Worst Trades in Braves History: Len Barker

The subject of our Worst Trades in Braves History, Len Barker, had made a pretty big name for himself by the time he was traded from the Indians to the Braves on August 28, 1983. The righthander had won 19 games in 1980, led the American League in strikeouts in ’80 and ’81, and threw the 10th perfect game in Major League history on May 15th of ’81. The Braves were 76 -54, sensibly wanted to add a starting pitcher to solidify a half game NL West division lead, and unlike a lot of Braves acquisitions gone bad, Barker was only 28 years old.

So what went wrong? Everything.

First of all, the Len Barker of 1983 was not the Len Barker of those earlier years. Barker carried a 5.11 ERA at the time of his arrival. He started 6 games down the stretch for the Braves, picking up only 1 win. The Braves fell out of first place literally the day after the trade, and never touched first again, finishing 4 games back.

After the ’83 season the Braves signed Barker to a 5 year contract. He missed the last 2 months of the 1984 season with an elbow problem, was terrible in 1985, and was released with 3 years remaining on the contract.

A HUGE PTBNL

Oh, there was the whole Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby thing.

The trade announced on August 28th was Len Barker to the Braves for players to be named later and $150,000 cash. This allowed the Braves to keep the players to be named on the roster for the playoff push. However, on September 2nd, spot starter Rick Behenna was sent to Cleveland as part of the trade. (I have some memory that Ted Turner fouled up a “player to be named later” trade by making the player’s name public. Does anyone remember this? Was this it? I can’t find any evidence this in fact ever happened, so don’t spend a lot of time on it.)

On October 21st, the remaining players were named – starting left fielder Brett Butler, and minor league 3rd baseman Brook Jacoby. Behenna pitched in only 12 more Major League games. Butler and Jacoby were another story.

Another story

Butler was 26 at the time and in his first full season with the Braves. He put up a .281/.344/.393 line that season, and stole 39 bases. A bit miscast offensively as a corner outfielder in Atlanta due to the presence of Dale Murphy, Butler spent the rest of his career as a center fielder. He spent 4 seasons in Cleveland, then found his way back to the NL West to torment the Braves for 10 more seasons with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Butler played until he was 40, putting up a career line of .290/.377/.376. He stands to this day as 25th all time in career stolen bases with 558, and was awarded 49.7 WAR.

Is there more?

There’s more.

This is often referred to as the Brett Butler trade, but if Butler were never included this trade would still be on the list. 23 year old Brook Jacoby was coming off his 2nd tour at AAA Richmond, where he hit .307/.373/.501 with 43 homers in 1104 plate appearances. But, the Braves had Bob Horner at 3rd base, and nobody’s ever moved a 3rd baseman to 1st base or anything like that before, probably. Jacoby went on to play 11 seasons in the Majors, with a .270/.334/.405 line, and 2 All-Star selections.

So, the Braves lost the division, signed Barker to a 5 year deal out of which they got about 4 good months, got 72 more games at 3rd base out of Bob Horner before moving him to 1st, and lost a combined potential 25 years of starting offensive production. I think we can find a spot for this trade.

Thanks for reading “Worst Trades in Braves History: Len Barker”. Check out our entire catalog Braves Best/Worst Trades in History here.

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

24 thoughts on “Worst Trades in Braves History: Len Barker”

  1. I remember this trade. It was widely expected that Butler was going to be part of the trade, and as a huge fan of his it was exhausting waiting for the shoe to drop. When it finally did, it was with the full knowledge that the trade had not helped but actually hurt our chances to win the division. Just terrible times…

  2. Boy, this one had everything. Woof.

    So — was Barker just damaged goods? Why exactly was it that he was so dreadful from the first moment he suited up for us?

  3. Barker could also be a bit high-handed, which irritated Skip as I recall. In later years Skip would occasionally allude to anonymous players he disliked, and I often thought of Barker when he would drop his little acidic hints. I think you’re right that the trade was botched somehow, but the particulars escape me.

  4. What’s the first trade that broke your heart and taught you that glory fades, nothing lasts, and everything that is born must die?

    For me, it was the day they traded Dave Justice, even though the most painful trade I’ve lived through was the Simmons trade.

  5. @4

    We talked about this exact question on the podcast last night. I won’t reveal mine as I hope y’all will give it a listen, but I’ll say this: I get far more attached to players and their personalities over their production.

  6. From the previous thread, word from Pat Dye’s son is that COVID-19 is asymptomatic. He went into the hospital for kidney problems and that is the only real concern. Hopefully they will get that under control and everything else will be okay.

  7. @4

    Mine isn’t even a baseball trade. It was when the Hawks traded Dominique Wilkins (and a first-round pick!!!!) to the Clippers for Danny Manning in Feb. 1994.

    I’m not even much more than a casual Hawks fan — they’re definitely my NBA team, but I don’t live and die with them from game to game. As such, though I was stunned by the trade, I wouldn’t say that I was emotionally devastated or anything. Even so, I remember 10-year-old me thinking, “Wow…there really is no one sacred, is there? If they can just ruthlessly ax the best player in franchise history, it can happen to anybody.”

    The first baseball event that drove home the point you’re talking about (other than, you know, the raft of devastating playoff exits leading up to that point) was the strike, which happened later that same year.

    If I had to pick a baseball trade, I would probably agree with you in it being the Justice/Grissom/Lofton trade. The truth is, though, that I’d already become perfectly aware of the nihilistic side of sports by that point via the above two examples.

  8. @2 – He could have been damaged goods. He wasn’t pitching well for Cleveland that season, and was shut down 4 months into the next season. I feel like pitchers at that time were still trying to power through elbow problems, as Tommy John surgery was still not routine. Someone who lived a more healthy lifestyle in the ’80’s might have a better memory than mine.

  9. td, yes. This is a case where I am very glad to have been getting bad info. I mean he’s 80 so it’s probably not great still but yeah, better than I heard last night…

  10. We got some insinuations that she dallied with someone she oughtn’t to’ve.

  11. I recall hearing Len Barker wasn’t much of a gamer. He was easily distracted and couldn’t stay focused (an odd reputation for someone who threw a perfect game). I recall one anecdote about him being on the mound at Shea and losing focus whenever a plane from LaGuardia would fly overhead.

  12. This thread only got 1/2 day of attention yesterday so it will stay up all day today.

  13. Great job, Rusty—I’ve always believed this was the very worst trade of all the bad trades in ATL Braves history. However, answering Alex at 4, I was too old for it to be heart breaking. The one that broke my heart was the trade of Mr. Aaron to Milwaukee. To be fair, the Hammer asked for that trade and it made sense for him to go be a DH, but I still hated to see a Braves team without him.
    My son was just four when they traded Murphy, but I can still remember how he cried when I broke that news to him.

  14. I grew up a Reds fan, and breaking up the Big Red Machine was painful for me. For some reason, George Foster in the ’81 offseason was the last straw, and I switched to the Braves. I went through the same feelings when Phil Niekro was let go after the ’83 season, but I knew by then that one can’t just dump a team every time they do something you hate.

  15. I remember so well telling my four year old son about the Murphy trade—and his crying— because his great grandmother had died the day before. He did not cry then. But he did not have a baseball card with her picture or a glove signed by her.

  16. @4: I was 12 when the Braves traded Joe Torre to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda. It wasn’t even really a bad trade… the Braves got the worst of it, I think, but it wasn’t that lopsided. But Torre was one of my favorite Braves and I had not yet learned that psychologically investing in particular players is a bad idea.

  17. List of stars I would be devastated if we traded:

    -Acuna
    -Albies
    -Soroka

    Stars or future stars I could live with seeing elsewhere:
    -Freddie
    -Dansby
    -Fried
    -Riley
    -Johan

    The idea of seeing Acuna or Albies or Soroka in another uniform for the next 10 to 15 years would be really tough. I’ve already started to mentally prepare myself for a post-Freddie world, and it’s not like he’s supremely entertaining. Fried would be a little tough. As current staples of the franchise, Dansby, Johan, nor Riley wouldn’t bother me that much.

    Everyone else, couldn’t care less.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *