Editor’s note: This is the point in the offseason where we start Mac’s annual tradition of providing player recaps as we count down to March. But I honestly don’t have the heart to ask anyone to write player profiles for Hector Olivera, Adonis Garcia, AJ Pierzynski, and Mike Foltynewicz. So I thought I’d take it in a different direction, and assign player profiles for the 1982 Braves.
I think it’s good to remember how out-of-nowhere that team was. Since Hank left Atlanta, the team had never finished higher than fourth, and it was the team’s first divisional pennant in 13 years. In other words, I think we need some hope, and I think the 1982 team might be a good place to look. Here’s the first profile!
The following is excerpted from the chapter “Spring, 1982” of the unpublished autobiography I Looked Good in the Uniform: The Life and Times of Claudell Washington – Up(per)s and Downs in a Nomadic Baseball Life, and How My Teammates Went from Gloriously Mustachioed to Merely Patchily Bearded (title and footnotes by John Feinstein):
Why, again, am I here?1 I had it all from the get-go. 2 Oh well, I’m trying to make the best of it.3 I tried to joke with Murph4 that we’re lucky to have all this grass between us and the homely dudes around the infield5, but he just laughed and looked embarrassed.6
1After being traded three times by age 25, Washington hurried to sign a 5-year deal with the Braves after the 1980 season. Owner Ted Turner caved quickly to the demands of Washington’s agent so that he could concentrate on his two primary free agent targets, Dave Winfield and Don Sutton.
2Washington was born and raised in Berkeley, California, and signed as an amateur free agent with his hometown Oakland A’s out of high school in 1972. Despite the lack of pedigree, Washington rose quickly through the minors. His blazing speed and line-drive hitting made him impossible to ignore, and he got called up to the big club at the All-Star break in ’74, when he was just 19. He arrived just in time to play a significant role in the final World Series championship of the A’s dynasty, batting .285 as a DH and reserve outfielder, and going 4-7 in the Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1975, he punctuated his first calendar year as a big leaguer by becoming the youngest player in history to record both a hit and a stolen base in an All-Star Game.
3Washington played well in his first season with the Braves, hitting .291/5/37 during the strike-gutted campaign. He added 12 steals, and adapted well to the National League style of play, notching an impressive eight sacrifice hits.
4Braves center fielder Dale Murphy, handsome.
5To wit, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, various members of the pitching staff. Washington – “When I was coming up, the players had a sense of style and grooming. Reggie, Rollie, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, they all cultivated a look, facial hair-wise. Even the ones who really couldn’t pull it off, like Joe Rudi, at least they TRIED, you know? These fellas here show up to the ballpark like the Trailways bus dropped them off after a hunting trip or something.”
6Murphy is famously temperate.