Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Third Baseman/First Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1978-1986
Stats With Braves: .278/.339/.508, 215 HR, 652 RBI, 545 RS
You may not realize this, but Bob Horner was the first offensive player from the core group that that had a brief period of success in the early eighties to establish himself as a good player, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1978. Murphy had been up since 1976 but didn’t become good until 1979. Hubbard was up in 1978 but didn’t get useful until 1980. And Jerry Royster was around already when Horner came up, but he sucked. Horner was Hope.
Horner was the first pick in the 1978 draft out of Arizona State and was immediately put in the Major League lineup. (Take that, Joey Devine!) In 89 games he hit .266/.313/.539 with 23 homers. In 1979 he followed that up with .314/.346/.552 and 33. As it turned out, 1979 was basically his peak; he rarely reached those levels again.
Already he was missing a lot of time (the fewest games he would miss in a season would be 21, and in 1979 he missed 41) and his defense at third base was reaching legendary levels of humor. Horner managed to stay in the lineup for 142 games in 1980, and hit 35 homers (a career high) but his average dropped to .268, his OBP to .307. He played 79 games in the 1981 strike year, hitting .277/.345/.460; it was the last time until 1988 that anyone but Murphy would be the Braves’ leader in OPS.
In 1982 the line was .261/.350/.501, but he managed 140 games and made the All-Star team for the only time. He was down to 104 games the next season, but it was probably his best per-game, .303/.383/.528. At that point, Bob was still only 25 and had 158 homers, and if not on a Hall of Fame path would at least be in the next level down. But that was pretty much it for Horner as a star-level player. (Interestingly, a lot of the players on Horner’s comp list through this age are guys who started off brilliantly but came up short of immortality — Jim Ray Hart, Juan Gonzalez, Strawberry, Canseco. I don’t know if this means anything, but Eric Chavez and Hank Blalock should probably watch out.)
Bob played but 32 games in 1984 and hit only three homers. He was better in 1985 and 1986, hitting 27 homers in each season, but his averages were in the .270s and OBPs in the .330s, pretty unexciting for a first baseman, as he was now full-time, in the Launching Pad.
After the 1985 season, the owners all got together and decided to not sign free agents. This was a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (ironically, because of a clause the owners had wanted in) and eventually cost them a great deal of money, in particular because they did such a lousy job of it that it was obvious that they were doing. Some of the free agents of 1986-1987 wound up staying with their old teams at reduced rates, even missing the early part of the season because of the re-signing eligibility rules. Horner apparently was so eager to leave that he went to the Yakult Swallows. After a year, he came back to America, but with the Cardinals, and played one ordinary season before retiring.
Horner rates here partially because of a quirk of the system; I rate players mostly by the years they had above average, and he never had any really bad years per plate appearance. His OBP for his Braves career is a little above average, but his slugging percentage is so good that he was creating a lot of runs. So he’s more than ten spots ahead of Glenn Hubbard, even though if I had to choose one of them for a team I don’t know that I’d take Horner. He was a fun player to watch, when he was in the lineup. Maybe more fun for a generic baseball fan than for a Braves fan, since he was so important to the team and so often out. He also looked ridiculous out there with his little wispy mustache, resembling an unsuccessful truck driver who had wandered onto the field.