No. 31: Rick Mahler

Rick Mahler.jpgRighthanded Pitcher
Seasons With Braves: 1979-1988; 1991
Stats With Braves: 79-89, 4.00 ERA

I may have struggled with Rick’s ranking even more than Glenn Hubbard’s. The raw numbers say that he was an average or slightly below-average pitcher for the bulk of his Braves career. His ERA is worse than the league average, but that’s park effects; adjust for that, and it’s average. He didn’t strike a lot of people out and thus allowed a lot of balls in play. Considering the defense behind him, that was not ideal. I expect that the two thoughts that crossed Mahler’s mind most when he was on the mound in those years were “Please hit it to Hubbard” and “How did he drop that?”

Rick was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Trinity University in 1975. He dominated the low minors but ran into a speedbump in Richmond in 1977. He righted the ship and spent the next three years pitching the International League to a standstill with only 15 relief appearances in the majors in 1979 and two in 1980 to show for it. Bobby finally gave him a full chance in 1981 and he responded by going 8-6 with a 2.80 ERA, pitching both relief and in the rotation.

Rick wasn’t as good in 1982 and wound up spending most of 1983 back in Richmond. From 1984 to 1988 he was the workhorse of the big league staff. He pitched very well in the first two years, a combined 30-25 with a 3.32 ERA (well below the league considering the park). The team collapsed anyway, and Mahler had a rough time the next two seasons, even falling out of the rotation in 1987. He rebounded some in 1988, putting up an ERA right about the average, but that team was so bad he went 9-16 anyway. He left as a free agent after the season, but was more or less washed up. After a couple of seasons in Cincinnati and a half season with the Expos, he was released.

The Braves brought Mahler back (middle of a pennant drive, though nobody quite believed that in June of 1991) but he really had nothing left. Mostly he pitched relief, but did make two starts. In one of them, against the Pirates on July 29, he went six innings, allowed two runs, and got the win. But he wiped out in his second start, against the Giants, and that was the last appearance of his career.

So, how does he rank? Hard to say. He pitched a lot of innings for the Braves. Only four men (you probably know who) have pitched more for the team since 1966. On the other hand, those innings were largely piled into a five-year stretch where the team went 341-465, so what good were they? He wasn’t an ace, really, he was just the best that they had. The only positive category in which he ever led the league was starts, twice. On the other hand, he led the league in hits allowed four times, earned runs allowed twice, and losses once.

I tend to think that given a real defense behind him, Rick Mahler would have won a lot of games. The Braves’ defense was very bad, and he was a guy who needed a good defense. In a way, it’s surprising that he did as well as he did. Tom Glavine couldn’t have won with the defense Mahler had to work with. In point of fact, he didn’t; he only became Tom Glavine when they were replaced with real infielders. Think on it: if Mahler could put up average ERAs with Bob Horner, Ken Oberkfell, and the Dysfunctional Duo (Ramirez and Thomas) behind him, what could he have done with Lemke and Pendleton?

But in the end, he didn’t get that chance, and with the hand he was dealt he was ordinary. At any rate, I still don’t really know where to rank him. It’s possible that he really doesn’t belong, but I just couldn’t see it.

Rick Mahler Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

16 thoughts on “No. 31: Rick Mahler”

  1. Mac, given that the 44 seems to be about “what these players meant to the Braves” more than just how good they were, there’s no question in my mind that Mahler belongs in the list. For too long, he was one of the few good things about the team. One of my fond memories from the dark days of the 80s is going to Opening Day 1986 and watching Mahler pitch the team to an unlikely win.

    The best part? We decided to go to the game about 4:30 in the afternoon, bought general admission tickets, and by the fourth inning were in the lower deck. Try to do that next April! There are some benefits to your team sucking.

  2. After the ’91 season, I endeavored to obtain one of each baseball card ever produced of every member of the team. I quit after a while, but that explains why I have 18 different Dan Petry cards in a photo album. Along with over 30 Lonnie Smiths and about a dozen Danny Heeps.

  3. You have lost me on the inclusion of Mahler to list wonderful list you are doing. Rick Mahler ( the late Rick Mahler) was in my mind baaaad. He was the guy that just threw it up there and hoped they would not hit it out . He always gave upa whack more hits than IP and never fooled anyone as you can see by his K.
    He ate innings ( and if you look at him, he ate more than that) Yes the bravos sucked large with bad decisons upstairs and piss poor ball knowledge. But Rick should have been shipped out to long before.
    The only thing I can give him, is his opening day legandary acomplishments. For what ever reason the trace of skill showed up , that first week of April for one GS.
    The last good memory I did have for this chap, I think it was 88, It was like late May or something like that , before a Braves starter got a win other than Mahler. How bad of a stat is that . And one year he did start like 7-0 , then ended up 500 or close to it .
    Don’t like him, never liked him, and don’t miss him
    If I see Mickey mahler on this list Iam going to lose it

  4. Love the countdown Mac and appreciate all the work you’ve put into it. The baseball cards in particular bring back a lot of memories collecting in the 80s. Are these from your personal collection?

  5. @8

    I bet most people have these cards, but my guess is that he did what I did: find a screen grab on the internet. :)

  6. i’ve told this story before of mahler, but i will share it again. i am 28 years old and i grew up about 2 hours from fulton county stadium. when i was about 6 years old , i had my first major league encounter before a sunday afternoon game. i was walking with my dad right behind the dugout and rick was standing on the field talking to the umpires in his braves uniform, shirt tucked out, and had on pink flip-flops (the color was significant because of ted simmons’ pink flamingoes, if i recall correctly). anyway, my dad yelled out, ‘hey rick, nice shoes”. rick looked back, smiled (with that ugly, almost no teeth smile he had), and gave what looked like a drunkened thumbs up. those were the days…..

  7. Yes, the cards are just taken from the Internet. My baseball card collection is lost now, I think, leaving the world without the world’s largest collection of Jim Ackeriana.

  8. I agree with pascualperezfan on this one. I really struggled with Mahler as a pitcher. I guess most of the time he wouldn’t get bombed, but he seemed to give up 4 or 5 runs on a regular basis and rarely allowed less than 2 or 3 runs. I was thinking he had one year where he lost almost 20 games (maybe it was the 9-16 season that Mac mentioned earlier).

    One of the funniest things to me about Mahler was how his hair formed a bill, kind of like Bozo. You can guess what my brother and I called him. In retrospect, Mahler was probably better than I thought because he was on some terrible teams. Anyway, awesome series Mac – even if I totally disagree with you on this one.

  9. I do remember that Rick Mahler started the Braves run of 13 straight wins in 1982 by shutting out the Padres 1-0 (hard to believe, I know) on Opening Day. He was typical of Braves pitchers in those days–not terrible, but basically mediocre. Sort of like most of our pitching staff today.

  10. Mahler started the 1984 season really well and collapsed in the second half. He wasn’t a bad pitcher for the years 1984-86. He was also a pretty good hitter for a pitcher.

    I was sorry to hear that he had died a couple of years ago.

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