The Wandering Years. Chapter Two. (by bledsoe)

Ed. note: The first chapter is here.

2.     1985-1990.
389-577 (.402)

In 1982, we had One Brief Shining Moment. Got swept by the Cards in the NLCS. We then finished second to the Dodgers, twice, in 83 and 84. So Ted fired my personal hero Joe Torre, who went on to prove to be an ok manager elsewhere. Who needs Joe, when guys like Bobby Wine, Chuck Tanner, and Russ Nixon are available?

In 1986, Ted Turner found a new toy: movies. He bought the MGM studio and all its intellectual property. He then resold virtually all of it except the movies and starting running the movies on TBS. He was widely ridiculed at the time. He made a mint. Idiot savant. He also started some kind of 24 hour news thing.

From ballparkreviews.comThis was good and bad for the Braves. Good, because Ted was no longer interested in making personnel decisions for the Braves. Bad, because Ted was no longer interested in the Braves at all. Instead, in order to run “€œThe Quiet Man,” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, at 8 pm on TBS, he ordered that the Braves home games start at 5 pm. As a result, there were roughly 1500 people in the stands for a home game. I know: I was one of them once upon a time. It’s like the old Army joke, about how bad the food is and such small portions, too.

In 1988, the Braves sold less than 850,000 tickets. You couldn’t give them away. I mean that literally. I showed up in Atlanta to work at a client’s headquarters. When I told them I was going to go to the Braves game that night, they actually laughed at me. Someone asked if anyone knew where the company’s tickets were, they were finally discovered at the bottom of somebody’s drawer, buried under some files, and voila, there I was, sitting two rows behind the dugout in a stadium that was so empty you could hear the players’ conversations.

I really didn’t have the knowledge at the time, but I have to suppose that Ted’s various financial wheelings and dealings severely hampered his willingness or ability to shell out for baseball players for his former plaything. (His then current plaything turned out to be Jane Fonda.) But the endless parade of rent-a-former-MVPs stopped dramatically. Whether this was Ted’s lack of money or caring, I don’t know. Probably both.

So from 1985 to 1990, the Atlanta Braves put on a display of suckitude nearly unrivaled in the modern baseball era, finishing last in their division four out of six years (and second to last the other two). In 1988, they lost 106 games. 1-oh-6. We were saved only by the Orioles, who lost 107.

In 1989, Zane Smith, then probably one of the three or four best lefties in the league, went 1-12 out of the gate. He had behind him Andres Thomas (29 errors), Jeff Blauser (21), Ron Gant (17), and Jeff Treadway (12) and a team batting a collective .234 with an OPS of .647; the Braves traded him at the break because they felt he might hang himself in the clubhouse.

We had a power-hitting third baseman who got so fat that the team put weigh-in incentives in this contract. He didn’t meet them, and had to be moved to first base, He was succeeded by a first baseman with no power whose glove was so bad his teammates called him “The Claw.” We had the only Dominican shortstop ever who couldn’t actually field.

We traded a great closer in Steve Bedrosian for the Phillies’ all-star catcher, Ozzie Virgil. Ozzie, it turned out, sucked. We traded for Ken Oberkfell. He sucked. We signed an over-the-hill Graig Nettles. He sucked. We signed FA Nick Esasky to a huge contract, and he turned out to have a disease that was never successfully diagnosed (Lyme disease was a leading contender) but which rendered him incapable of playing baseball or even running.

The Braves became sort of the elephant graveyard of formerly great players. Because they were once good, we wanted them, and because they were no longer good, nobody else did. A lot of All-Star caliber players ended their careers in the Atlanta graveyard. Ted Simmons, Chris Chambliss, Ken Griffey Sr., Lonnie Smith, Darrell Evans. They didn’t all suck. Simmons, Griffey and Smith actually each had at least one productive year before going toes up. (Smith, a greyhound outfielder in his youth, arrived in Atlanta 35 pounds overweight in 88, but led the league in OBP in 1989.) But the occasional success story didn’t help overcome the strong stench of desperation wafting from the constant acquisition of guys who were in the winter of their careers.

What did we have? Dale Murphy. And then, when he could no longer play, we sold him to the Phillies for a AAA player and a washed up pitcher. What we also had were some young kids, toward the end of this debacle. Glavine, Smoltz, Gant, Blauser, Lemke, Justice, Avery. But for all we knew, they were no different from the dreck that had been served up to us for the last six years. A team full of those names went 65-97 in 1990 and finished, yep, dead last in the NL.

Watchword: Indifference

With an absentee owner, Braves fans were playing Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. It was pretty lonely. Band-aids were put on sucking chest wounds. I would say we were asked to soldier on, but nobody even really cared to ask us.

Next: History rhymes. Or does it?

121 thoughts on “The Wandering Years. Chapter Two. (by bledsoe)”

  1. Good ol’ Gerald Perry. “The Claw”. My nickname for him was Gerald June, which wasn’t really a nickname, it was just calling him by his first and middle name. Gerald was a good hitter and fun to root for.

    I remember another formerly great player that was acquired by the Braves and then fell off a cliff: Damaso Garcia. That name has sort of been lost to history because he barely played for the Braves. I remember being thrilled that a former All-Star for Toronto was coming to play second for Atlanta. Hit for a high average! Had some pop! Could steal bases! Just what we needed. Heh.

  2. Man, there was no pressure in being a Braves fan back then. You could tune into to listen to Skip and Pete and Ernie, and sit around with a cold brew or three, and if the Braves actually won – great! But they usually didn’t. And you knew going in, especially when you were facing Gooden or Hershiser or Ryan, that an ‘L’ gonna be served up.

    Good times.

    @3 Got 15/20.

  3. I got 15 out of 20 and thought I was doing well. I had completely forgotten about a few of the players listed.

  4. 19/20. I thought that was Michael Tucker. I think I’ve repressed most of those memories.

  5. Wondering if anyone can confirm this random memory of late 80s Braves…

    on a typical evening when practically no one was watching the games at Fulton Country Stadium, I tuned in to good old TBS to watch a few innings of Kevin Coffman or something (guessing). In between pitches, there was a loud Crack! The camera quickly panned over to show that a huge light had fallen and crashed into the seats in RF terrace level. It wiped out an area about 6 rows deep by 6 seats wide. skip and Pete were awestruck, saying how fortunate no one was sitting in that area. I distinclty remember Skip saying “That would have caused a fatality, we are very fortunate”.

    Ring a bell to anyone?

  6. I remember the incident, but I didn’t see that particular game. It was the year, ’89 I think, that Gerald Perry, when asked about the season, said, “This would’ve been a good summer to paint the seats.” – giving rise to my handle here.

  7. 14/20… some of the guys I just had never seen. Until the mid to late nineties -and before the internet-, all Braves news I could get was from USA Today issues in Europe or the occasional trip to the US. Bad times. I still however have the 1995 USA Today World Series victory sports section title page framed from back then. Which is pretty cool.

  8. I only got 15 of 20.

    I remember in the preceding bad years going to a game in September of 81. I had worked for a radio station that was on the network and I got their comp tickets. They were about 2 rows up into the second section (right behind the dug out level) and dead behind the plate. And, we heard chatter from players and coaches and the bat boys. I think announced attendance was 1500.

  9. 20/20, but the Bielecki/Presley pick was a somewhat educated guess about which guy probably had a shorter mullet.

    Yeah, those late ’80s teams re-defined hopeless. I actually went to a decent amount of games each year. We’d buy the cheapest ticket in the joint & often just sit where we thought we could get a foul ball. Lotta empty seats down the lines…

    Of course, in those years, aside from Bob Horner’s 4-HR game (in a losing effort vs. the Expos) & Lonnie Smith’s crazy ’89 season, most of the best moments came from Dale Murphy.

    Best Moment: Can’t say there were any memorable wins I attended between 1985-90, but I saw Dale Murphy keep his consecutive-game streak alive with a PH HR off Dwight Gooden. Murph had cut his hand up the day before in an early-season game (1986?) & didn’t start the next day vs. the Mets. Of course, the Braves lost that game by a big score, but the Murph HR was a real “he’s-our-guy” moment.

    Worst Game: In a late-season ’87 tilt, saw the Reds beat the Braves 21-6. Murphy had 2 dingers (#39 & #40), but the Reds hit 7 HRs, including 2 by Dave Parker, who had 8 RBI in the game. A back-up catcher named Terry McGriff (Crimedog’s cousin) hit a GSHR.

    The Braves pitchers were David Palmer, Paul Assenmacher, Marty Clary, Chuck Cary, Ed Olwine & Joe Boever. Nobody emerged unscathed that day.

  10. ONLY the 80s Braves could lose a game in which their own player hit 4 HR in one game. That’s just so fitting!

  11. I got 20/20 but I have to confess I wouldn’t have known Darrin Ehbert but by process of elimination. Also with the draft approaching, let’s not be reminded of the Mike Kelly pick or that entire 1991 bust draft. Things I had temporarily forgotten that this quiz reminded me of:

    Ozzie Guillen played for us

    Steve Lyons played for us

    Mike Bielecki was quite handsome

  12. I’d forgotten that Graig Nettles was a Brave. They signed him when he was 42, LOL. Hilarious.

  13. Simba broke his thumb needs surgery. So I guess I need to stop whining about that.

  14. Andrelton with a broken thumb is a better shortstop than Erick Aybar. He’d probably be better with a compound fracture of his leg.

  15. Simmons has been dreadful for the Angels, and now he’s hurt. I’m sure their fans are wishing the trade never happened too.

  16. #20
    IIRC, Murph cut it on that plexi-glass we had on the outfield fence at A-FC Stadium.

    And I believe that plexi-glass was put up sometime after Brian Asselstine caught his spikes in the base of the old metal fence & tore up his leg/ankle.

    Bad mojo, that fence…

  17. You are correct, sir. The plexiglass was installed to cut down on the “cheap” homers the braves were hitting. You know, like Dale Murphy. Horner. Those guys. By the Braves. Raised the fence from about 6 to about 10 ft.

  18. Am I remembering correctly that the wife of a poster here used to date Anthony Recker? Am I confusing him with someone else?

  19. Remember when we were all wondering if the Cards would make a play for Aybar??

    Good times. Good times.

  20. @32. Yeah, my wife did. They went to the same high school and she went on a couple dates with him back in like 2001. She doesn’t follow baseball that closely, but she actually texted me this afternoon to tell me that the Braves picked him up. Maybe I should have been concerned about that…

  21. Trading Ayber back to the Angels is sounding very smart, but they have nothing to trade back. Seems like the Angels are as lucky as we are.

    7/175 sounds like a bargain…

  22. Completely fair price in this market. I’m still shocked they did it, though – they’ve given very little indication that they wanted to, and they pretty much let Zimmermann walk.

    The real question: now that Stras is locked down, do they have enough scratch to keep Harper in the nation’s capital?

  23. $25M for a guy who can’t stay healthy makes the Braves look pretty smart stockpiling tons of pitching.

  24. Going to games in the late ’80s was a blast, as long as you weren’t necessarily there to watch good baseball. You could bring in your own food, the beer lines were short, and you could self-upgrade your seats with little to no resistance. It was easy to interact with the players, too — we would tell Dion James in CF that he was the man (and, briefly, he was), and he could hear us clearly from our seats in the front row…of the upper deck.

  25. There’s no question of “what can they trade for him?” when it comes to Aybar, unless it’s a question of what can minimally satisfy MLB requirements for a trade. This is a guy many were clamoring to cut yesterday. It doesn’t matter what they send back–you trade him for a stale egg fart if you have to–just get his doughy physique off the roster.

  26. Barring injury, trade, reinstatement of Olivera, Garcia factoring back into the Braves’ plans, or Withrow getting called back up, this is largely the team we will probably have for a couple months. The Braves can get out of their pace of being The Worst Team in Baseball History if most of these things happen:

    -Folty and Chacin pitch well (I’m confident Teheran, Wisler, and Blair will continue to pitch well)
    -Grilli continues to improve (1 ER last 6 IP, 1K/IP)
    -Mallex hits
    -Aybar vaguely resembles a major league SS
    -Flowers gets the bulk of the ABs
    -We win the games we can win (games close and late)

    This is about 80% of the best roster that the FO envisioned for Fredi this year. If we can’t win more than 40% of our games (64 win team), then I say you can Fredi at the beginning of July.

  27. #47
    I get that a club’s got its window (a Harper window) to win a title, but that’s a lotta money/commitment for a guy who’s thrown 200 innings exactly once.

  28. I’d pay that much if there was a team opt-out. $175 million and you just hope to God you never here “forearm tightness” again.

  29. The reason that the Nats extended Strasburg but not Zimmerman is that Mike Rizzo is not the GM. Scott Boras is. Zimmerman is the same pitcher, maybe slightly better, with less injury history, and the Nats let him walk for roughly 85% of what they just gave SS.

    This is even more insane in light of the Scherzer deal, which is looking pretty bad, and the fact that the Nats don’t need pitching. They’ve got two great starters in Ross and Roark that are pre-arb and the best starter prospect in baseball in Giolito. Meanwhile, they have at best 3-4 major league hitters in their lineup, and Harper’s FA looming in a year. Just nuts.

  30. @55 – I don’t see how it could. We already have Lavarnway in AAA who has been basically the same MLB hitter as Recker, and 4 years younger, and he hasn’t pushed AJP out.

    Maybe someone is hurt or is about to be released in the minors.

  31. It was in the earlier period of Braves non-attendance, not this one, but for a brief time you could bring your own beer to the stadium as long as you didn’t bring in glass or cans… we used to use milk jugs. There is no worse sign of poor attendance than sacrificing your concessions revenue to get a few more butts in the seats.

    I got 18/20… my excuse is that I was living up North by then.

  32. I think Kelly has been in AAA for a while, and he’s been killing it. 1.64 ERA in 5 starts. Another guy the Braves might need to make a decision on.

  33. I don’t see a catching move as imminent. Both Recker and Lavarnway are right handed, just like Flowers, and demonstrably worse hitters than Flowers, yet the Braves still sit Flowers against righties in favor of AJ.

    If the Braves were trying to take ABs away from AJ, the best option is already on the 25 man roster, and they aren’t deploying him that way. I’d think that would be the first step, just starting Flowers against some righties, and seeing if a little less playing time/less exposure/more rest would get better results out if AJ.

  34. Rob, good call. I misread a text. Speculation was that Chris Ellis may get called up to AAA.

    I think we will call up Larvarnway to be a 3rd catcher which could free up Flowers to be a RH’d bat off the bench. I still don’t know why he isn’t starting 4 out of 5 games.

  35. Ellis and Barker should be getting consideration to move up, and AAA should have at least one spot in their rotation.

  36. Rio Ruiz has come back to earth. Will be good to see how he responds to a mini-slump. Last year it was quite all or nothing for him.

  37. #69

    Thanks, bledsoe. Andrelton’s baserunning always had me scared that he would come off the bag in pieces. Tough injury. Hope he bounces back soon.

    Rosenthal reporting that LHP Ian Krol coming up from AAA.

  38. 20 out of 20. A lot of good guesses on my part.

    I guess 7/175 is market value, but I agree with ububba, that is an ass load of Tubmans for a guy that doesn’t pitch whole seasons.

    Dang. that is too bad about Simmons. Its worse that Aybar can still play.

  39. @63, that is funny. I know some people involved in owning minor league teams, and the basic business model used to be give away the tickets to sell them a hot dog and a coke.

  40. What’s the corresponding move on Krol? JJ has to be nearing the end of the road. 24 ERA (yes, twenty-four) since late April and losing playing time.

  41. Apparently lots of Strasburg money is deferred. Real value more like $162MM.

    Also player optout.

  42. As seen on Twitter:

    “Every team who has played at Turner Field this season has won at least two games there, except the Braves.”

  43. The REAL Braves are playing at the new stadium already… They just haven’t told the other teams or the fans. And they’re undefeated.

  44. Strasburg off the market makes it slightly more likely we can fleece someone for Teheran. Now whether we *should* do that is a different story, but I think we will try for sure.

  45. @79

    We should shop him and only move him if we are blown away. Not another Simmons deal, but a Shelby Miller like deal.

  46. So… perhaps I’m forgetting somebody, but of all the talented players the Braves shipped away during their rebuild, the only one who’s playing at or above expectations at this stage is Tommy La Stella (and arguably Melvin). Kimbrel has been fine – albeit disappointing by his standards of dominance – and the rest have been hurt (Andrelton) or bad (Miller, JUp, Wood, Uribe, Peraza) or hurt AND bad (JHey, Maybin).

  47. The return needs to be closer to major-league-ready than some of our other big deals. I will be a sad krussell if we make trades for more low-A prospects.

  48. @81, Andrelton has been awful. Don’t miss him.

    I get that it’d be worse to have to endure all-star performances from our former players, but it’s really not making me feel that much better about our situation. I guess at this point you take solace where you find it.

  49. As far as the Braves go, unfortunately no. Fortunately for krussell, the Braves don’t really influence overall happiness levels much at all.

  50. The late 80s Braves were something. Truly bad teams–especially in 1988 –which would still be much better than the 2016 team.

    My memory of them is shaped more by Ken Oberkfell playing 3B rather than Murphy’s last, but relatively productive years as a Brave…

  51. Remembering the Wandering Years – what the Braves need now is someone in the organization who would take one of the worst teams in Braves history, and sign some defensive minded players to play behind the young pitchers, and also is someone who recognizes that is possible to win not only this year, but this year AND next year, and that it can be done over and over again.

    But, where to find such a person?

  52. Great write up. It was tough to be a Braves fan in the 80’s. The big difference between that time and now is that now at least there is hope. Or now at least we know about what the FO is trying to do. Back then there wasn’t an internet where you could read the day to day stats of the team’s prospects.

    I pretty much agree with everything the FO has done except the Wood/Olivera trade and even then i can kinda sorta justify that one given the cost of power hitting these days. That Olivera has turned out to be a piece of shit is what you get sometimes when you bet on a 30 something Cuban dude that looks good in batting practice.

  53. @95 True, Drury’s been hitting well thus far but I don’t buy that it continues – he’s got a terrible BB/K rate and hasn’t hit for this much power at the upper levels of competition. It also doesn’t appear that he adds value on defense or the basepaths. All in all, seems like there aren’t great odds that he’ll become a productive MLB regular.

  54. 2016 Braves: .226/.294/.288
    2000 D.N. Nation, Eastern Plains (NC) Independent High School Conference: .142/.333/.286

  55. Michael Bourn is in the starting lineup tonight against the Braves.
    The Mississippi Braves.

  56. Albies just went yard. They ought to cut in on the FSS broadcast to show stuff like that.

  57. @105
    Joe and Chip have been… kinda pretty ok this year, right? Maybe they needed to suffer for their art.

  58. @108, What’s crazy is I figured I’d play the game, and I went through my mental rolodex of all-field/no-hit guys, guys who would have been able to have a long career despite offensive futility, and Belanger’s name was the first to pop into my head. And damned if it wasn’t a bullseye.

    Like @106 said…if only we could, you know, field the ball. But it’s like having Belanger at bat 9 times through the order, and Adonis Garcia fielding every position. No, worse: Aybar!

  59. Someone explain why Francouer is playing…I just don’t understand the way this FO sees the world. It ain’t Fredi making lineup decisions, I want to hear from the Johns.

  60. @113
    I’ll let you know when I figure out why something called Chase d’Arnaud is playing over Kelly Johnson.

  61. @113
    I’ll let you know when I figure out why something called Chase d’Arnaud is playing over Kelly Johnson.

  62. The FO thinks Francoeur puts butts in the seats. As much as I hate Francoeur he is less odious this year compared to some of the other scuttlebutt on the team because at least he makes all the routine plays.

  63. This’ll pep folks up. Maybe.

    Swanson, 4-for-4, with a double and a triple
    Chris Ellis, 7 shutout innings, four baserunners, five K
    Ozzie Albies hit a homer tonight
    Max Povse, 7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

    Touki Toussaint seems to be righting his ship: 6 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 2 ER, 4K

  64. If we had three more decent position players, we’d probably win about 30 more games, which is a staggering amount considering those would only need to be 2 WAR players vs. the current mucho negative WAR participants. I wonder if there’s ever been a bigger disparity on how WAR vs. real life play out. I seriously think Albies and Swanson, when they’re ready, will make a tremendous impact on this team, and it only steers the WAR-rudder 8-10 WARs.

    I’m really OK with losing a bunch of games like this, because it will force the FO to do something about this putrid set of position players, and I get to, hopefully, watch 4 guys become cornerstones of our franchise.

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