do with the organization’s decision of where to slot them (as aligned with the prevalent prejudices of the era) than it was a comment on their relative defensive abilities. The sample sizes are small, but Whisenton’s RF/9s in LF and RF compare favorably to Miller’s at those positions, and he has the edge in assist rate as well. We know he was fast, so there’s nothing to show he could not have filled in at CF as needed. That he wasn’t afforded the opportunity could well have cost him in his career.
In the strike year of 1981, the familiar pattern emerges once again. Miller, borderline inexpicably, made the club out of spring training, Whisenton went back to Richmond. Whisenton, now 24, added some power to his arsenal, upping his slash stats to .271/.391/.430, and featuring a career-best 17 HRs. September saw him summoned to Atlanta once again, this time for a cursory 7 PAs in 9 games. Miller spent the season in an Atlanta uni, but to not much effect – his 23 SBs helped a bit, but he was no longer hitting the ball with any authority, to the tune of .231/.285/.269. This was pretty clearly the true level of his ability, and after the season he was traded to Detroit for RHP Roger Weaver, who never pitched for the Braves. Miller kicked around for a few more years, and ended up playing several years of Mexican League ball.
So, at long last in 1982 the final OF spot was available to be claimed, and Whisenton claimed it. His contributions to the team that year were modest but real, his .239/.339/.399 line was good for a 103 OPS+, and he was particularly effective as a starter (.271/.366/.438). Personal highlights included a 4-2-4-2 game against the Mets on May 25, a pinch-hit RBI triple and run scored in a 9th inning comeback win on June 21, and driving in runs in five consecutive starts in July. He went 0-2 in the NLCS.
And then… well, that was it for Whisenton’s major league career. The team was seemingly on the upswing, Murph and Claudell Washington had hammerlocks on two of the three OF positions going into 1983, and while Harper solidified his roster spot, his starting role was usurped by scrappy phenom Brett Butler, baseball’s first Caught Stealing Hero. A veteran bench was imported in a vain effort to push the team over the top, leaving no room for Whisenton. Worst of all, his customary September bench slot was taken by a strapping can’t-miss kid with a wicked uppercut, the team again favoring a singular tool over a well-rounded ballplayer. Whisenton played through 1985 in the Braves system, regularly getting on base 40% of the time, spreading his extra base hits evenly across doubles, triples, and HRs, and stealing bases now and then. He was released after 11 years in the organization, and never played for another.
It would be foolish to say Whisenton could have been a star – he wasn’t that good. His modest batting averages probably stuck out more then than they would now, and they masked a broad base of decent skills. In another time, or in a different organization, he might have had a nice run as a fourth outfielder. And maybe he’d have caught a break and had Gregor Blanco’s career. Larry Whisenton made around $100,000 playing baseball for a living. Blanco is at $9 million and counting…
Oh what could have been…
The Braves drafted Brett Butler in the 23rd round of the 1979 draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Butler was only one of four Braves draftees from 1979 to make it to the big leagues and easily had the best career. Unfortunately, most of that career came with other teams, including division rivals LA, San Fran and IWOTM!
After being drafted, Butler flew through the minors. In fact, in 1981 he started in Durham (A) and was promoted straight to Richmond (AAA). He earned a late-season call up in 1981 and was tabbed as the future center fielder and leadoff hitter. That is exactly what he did to start 1982.
Butler started off the 1982 campaign pretty well. He was getting on base at a .388 clip and wasn’t striking out much. By the end of April, though, the league caught up to him and he started to unravel. By July, he was back in Richmond.
When Butler was recalled in mid August, he couldn’t get in a groove and was pretty much a bench player for the rest of the season. Butler finished the year hitting .217 with a .291 OBP. He did steal 21 bases, though.
The 1983 season would be different. Butler lead the league in triples and stole 39 bases, putting up close to 3 WAR. The Braves then sent Butler to Cleveland (with Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna AND CASH!) for Len Barker. This deal alone sums up the Braves from 1984-1990. Jacoby would become a two time All-Star. Barker signed a huge deal with the Braves and won 10 games before being released in 1986.
As you may know, Butler eventually went to the Giants and later the Dodgers where he became one of the most feared leadoff hitters in the game. He had very little pop, but may have been one of the greatest bunters of all time. While he only had one All-Star appearance, he received downballot MVP votes in five different seasons and was 12th in baseball in WAR from 1984-1995 — just behind Lou Whitaker and just ahead of Paul Molitor.
In my mind, Butler is the ceiling for Mallex Smith. Both are left handed center fielders with little pop. Smith probably has more speed; Butler probably was a better hitter. If we can get Butler’s career out of Smith, we’ll have something.
That is, if we don’t send him to Cleveland for another dead arm.
In case you missed the last one, here was Ububba’s intro:
I remembered that I have a shoebox full of old event tickets—concerts, ballgames, all kinds of stuff—basically from the mid-1970s thru about 1984 or so. Of course, there was a slew of old Braves tickets in there, too, including a bunch (in picture) from that crazy 1982 season.
So here is part two of the games in the box:
Went with a Mets fan from Pittsburgh (I swear), who lived on my dorm hall. It was a Tuesday night with a tiny crowd, so we easily scored seats behind home plate ($6!). We sat next to Mookie Wilson’s brother, who looked just like him. Mahler went the distance—he always seemed to pitch when I went—and the Braves battered future CYA winner Mike Scott with an 8-run 2nd inning, which included HRs from Murphy & Hubbard. With George Foster up later in the game, my Met friend said, “It would be just like Foster to hit a meaningless HR here.” And he did just that. (Time 2:02; Attendance 9,581; Braves 27-16)
Working at Ft. Benning for the summer, I drove up from Columbus for this Saturday-night affair. On the strength of a Rufino Linares solo HR in the 7th, Atlanta took a 4-3 lead into the 9th. Then it got ugly. Gene Garber & Al Hrabosky coughed up the lead & left the bases loaded with 2 outs & the Braves down 5-4. Torre then called on Bedrosian, who promptly gave up a cannon-shot GSHR to Chili Davis that landed deep in the RCF bleachers. It was a long 100 miles back home. (Time 3:00; Attendance 30,497; Braves 39-24)
A perfect day. Drove up from Columbus early Sunday on the 4th of July, only to find the game completely sold out, a real rarity back then. Luckily, a woman appeared on the plaza holding up a pair of tickets in the 2nd row of the uppers behind home plate for face value – $8. We’ll take those, thanks. Bob Horner hit 2 near-identical homers, an efficient Bob Walk went into the 8th, then Bedrosian shut the door. A glorious Independence Day. (Time 2:19; Attendance 48,905; Braves 48-29)
Here’s when things started to get shaky—it was Game 4 of the 19-of-21 slide. Up 10.5 games on the Dodgers, the Braves dropped a home twin-bill to L.A. on Friday. Then, the Braves got shut out by Fernando Valenzuela on Saturday & the Dodgers had picked up 3 games in 2 days. Everyone was nervous, but the big Sunday crowd got a charge early, as Chambliss crushed a 1st-inning GSHR off Auburn’s Joe Beckwith. Alas, the Braves couldn’t hold on, as L.A. clobbered Niekro, Carlos Diaz & Gene Garber to complete the 4-game sweep—2 HRs for Dusty Baker & another bomb from Pedro Guerrero. A 10.5-game lead had shrunk to 6.5 – <i>uh-oh</i>. (Time 3:12; Attendance 33,957; Braves 61-41)
By now, the Braves had fallen out of first and were suddenly in a pennant race with the Dodgers and the Giants. Still licking their wounds from a disastrous West Coast trip—10 losses in 11 games—the Braves dropped 3 more at home to Montreal before they ran up a 3-game winning streak. On this Sunday, they’d sweep the Mets to make it 4 in a row and stand one game behind L.A. in the division. Nobody pitched well, really. For the Mets, it was Rick Ownby, Pete Falcone, Jesse Orosco & Tom Hausman. For the Braves, Mahler, Donnie Moore, Bedrock, Diaz & Garber. Murphy hit a 2-run job off Orosco (#30) to take the lead late. (Murphy really annihilated LHP that 1st MVP year: .351/.453/.649 in 159 PA.) Then in the 9th, Dave Kingman hit a titanic blast (also #30) off Garber to pull within one, but that’s as close as they got, with Geno earning another shaky save. From here on in, it would be a day-to-day battle until the very last game. (Time 3:28; Attendance 20,466; Braves 67-56)
After That: I’m not really sure why I didn’t see any more Braves games in 1982, but it probably had something to do with school starting up again in mid-September. There was also the matter of Georgia football, which essentially ruled out attending Braves games on most September Saturdays. (Back then, we had this guy named Herschel Walker…)
When the playoffs started, for some reason, I figured I’d go to Game 4 or 5 of the NLCS vs. St. Louis, but, as we know, those games never happened. Still, with the record start, Murphy’s MVP season and the first real pennant race many of us ever experienced, it’s difficult not to remember 1982 fondly. For a generation of Braves fans, it was all new to us.
Knowing we’re taking an off-season look at the Braves’ division-winning 1982 campaign, I remembered that I have a shoebox full of old event tickets—concerts, ballgames, all kinds of stuff—basically from the mid-1970s thru about 1984 or so. Of course, there was a slew of old Braves tickets in there, too, including a bunch (in picture) from that crazy 1982 season.
First, A Few Curious Items: In the shoebox, I found a very formal invitation ticket for my mother to visit a 1976 campaign stop in Chamblee for President Gerald R. Ford. She didn’t attend it because the event fell on my sister’s 10th birthday. Instead, we had a party at Shakey’s Pizza in our hometown of Columbus, Ga., which was probably way more entertaining than any event featuring Gerald R. Ford.
Autographed Concert-Ticket Stubs: B.B. King, 2/16/80, at the Columbus Municipal Auditorium—after playing with Bobby “Blue” Bland; The Clash, 6/2/82 at the Fox Theater, Atlanta—we caught Joe Strummer & Mick Jones quite by accident as they walked out of their dressing room onto Ponce de Leon; Hunter S. Thompson, 1983 at Memorial Hall Ballroom, UGA/Athens—yes, he was drunk; & the Dead Kennedys, 5/20/83 at 688 Club, Atlanta—guitarist East Bay Ray signed the ticket, “J. Falwell.”
Among the SEC Fare: And Spike, I have a ticket from Jordan-Hare Stadium, 11/3/79, Auburn beat Florida 19-13—were you at that one?
On To the Braves Games: I was finishing up my first year at UGA, living in Russell Hall—a boozy mega-dorm only a freshman could endure. The Braves, of course, got hot right out of the gate, winning their first 13 games, and our dorm hall got right into the action, attending several games that spring. This is what I remember, with a little help from Retrosheet. And notice the quick game times:
The previous evening, the Reds had halted the season-opening 13-game winning streak and this would be the second of 5 consecutive losses. But going to the ballpark was a new feeling—<i>hey, we might actually be good this year!</i> The place was fairly packed & we sat high in the uppers on the 1B side – 15 rows up for $4. Pads starter Tim Lollar hit a long HR off Niekro (he had 8 in his short NL career) & Sixto Lezcano hit 2 dingers, including a 3-run job off Rick Camp to win it in extras.
What I Remember Most: Earlier in the game, Glenn Hubbard hit a game-tying solo HR & I saw this drunk guy across the aisle from me reach over to give his friend a celebratory high-five. But… he missed the guy’s hand, then stumbled & tumbled about a dozen rows in a spectacular rolling fall to the very bottom of the section. He got up shakily & quickly disappeared down the portal, only to return the next inning with 2 more beers – and an ugly scrape on his forehead. IIRC, he made it thru the 12 innings. One hopes he didn’t pose for a mugshot later that night. (Time 3:15; Attendance 37,105; Braves 13-2)
Other than a patented Dale Murphy oppo-shot that careened off the RF football bleachers, I don’t remember a lot about this one. According to Retrosheet, it was a pitchers’ duel between Rick Mahler & Randy Martz. Up 2-1 going into the 9th, the Cubbies nicked up Camp for 3, benefitting from a walk, a misplayed bunt & a Hubbard error—more like a late-inning meltdown. (Time 2:20; Attendance 27,094; Braves 16-6)
This is one of those early-season games where manager Joe Torre began to fall in love with Steve Bedrosian. After the Phils roughed up Mahler to go up 5-0, the Bravos rebounded & took the lead on Sparky Lyle (via a clutch Chris Chambliss RBI & a rare Mike Schmidt error). Bedrock took the win & closed things out with 3 scoreless innings—almost Gossage-like. Games like these reaffirmed the belief that we might be seeing a special season. (Time 2:39; Attendance 28,050; Braves 26-13)
The next afternoon. Other than an oppo-shot from Murphy (#13 for the season), not much to celebrate here. Pete Rose picked up 2 RBI & crafty vet Mike Krukow, having one of his best years, went 8 to best Larry McWilliams. IIRC, went to see The Plasmatics at the Agora Ballroom on Peachtree later that night. Wendy O. Williams blew things up, chain-sawed instruments in half & did her best to test the local morals code—yup, way more entertaining than Mike Krukow. (Time 2:12; Attendance 25,925; Braves 26-14)
Apart from Phil Niekro (17-4), Bob Walk was the only starting pitcher on the 1982 Atlanta Braves who managed a W/L record over .500 — and not by much. He was 11-9. Walk managed this despite posting a 4.87 ERA and a 1.448 WHIP. (His ERA+ was 77.) Illustrating the vagary of pitcher wins, these numbers indicate that Walk was probably the worst starter on the team that season. Accordingly, he did not get a start in the NLCS, and managed only one inning of relief in the series.
It really is amazing to look back at this team and see that they managed to win the division. I liken the 1982 Braves to the #14 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament who jumps out to a 13-0 lead. You start to think — could this really happen? Then you spend the next two hours sweating out the inevitable comeback. Usually, the underdogs get overtaken, but when they do hang on, it is a sweet experience. (Unless that #14 seed is Weber State.)
Walk was acquired by the Braves from Philadelphia after the 1980 season, for Gary Matthews, Sarge. Walk spent most of 1983 in the minors, and the Braves released him during Spring Training the following year. Pittsburgh signed him, and he spent most of 1984 and ’85 in the minors. He had a pretty decent career in Pittsburgh from 1986-1993, posting a career 3.83 ERA there (95 ERA+), including an All-Star appearance in 1988 at age 31.
Walk spent parts of 14 seasons in the majors, and ended his career with a 105-81 record and a 4.03 ERA.
I remembered that Glenn Hubbard had a reputation as good defensive 2nd baseman. What I did not know is that, according to Baseball Reference, he is the career leader among 2nd basemen in Range Factor per 9 innings. Complete data for range factor exist only back to 1974, but that was still a pleasant surprise to me.
For those of you who are not old enough to remember the 5’ 9”, 150 pound Hubbard, you may remember his 1990’s reincarnation, Mark Lemke.
Hubbard broke into the majors early, getting 178 plate appearances at age 20 in 1978. I don’t know how much of this to attribute to his resume, and how much of that was a function of the 1978 Atlanta Braves.
Hubbard had a career .244/.328/.349 batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage, with 70 home runs in 5122 plate appearances. He never really had a standout offensive year; his best season at the plate was probably 1983 when he batted .263 with 12 home runs, and he was named to his only All-Star team. However, from 1980 until he was granted free agency in 1987, Hubbard was consistently in the top 3 among National League 2nd basemen in Fielding Percentage, Assists, and Double Plays Turned.
In 1982, Hubbard led the National League in sacrifice hits with 20. (I am contractually obligated to crack the door open for someone to talk about Fredi once per write-up.) On June 27, he hit a walk off home run in the 10th inning against the Padres to secure the second game of a double-header sweep.
I don’t remember why the Braves let Hubbard go, but after just a season and a half in Oakland, his playing career was over in 1989, at age 31. Hubbard was the Braves first base coach from 1999 – 2010, and is currently the bench coach for the Lexington Legends, in the Royals organization.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2016 has been announced, and there are two new members: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza. Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman all received more than 67% of the vote, which suggests that they have a good chance of getting in next year.
Frankly, I think that there were at least ten people on the ballot who deserve to get in, and arguably more than that. Mac was a Big-Hall guy, and after being on this site for a while I became more comfortable with that, too. I would have voted for Griffey, Raines, Piazza, Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Alan Trammell, and if I had had an eleventh vote, you could have persuaded me to vote for Larry Walker. (I’m a member of the IBWAA, and I voted for him there, because Raines, Bagwell, and Piazza had already been elected in previous years.)
Voters are demanding a much higher caliber of player nowadays than they used to even a few years ago. Players like Trammell and Mark McGwire, who fell off the ballot because this was their last year of eligibility. Or like Kevin Brown and Lou Whitaker, who fell off the ballot in their first years of eligibility, 2011 and 2001. This despite the fact that they were all at least as good as — if not demonstrably better than — recent inductees like Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson, and Jim Rice, to say nothing of a special case like Kirby Puckett, or relievers like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. And even Rice, Winfield, and Dawson had far better careers than the vast glut of players from the first half of the 20th century elected by the Veterans Committee, like High Pockets Kelly and Freddie Lindstrom and Jesse Haines and Rube Marquard.
The Hall of Fame logjam is serious: next year, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero will all appear on the ballot for the first time, next to eight holdovers who got more than 40% of the vote, all of whom have a serious chance of making it in some day: Bagwell, Raines, Hoffman, Schilling, Clemens, Bonds, Martinez, and Mussina. (I’d support the candidacies of all but Hoffman.) Hoffman, Raines, and Bagwell are all very likely to make it next year, because of the number of votes they got this year. Ivan Rodriguez strikes me as a mortal lock, but I felt the same way about Piazza and he didn’t get in until his fourth try. And it is actually quite rare for four players to get elected in one year, though it happened last year.
So I really don’t know. I think Guerrero and Manny will hang around the ballot for a while, with Guerrero eventually getting in and Manny never quite making it. I think the same will be true for Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Mike Mussina. At some point, eventually, it seems likely that Clemens and Bonds will make it, if for no other reason than that they are very probably the best pitcher and hitter of our lifetimes. But it’ll take a long time for all of that to shake out, and every year there are more and more deserving players who get added to the list.