Wednesday, July 30, 2014


(More from 1971)


(July 9, 1971)

No game defines my first year of watching the Braves better than the Braves-Pirates game of July 9th. The great Pirate team from that year began in the bottom of the first on that night with Dave Cash hitting a ball to new Braves shortstop Leo Foster, which he booted. It was Foster's first chance in the majors...and it didn't go so well. Cash came around to score later in the inning giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead. 

The Pirates were already ahead 3-0, when  Leo Foster came to bat for the first time in his career. He did get wood on it, but flew out harmlessly to Al Oliver.

The Braves were trailing 5-0 in the fifth when Leo came up again with Mike Lum and Sonny Jackson on base and one out. Leo proceeded to hit into a double play. Leo's major league debut was not going well at all, but was only going to get worse.

In the eight inning, the Pirates were leading 11-2, but the Braves were showing signs of life. Hal King and Sonny Jackson led off the inning with singles. Leo Foster had another chance to redeem himself! And Leo hit a grounder to third baseman  Richie Hebner, who grabbed it, stepped on third-threw it to Dave Cash at second who gunned it to Bob Robertson for a triple play! Oh, Leo! No!

Though this wasn't their night, The Braves did finish 82-80 for the year, one of only two winning seasons they had the entire decade.

Leo finished the season hitless in his ten at-bats.

(July 19, 1971)

What do I remember about the first game I ever went to? I remember my mother purchasing the tickets at the Sears ticket outlet several weeks before the game. I also remember going with my friend Tommy. We were pretty excited about being at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. The field seemed so big, the players so far away. The game itself was a high scoring affair, with the San Francisco Giants outlasting the Braves 11-8. Braves starter Steve Barber didn't have it on this day for the Braves, but I did get to see my first major league home run, a sixth inning blast by the Braves' Mike "Hawaiian Punch" Lum. After falling behind 8-2, the Braves scored six runs in the seventh inning to tie the game at 8 and would have gone ahead but a pinch runner for the Braves was thrown out at the plate. That pinch runner, as you may have guessed by the start of today's blog, was Leo Foster. Oh, Leo! No!

I do feel fortunate in the first game I ever went to to have seen possibly the two greatest players of that era if not all-time, Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. Aaron was less than a year away from passing Mays for second on the all-time home run list, but Mays got the better of Aaron on this night with three walks and a hit. I do remember Willie getting thrown out trying to steal second base.

Sidenote on 1971: Even at age 40, Willie Mays stole 23 bases in 26 attempts that year. He also led the National League in walks with 112. Hank Aaron, at age 37 in 1971, had the best home run year of his career with 47 and led the league in Slugging Percentage.

More from 1971: TOPPS Baseball cards

1970 TOPPS front

1970 TOPPS Back
1971 TOPPS back

1971 TOPPS front
I began collecting TOPPS baseball cards in 1971, the same year I began to follow the Braves. This is the main reason that this remains and will always remain my favorite TOPPS set. A criticism of the set has been that with the black borders, the cards are easily damaged and very hard to find in good condition. Another criticism at the time was that the stats on the back only had the current year and lifetime stats as opposed to career stats that most other TOPPS cards had had in years past. Oh, well. My favorite is still my favorite.

I like the literary flourishes they used on the back of some of these cards. Gary Neibauer didn't just pitch in the 1969 playoffs. He "hurled" in the 1969 playoffs. Considering how [poorly the Braves pitching went in that series, "hurled" might be a better verb to use at that.

I was also lucky to occasionally pick up some cards that year from the 1970 TOPPS set, as they still sold some at Cheek's pharmacy the same year the 1971 cards were out. I actually wish I had gotten more packs of the '70 cards while I had a chance, but I only got a few. The gray background was kind of nice and the backs did have complete statistics. The cartoon on the back had some trivial trivia about the player on the front of the card. Mike Lum's card above shows Mike (I guess it's supposed to be Mike) in a hula skirt and states that he was the fourth major league player from Hawaii.

TOPPS 1972 back
TOPPS 1972 front

The 1972 set was a bit more colorful than the '71 set, but that didn't mean it was better. It did go back to having complete stats on the players. A couple of interesting features on the '72 sets included "Boyhood Photos of the Stars," if you wanted to see what Brooks Robinson looked like when he was twelve and The In Action series, where the players were shown...actually playing. On the back of the In Action cards were newspaper headlines on important baseball events from the previous year. The Atlanta Journal headline above states that Hank Aaron didn't just "hit" his 600th home run off of Gaylord Perry, he "whacked" it. Interestingly, this card is not the back of the Hank Aaron In Action card, but the Reggie Jackson In Action card. Go figure.

TOPPS 1972 front
TOPPS 1972 back

The '73 set had a white border and I did like it better than the '72 set. It also had cartoon captions like Oscar Brown's that bragged that Oscar had two brothers that were also in sports. It doesn't specify the level of his brothers involvement in sports, maybe they worked in a sporting goods store, but I'll take the card at its word. This set was also the end of an era for TOPPS. After this year, TOPPS cards were no longer distributed in series, where the higher number cards were rarer than the other cards, but mass produced. I didn't care for this, but I am quite resistant to change. I did collect cards for a few more years after this and even sold cards at flea markets later on, but it was never quite the same after 1973.

One note about the Kellogg's 3-D cards that you got for free in your box of Frosted Flakes in the 70's: Below was the best card I ever got in a box of cereal. My Willie Mays card may not be in very good shape now, but it's still my favorite one.

Sunday, July 20, 2014




(July 21, 1971)

One reason I remember this game was that it seemed like the perfect doubleheader victory. 

I listened to the first game and it was a see-saw affair that included homeruns by the Padres Bob Barton and Ollie Brown. But the Braves bettered them with  two Hank Aaron home runs and a game winning Darrell Evans blast in the bottom of the 11th for the 8-7 victory. It wasn't one of Phil Niekro's better games, but Cecil Upshaw pitched three scoreless innings in relief for the win.

The second part of the double header was the opposite type of game. Pat Jarvis was in a pitcher's duel with the Padres Fred Norman. The Padres only managed three hits and two walks off of Jarvis, but Norman was just as good, shutting out the Braves until the bottom of the ninth. Jarvis started the ninth inning with a single. Felix Millan followed with a single and Jarvis scored on an outfield error by Cito Gaston. 

Why this double header? Well, the Braves won both games and each one I guess you could label as a prototype for an exciting high-scoring win and a pitcher's duel win. Why couldn't they all be like that?

More from 1971: The key from the above paragraph  is listened. 

Before Ted Turner bought the Braves in 1976, a majority of the road games and all of the home games were not televised. So if you didn't attend the game, the way you kept up with it was by radio. I had one of those Panasonic transistor ball radios like the one pictured above. I got to know announcers Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson pretty well. I remember listening intently to games at times and at other times listening a bit passively while doing something else.
Of course, it was better after the Super Station era when I could watch almost every game on television...but I do think something was lost. I think what I lost was a bit of my imagination...of picturing what was going on in the field by visualizing it in my mind or using the description of the announcers to get an image of what is going on whether or not it was the way it actually occurred. I still have the picture of Earl Williams' upper deck home run, Phil Niekro's no-hitter or Pat Jarvis scoring that winning run in my mind. It probably isn't the way it actually happened, but it is my interpretation. Of course, I still listened to some games on the radio after 1976, but I admit, the overflow of the pictures coming out of the television were too pervasive for my imagination to overcome at times. That's progress for you.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


The Mascot: Chief Noc-A-Homa

Indian Chief Noc-A-Homa, with his dramatic fire breathing, rain dancing around the pitching mound and yelling from his outfield teepee home, was a mainstay with the Braves throughout the decade.

There are some that found the Chief's (real name: Levi Walker) depiction of a Native American as somehow degrading. Well, to put it succinctly: they're wrong! No mascot since can hold a candle to him.The Chief was finally given his final walking papers sometime in the mid-80's, and we've missed him ever since. At least I have.

The Play-by-Play Guys: Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson and Pete Van Wieren

I think the best deal the Braves made during the 70's was the dumping of announcer Milo Hamilton in 1974 and replacing him in the booth with Hawks announcer Skip Caray and Braves traveling secretary Pete Van Weiren to join Ernie Johnson.

Wise cracking Skip, whose memorable lines included saying Eddie Miller looked like The Jazz Singer in reverse after sliding across home plate and being covered with chalk and aggravating Ernie after Cardinal second baseman Tom Herr would pop up and Ernie would say, "Popped him up." Skip would counter with "No, popped Herr up." It was always fun with Skip.

Maybe not the greatest by the book announcer there ever was, but old Uncle Ern, Ernie Johnson (1957 World Series hero with the Milwaukee Braves) was certainly one of the most beloved. I remember him for some of his redundant calls such as every time both teams scored in the first inning, how he would say, "This could end up to be one of those 10-9 games!" When a batter would hit the ball down off of home plate and would be up in the air long enough for him to reach first base, he would say, "That's an artificial turf hit." Even though it didn't hit the turf at all! When a couple of players collided or almost collided he would always call it an "Alphonse and Gaston act." I finally looked up what that was after hearing it for several years (A pair of bumbling Frenchmen from an early twentieth century comic strip. It had nothing to do with Cito Gaston.) But all Braves fans loved Ernie.

The other one in the booth was the cerebral Pete "The Professor" Van Wieren. Steady, smart, informative and probably my favorite baseball announcer of them all.

Other announcers came and went throughout the 70' and 80's (including the not quite up to the task Darrel Chaney, the obnoxious John Sterling, and the self-proclaimed Bob Newhart of broadcasting. Billy Sample) but the main trio in our hearts was always Skip, Pete and Ernie.

The Owner: Ted Turner

When Ted Turner purchased the team in 1976, he was know primarily in the Atlanta area as the owner of Turner Signs and, of course, Channel 17 (WTCG, soon to be WTBS). He put the Braves on television all the time no matter how bad they were. He also won the Americas Cup in the late 70's. He showed Fred MacMurray and Spencer Tracy movies on his superstation and I credit him for cultivating my taste in old films. I also have to give him some credit (or blame) for my interest in professional wrestling during this time.

Ted could certainly show his butt and embarrass himself on occasion, but I certainly liked and admired him. I still do. I recommend his autobiography Call Me Ted, for more wacky tales about Captain Outrageous.

The P. A. Announcer: Marshall Mann

"If you are sitting in Aisle 100 Row 10 Section C, you've just won a ticket to future Braves games and a loaf of Colonial Bread." "Would the owner of a Jeep Cherokee please report to the ticket booth, you've left your lights on." "Catcher, Bruuuuce Bendict." The P. A. Announcer is the voice that seems to be coming out of the baseball stadium that we never see and we don't really think about that much. They are just always there.

I couldn't find a picture of Marshall Mann on the Internet (which is probably fitting, since he just seemed like a mysterious voice most all those years), the Braves P. A. announcer during the 70's and far beyond, but I think that is appropriate. He's just there. And I remember him fondly.

The Manager: ?

Who was the Braves manager of the 70's? It's a hard choice.And the nominees are...

What about Lum Harris? Since Lum managed the team to their 1969 division title, I would lean toward Lum if we included 1969. But since this is a 70's blog, Lum's resume isn't quite so stellar when you remove 1969. His 1970 team finished 10 games under .500. His 1971 team did manage to finish 82-80, one of only two Braves 70's teams to finish over .500. He was ten games under .500 in 1972 before being fired late in the season.

What about Eddie Mathews? Braves legend Ed Mathews took over the team from Lum Harris in 1972 and completed the year at four games under .500. 1973 was his only full year as manager and he finished nine games under .500. He was 50-49 in 1974 before being fired in midseason.

What about Clyde King? Clyde took over for Eddie Mathews and finished the 1973 season with a 38-25 record that culminated in the best Braves record of the decade at 88-74. He couldn't keep up that pace in 1975 and was fired late in the year after the Braves fell eighteen games under .500.

What about Dave Bristol? Dave managed the Braves for 1976 and 1977 posted a 92 loss season and a 100 loss season before being fired despite Ted Turner's claim that Dave would be Braves manager for life.

What about Bobby Cox? Clearly Bobby Cox is the greatest manager the Braves ever had by far. But when you look at his seventies resume, what we have is a 92 loss season in 1978 and a 94 loss season in 1979. That's not a whole lot better than Dave Bristol.

And the winner for the Braves manager of the 70's  is....

The two headed monster of Eddie Mathews and Clyde King. 1974 was the best season for the Braves by far, so I'll say a combination of the two was the manager of the decade. It's not like there's a lot of success to choose from here and that I do love that season.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014



The most exciting event for Braves fans during the decade of the 70's had to be Hank Aaron's chase of Babe Ruth's home run record of 714. I still remember a lot of his home runs from this time, including number 600 off of Gaylord Perry, number 700 off of Ken Brett, number 714 off of Jack Billingham and number 715 on April 8, 1974 off of  Al Downing to become the home run champ (and he still is in my book). 

Just watching him bat-I loved the routine Hank would employ before facing a pitcher: the way he would  adjust him helmet, lean his bat against himself,  take his practice swings before taking aim at the pitcher and then the way he would jog around the bases after a home run . He made it look so easy and was so graceful. A true artist who I appreciate even more now than I did then and easily number one on this list.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


ATLANTA BRAVES 1966-1983, 1987

The only mainstay of the Braves team throughout the seventies was Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil "Knucksie" Niekro. Phil helped lead the Braves to division titles in 1969 and 1982, but during the 70's he seemed to be the perpetual victim of getting no run support and often finding few catchers that could haul in his dancing knuckleball.  Phil led the league in losses three times during the decade and wins twice.  In 1979, his 21-20 record led the league in both categories! He was the only pitcher of the century to do this.  He is also the last to win 20 and lose 20 in the same season. Workhorse Phil also led the league in innings pitched four times during the decade. 

His highlight of the decade was his August 5, 1973 no-hitter against the Padres, the only no-hitter for the team during the 70's. So much changed for the Braves during that first decade I followed the team, but Phil Niekro was one thing that didn't.

TOPPS 1970
TOPPS 1971

TOPPS 1972
TOPPS 1973

TOPPS 1974
TOPPS 1975

TOPPS 1976

TOPPS 1977

TOPPS 1978

TOPPS 1979