Biff Pocorobo! Pat Rockett! Glen Hubbard!
I love my New York Yankees. They have always been my team and always will. But there will always be a special place in my heart for a series of really bad teams that played in front of few fans with some really mediocre to bad players but I loved them. I loved them because I watched every game and I watched them at 7:05p or even 5:35p and the fact that a baseball game was on television at 5:35p was one of the coolest things to me.....when I was between the ages of about 9 to 15. Welcome to the era of the bad Atlanta Braves teams whose games played in WTBS- the original Superstation.
If you lived in the south in the late 70's and into the 80's you typically saw one major league baseball game a week on NBC. It was a really big deal to see the Big Red Machine on Saturday afternoon and your day began with "This Week in Baseball" with Mel Allen and maybe you got an early taste of baseball with "The Baseball Bunch" airing in the morning with Johnny Bench and the San Diego Chicken doing goofy things but teaching a group of youngsters the fundamentals of the game.
But this is about the Braves.
Bruce Benedict! Rufino Linares! Dave "Chopper" Campbell!
Ted Turner bought WJRJ in 1970. It was a UHF(look it up) television station that lost money and could barely be seen in the metro Atlanta area on channel 17. He shocked many when he purchased the TV rights to air Atlanta Braves baseball in 1972 on that station. The move brought viewers to the station and made it profitable. It helped that Hank Aaron was closing in on Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. But after Aaron broke the record, attendance at Braves' games and viewership dropped significantly. Despite having a Sunday game airing on other stations across the south, Turner thought bigger. In 1976 he turned that little station into a national channel when he sent the signal up on satellite and found cable operators across the country interested in carrying the station because of its programming of many old sitcoms and shows that resonated with viewers. But he also was about to send Atlanta Braves' games across the nation.
Roland Office! Mike Lum! Mickey Mahler!
In 1977, the Atlanta Braves saw their games air on WTBS to the country. They went 61-101. They were really bad. So bad that Turner fired manager Dave Bristol after 160 games and managed the team himself as a publicity stunt for one game. But I loved that team. I was 10 at the time and it was baseball on television and it didn't have to be Saturday afternoon. Since my family had moved to south Florida four years earlier, I couldn't see the Yankees every game so I started watching and following the Braves and all their bad players. And so did my friends because we all loved baseball.
Jerry Royster? Gene Garber! Willie Montenez!
The Braves won 61, 69 and 66 games those first three years when games starting airing on WTBS. And there was nothing like that Saturday late afternoon where we got two hours of "Georgia Championship Wrestling" and maybe get "The Nature Boy" Rick Flair doing a promo for the big wrestling card at the Omni before the Braves lost 9-2 to the Padres. It was magical.
But those teams were not all bad. It gave us Phil Niekro. The knuckleballer, who in 1977, went 16-20 with 43 starts and made everyone want to throw that pitch. We got rookie Bob Horner, at age 20, hit 23 homers and we tried to emulate his batting stance.
Gary Matthews! Charlie Spikes! Rick Matula!
And then there is the great Dale Murphy. I am among those want Murphy in the Hall of Fame and I admit it's because he was the best of the bad teams and played his heart out. He was the clean cut guy that did it the right way. He ran out ground balls to first. He hit home runs. He played where needed in the field and played and played and played. He won back-to-back-to-back (WAIT, THAT'S FRED MCGRIFF)....he won back-to-back MVPs in 1982 and 83' and played a major role in that Braves' teams that got good and made the playoffs in 1982- his only post-season appearance in Atlanta. Everyone wanted to be like Dale Murphy on my block.
The Braves got bad again after that season and stayed that way for almost a decade before their dominant run started in 1994. But it wasn't the same. I was 27 by then and you could watch a lot of baseball on cable by that time. The old Fulton-County Stadium was gone and so were the memories. But all it takes is one text or mention by a friend of those teams way back and give one name of a bad player and I'm in.
Rod Gilbreath! Junior Moore! Buzz Capra!
Final thought: The 1977 Braves lost to the Reds 6-2 on October 1 when Ted Turner managed that day. Preston Hanna was the starter and losing pitcher that day for the Braves