April 8, 1974: A Braves Reminiscence (by JonathanF)

My 40th high school reunion will be held in Atlanta this weekend. A friend of mine said we’d better go, because the 50th is kinda dicey. So I’m going. But the real event for me will be on Sunday, my first game at the soon-to-be abandoned Turner Field.

I’ve come to Atlanta with some regularity since The Ted was built, but my visits never coincided with a home series. And I’m looking forward to it, though the trip and the 40th reunion inevitably bring me back to the Braves of 1974.

Lots of people say they were there on April 8, and I’m one of them who happens to be telling the truth. My dad, not much of a baseball fan, took the whole family to see something historic. We sat on the first row well down the first base line. The two idiots patting Hank Aaron on the back were sitting next to me… I never noticed them until I saw that they weren’t there during the ceremony the game was stopped for.

But that game, one of the most famous in Braves history, isn’t what I remember best about 1974. What I remember was turning 18, being able to legally drink, and meeting at Atlanta Stadium (the Fulton County name addition was still a couple of years away) with my friends during that summer deciding what we wanted to do that evening. We wouldn’t even arrive together… we’d just agree to meet somewhere down the first base line and sit wherever. (Field Level seats were $4.50, about $20 in today’s currency.)

In 1974 the Braves drew 981,000 fans, averaging about 12,000 per game. And this was for a team that finished over .500. Next year the attendance would fall (in tandem with the Braves record) to an all-time Atlanta low of under 7,000 per game. So, with the exception of a few games like April 8th, nobody bought tickets in advance, or even together. You just met up and watched some baseball.

As attendance shrank, the Braves implemented a policy whereby you could bring your own beer into the park, so long as it was in plastic milk jugs. A half-gallon served about two. (MADD was founded in 1980.) When we left the game, we’d sometimes go to The Great Southeast Music Hall in Broadview Plaza where they sold beer by the bucket. Odd containers were a thing then.

Ted didn’t own the team yet. Bill Bartholomay (who’s still alive, by the way) did, and although that first team in 1966 was still my favorite, Aaron was still around, joined by Darrell Evans and Ralph Garr and, of course, the 8.0 WAR Phil Niekro in his prime.

Shortstop Craig Robinson played his only year as a starter in baseball: his 51 OPS+ pretty much guaranteed it would be his last. (This was a pretty good hitting year for him. His 6 year career OPS+ was an astonishing 43.) Looking back at the B-Ref numbers, 1974 was a pretty forgettable Braves season (April 8th aside) – the year after three guys hit 40 home runs and the last winning year before a string of really bad years. And we sure didn’t treat it as anything special at the time – just a thing to do on a hot summer night.

When the season began I was in high school, but I was in New Haven in college by the time Knucksie brought the season to a close with a meaningless 13-0 complete game over Cincinnati for his 20th win. Nobody knew it at the time, but that was Hank Aaron’s last game as an Atlanta Brave. He hit his 20th homer in that game, his worst HR output since his rookie season of 1954. It was also his worst OPS+ year since 1954 (128!) but still second-best on the team behind Ralph Garr.

So I’ve got reunion events on Friday and Saturday, which means Sunday is the only game I can attend. I bought my tickets in advance on this thing called the Internet. I’ll be there in this “new” stadium, watching a game in which you have to buy the beer they choose, instant replay holds up the proceedings, Pete Rose won’t be playing for the Reds, and the Braves don’t suck.

But the 18 year old me will be there too. I can’t wait.

(If the game is rained out, I blame this essay.)

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46 thoughts on “April 8, 1974: A Braves Reminiscence (by JonathanF)”

  1. Speaking of nostalgia, Bruce Chen is getting beat up pretty badly again today. His tenure with KC is probably nearing its end, and thus, his MLB career.

    Bruce Chen is 37 years old and has played for 10 teams, including all of the NL East but the Marlins, over the last 16 years. No one will give Bruce Chen parting gift baskets on his way out the door. No one will talk about the “last time Bruce Chen will ever suit up in this stadium.” But damn, son. Way to hang in there and make it work. From #1 prospect in all of baseball to washed out coulda/shoulda/woulda-been to 16 years and counting.

    Raise a glass, kids. Down a dram to Bruce Chen. Huzzah.

  2. KLaw has posted his top 25 under 25 again over on that inferior network site. But it’s behind the paywall. Anybody care to let us peons know how the young Braves ranked?

  3. @1 – Not to mention $20,507,500 in total earnings to date over his career. Should have trained my son to be a lefty pitcher.

  4. Alex is no doubt right that my calling the Cards offense ‘woeful’ is, at best, hyperbole, but watching these guys flail against the Mets (albeit today the timeless Bartolo Colon) I still see a lineup that is potentially full of holes. Is this in part wishful thinking, inspired by pure hatred and the hope that we won’t have to see them in the postseason? Certainly. But, on the other hand, Holliday is something like 35 and his bat looks awfully slow all of a sudden. Guys like Kolten Wong and Descalso couldn’t hit their way out wet paper sacks. Would anyone really be surprised if either Matt Carpenter or Allan Craig–both older, middling prospects when they broke onto the scene–turned back into a pumpkin? Matt Adams, unfortunately, does indeed look like a legitimate middle of the order hitter. Everyone keeps talking about how their offense is bound to heat up, but damned if I am not going to cling to hope that they won’t (at least not dramatically).

  5. Of course right when I say that Colon leaves the game, Torres puts on two baserunners and the Mets bring in some reliever named Scott Rice to face Adams. I doubt this ends well. And am I rooting for the Mets? What the hell is going on.

  6. JonF,
    Have fun this weekend.

    With all its hitting, that ’73 team was about as exciting as a losing team (76-85) could ever be—one of my all-time favorite teams in APBA table baseball—but the ’74 club was way better.

    Unlike the previous club, the ’74 group had a winning season that included Niekro’s 20 victories, Ralph Garr’s batting title (.353) & Buzz Capra’s ERA title (2.28, with Niekro coming in 2nd at 2.38). BTW, at one point in the season Capra threw 3 consecutive complete-game shutouts—remember those?—including a 10-hit “gem” vs. Montreal.

    At 88 wins, they weren’t going to scare the Dodgers (102 wins) or the Reds (98), but it was a pretty good club. Atlanta Stadium wouldn’t see another winning team until 1980—the early Horner/Murphy Era—when the Braves went 81-80.

    #6
    Funny, I’m listening to WFAN & just a moment ago the host gushed for 2 minutes about Andrelton. Making that 9th-inning, game-saving, in-the-hole play Saturday night at Citi Field certainly got some attention around here.

    #8
    Rice is actually a pretty effective LOOGY.

  7. At LGA getting ready to head south. Try as you might to spin some individual accomplishments that year, ububba, they fired the manager, a Hall of Famer, in August. To be sure, they reaped the whirlwind in the next half-decade, since Mathews wasn’t the problem, but that was not a great team.

  8. Never said it was great & it may not be saying so much, but that 88-win club in ’74 was the franchise’s best during a decade of general futility.

  9. @2 – Braves are very well represented (as opposed to the prospect rankings – promotions, etc have left the cupboard bare, and they have only Lucas Sims @#40 in his top 50 prospects). In his listing of the top 25 under 25, he has those under 25 as of today, and have already exhausted rookie eligibility.

    He has Simmons at #4, Freddie Freeman at #8, Heyward at #11, Teheran at #15. Pretty impressive group of young players in ATL right now. And honestly, makes me VERY happy to see that we have 3 of the 4 locked into long term deals as well (thanks John Hart! let’s get Heyward signed and everybody goes home happy)

  10. “watching a game in which you have to buy the beer they choose”

    That depends entirely on how motivated you are. Gaz has smuggled a flask of whiskey into each of the last three playoff games we’ve attended together. (But I’ve told him he has to stop upon the next chance we get, as we are 0-3 in those games.)

    To have been 18 in the 1970s. Between this and the stories my dad tells, I’m jealous.

  11. Thanks Jonathan. A bit surprised AS is only #4. I don’t think I’m being a homer when I say I’d rather have him than any player not named Trout

  12. @2, @13 – I was pleasantly surprised to see Simmons at #4. He gushes over Simmons. Downside case was Shawn Dunston. Upside case was Wizard/Barry Larkin or better. Yes, please.

  13. @15 – Wow, really? Top 3 were Trout, Harper and Jose Fernandez. That’s a pretty stout top 3. He’s ahead of Stanton, Wacha, Wil Myers, etc.

  14. Fernandez is great, no doubt. But he’s a pitcher. Nuff said. I mean injuries are such a risk to rate a pitcher that high looking at the long term. And Harper, just a little too enigmatic. Maturity, injuries, etc; just hasn’t put it all together enough for me. But the talent is there.

  15. Never mind, just saw DJ’s comment from earlier. Thought Fernandez would likely be a bit of a surprise – though as good as he was against us the other night, sky’s the limit for him too.

  16. I think I might take Trout over Andrelton. But I’d have to think about it. Everyone else under 25 can hit the showers.

  17. With what Cream Soda has done so far one would have to start thinking about him in the top 25 discussion also.

  18. @29 – no, I just watched Bryce Harper get doubled off second to end the game on a liner that would have scored him if it got past the shortstop, and on that note I’m going to bed with a warm feeling in my heart.

  19. There were suggestions for a nickname for Alex Wood, AW, in the last thread. C Shorter came up with ‘Cream Soda’. I thought it quite clever and rather old school!

  20. Great stuff, Jonathon.

    How in the world did we make it through the days of 3-for-1 and the Raft Race?

    The definition of indecision – Phillies v. Dodgers. What to do? Whom to hate more? Kinda like watching Urban Meyer v. Lane Kiffin.

    Tied 3-3 late. Hoping for 32 more innings of frustration for them both tonight.

  21. I finally figured it out: Ryan Doumit has aniridia (congenital absence of the lens). It’s why he has such ‘creepy’ eyes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniridia

    Brave Marine, some excerpts from KLaw’s 25 under 25:

    4. Andrelton Simmons
    AGE: 24DOB: 9/4/89HT: 6-2WT: 170POS: SS
    AVG .248OBP .296OPS .692HR 17SB 6WAR 6.7
    Current: The best defensive player in baseball, Simmons rates at the top of the 20-80 scouting scale in both his glove and his arm, and has continued to exceed everyone’s expectations, including Atlanta’s, at the plate, thanks to high contact rates that have reached absurd proportions this year. Simmons has yet to strike out through 45 plate appearances, which has helped balance out his low walk rates because he’s fast enough to create a few extra hits a year.

    Future: Simmons’ career to date at the plate looks a lot like some other well-regarded shortstops, including Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, and Omar Vizquel, none of whom was much to write home about with the stick early in his career, but all of whom posted high contact rates from their rookie years. Simmons is a better defender than Vizquel and has more pop than Omar or Ozzie, but he does have to develop the patience that Ozzie and Larkin both found by their mid-20s. The downside here is a better-fielding Shawon Dunston, but the upside is a Hall of Fame-caliber shortstop who sparks debates over whether he or the Wizard is the best defensive shortstop of all time.

    8. Freddie Freeman
    AGE: 24DOB: 9/12/89HT: 6-5WT: 225POS: 1B
    AVG .319OBP .396OPS .897HR 23SB 1WAR 5.5
    Current: Freeman seems to have established himself as an elite hitter for average, with high contact and line-drive rates, thanks to a smooth, repeatable swing and a great eye for recognizing pitches, especially changeups, so despite modest walk rates he’s been extremely valuable as a hitter — on top of above-average defense at first. Among position players eligible for this list, only Trout has produced more offensive value (per FanGraphs) since the start of 2013.

    Future: Freeman’s .371 BABIP last year looked like a fluke, given his previous career high of .339 (in 2011), but he’s maintained it through the first two weeks; only two hitters managed a .350 combined BABIP over the combined 2012-13 period, Trout and Andrew McCutchen, so Freeman would be in very select territory if he can even come close to his 2013 figure. He doesn’t otherwise offer projection, and it’s not a 30-homer swing, but perhaps he’ll find another level as a potential batting-average leader who does more on contact than most hitters in baseball.

    11. Jason Heyward
    AGE: 24DOB: 8/9/89HT: 6-5WT: 245POS: RF
    AVG .254OBP .349OPS .776HR 14SB 2WAR 3.6
    Current: Heyward can be maddening, as he has all-world talent but hasn’t put everything together for a full season … although he’s also still 24 years old, and has been on every iteration of this list that I’ve done. Heyward is a plus-plus defender in right with outstanding patience at the plate, and he shows plus power when his swing is right (not often) and his shoulder isn’t barking. The reference point of his rookie season has colored everyone’s impressions of Heyward’s performance since then, but FanGraphs had him at 3.4 WAR last year in just 104 games, when only 10 players in the entire National League reached 5.0 WAR for the whole season.

    Future: It’s all here — the power, the patience, the swing, the athleticism, the aptitude — and one of these years he’ll stay healthy for 150 games and do all of these things at once and win an MVP award and produce cold fusion and solve the Riemann Hypothesis, too.

    15. Julio Teheran
    AGE: 23DOB: 1/27/91HT: 6-2WT: 200POS: RHP
    IP 185.2K 170BB 45HR 22ERA 3.20WAR 3.2
    Current: Teheran made significant strides in 2013 toward his No. 1 starter ceiling, mixing in more curveballs after a very fastball/changeup heavy start to the season that saw him struggle to keep the ball down. He’s still too slider-focused — he gave up nine of his 22 home runs allowed in 2013 on the slider — and his arm slot seems better suited to the curveball, but the slider gets more swings and misses for him, and he’s a little bit caught between the two pitches. His fastball is plus already, up in the zone a little too often, but the velocity is very easy and he throws plenty of strikes with it. The changeup is his best pitch and his main weapon for keeping guys off the fastball, even though the change doesn’t directly generate a lot of swings and misses.

    Future: The development of either breaking ball into an above-average pitch is the next step for him, taking him from an above-average starter to an ace. Teheran was so effective at a young age that he reached the majors before he was a finished product, but is still good enough to help Atlanta while he continues to mature as a pitcher, and in another year or two he’ll be at the top of the rotation.

    Full List:
    1. Mike Trout
    2. Bryce Harper
    3. Jose Fernandez
    4. Andrelton Simmons
    5. Manny Machado
    6. Gincarlo Stanton
    7. Madison Bumgarner
    8. Freddie Freeman
    9. Will Myers
    10. Michael Wacha
    11. Jason Heyward
    12. Sonny Gray
    13. Gerrit Cole
    14. Yasiel Puig
    15. Julio Teheran
    16. Christian Yellich
    17. Erick Hosmer
    18. Zach Wheeler
    19. Martin Perez
    20. Salvador Perez
    21. Jean Segura
    22. Danny Salazar
    23. Anthony Rizzo
    24. Trevor Rosenthal
    25. Jurickson Profar

  22. Red Sox are in last place in the AL East. Clearly, they need to grow those magical beards again, they made them unstoppable last year according to some in the media.

  23. What did I miss?

    @ajcbraves: No idea when, but don’t expect any significant player. RT @JerrodMay: @ajcbraves any word on who the player to be named will be?

  24. I remember watching the Apr. 8th game on TV. We lived in southwest Virginia at the time and live baseball consisted of high school / American Legion ball and then the Appalachian League. I can’t remember who broadcast the game but I want to say it was NBC with Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola but could be wrong. Normally we got Oriole broadcasts. I watched Dale Murphy catch for Kingsport later that summer. Butch Wynegar did the same with the Elizabethton Twins and actually out-played Murph.

  25. @43 – Me too. I knew that A&W made cream soda but I always thought that the signature product was root beer.

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