Tuesday, September 30, 2014





 (April 23-May 12, 1977) 

When one thinks of the Braves and  "the streak" you may think of the 13 games in a row the team won in 1982 to begin the season on the way to rare division title. Or if you want to stay in the 70's you may think of Gene Garber's dramatic strike out of Pete Rose in 1978 to end Rose's 44-game hitting streak. But when I think of Braves streaks, I think of the Braves epic 17 game losing streak near the beginning of the 1977 season.

1976, the first year under Ted Turner's ownership and under the managerial reins of Dave Bristol, ended in a disappointing 94 game, last place finish.

The 1977 season started off much better. During the first 13 games of the season, the Braves were 8-5. Game 13 even culminated in an exciting two-run ninth that led the Braves to a big win over one of the best Los Angeles Dodgers teams. They were only a game and a half behind the Dodgers at that point. Could this be a year that the Braves actually might compete with the Reds or the Dodgers?

The answer came quickly. The Braves lost the next two games to the Dodgers including a 16-6 drubbing. This was followed by a 23-9 shellacking from the Reds, which featured a 12 run inning and put the Braves at .500. Two more losses to the Reds put the Braves under .500. But this was the Dodgers and the Reds. Things would have to look up, after that right? 


It was off to St. Louis, where the Braves were swept, including an 8-0 shutout in the final game.

Then the Pirates came to town. The Braves lost the first game by 10 runs. The Braves came close in the second game behind an 11-inning complete game from Phil Niekro, but came up a run short. In the finale, they were once again shutout 8-0.

11 losses in a row! The season was quickly spiraling out of control. Thank goodness, there were three against the Cubs..but three losses later, the streak had hit 14.

I'm closing my eyes now as we go back to Pittsburgh. The Braves pitching is very good the first couple of games. This included a nice outing by Don Collins, who I don't remember. They may have asked the crowd for volunteers to pitch and took Don out of the stands. Unfortunately, the Pirates pitching was better and the losing streak had reached 16 games!

This is when tragedy and farce began to intermix as Ted Turner sent Bristol on aassignment and Ted took over as manager himself! Ted just threw Niekro out there and left him (which is frankly what many Braves managers did in the seventies, anyway). Niekro gave up only two runs, but it was enough for the Pirates to beat the Braves 2-1. 

The commissioner's office didn't like Turner's turn at manager and Vern Benson managed the next game for the still absent Dave Bristol. Not only did the Braves have a 17-game losing streak, but the Pirates were on an 11-game winning streak. Benson started Max Leon in one of his only 13-career starts. Leon held the Pitates to one run over seven innings (and also knocked in three runs. Career game for Max? I'd say so.)
So, the law of averages went the Braves way and the streak was over by 6-1 score.

Bristol took back over the next day and the team went on to a 101 loss last place finish, thirty-seven games behind the Dodgers.

Max Leon
Braves hero of May 12, 1977

Saturday, September 20, 2014




(July 11, 1976)

On July 11, 1976, the second division Atlanta Braves had probably their best comeback of the year The Braves were behind 4-1 to Jon Matlack and the New York Mets in the bottom of the seventh when big hits from Willie Montanez and Tom Paciorek gave the Braves a 6-4 lead. Naturally, the Braves bullpen gave up 4 runs (punctuated by a two-run error by Willie Montanez on a Joe Torre grounder) to put the Braves behind 8-6. But as heroes of old, Willie M. atoned for his sin with a three-run double in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Braves a 9-8 win. This was probably the best day of the Braves season on their path to a last place finish. 

But it wasn't a memorable day for a mere game, it was memorable because it went down in history as "Wedlocks and Headlocks" day at Atlanta stadium

That's right. Before the game, several couples decided it was a great idea to get married at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. As you see by the picture, the Braves raised their bats high as the happy couples went underneath the lumber bridge before declaring their unending love and devotion to each other. In retrospect, I can certainly see worse ways of tying the knot. I would be interested in knowing how successful these marriage were as opposed to those who went through a traditional church weeding, but I'll save that for the sociologists.

But that wasn't all! After the game, the headlocks portion of the program featured a ring in the middle of the field for some wrasslin' from Georgia Championship Wrestling (the greatest wrestling promotion off all-time) including a main event match featuring The masked good-guy Mr. Wrestling II and "The Madman from the Sudan" Abdullah the Butcher (The greatest two wrestlers of all-time). I don't remember the details of the match, but I can guess that at one point Abdullah tried to take off Wrestling II's mask, Abdullah bled a lot from his forehead and tried to use a "foreign object" against Wrestling II that got him disqualified. 

The results of a ball game seem kind of unimportant when you weigh it against Wedlock and Headlock day!

And who was responsible for all this! Why, the Brave new owner Ted Turner that's who! I knew Ted from his Turner signs televion ads and later as the owner of channel 17 (WTCG), the superstation, featuring old movies and Andy Griffith show reruns, before becoming the very visible owner of the Braves in 1976.

He tried to bring a winning team in the late 70's,  but three last place last finishes in a row shows his lack of early success here. He did win the America's Cup yacht race in 1977. I'm glad he won, but it was really hard for me to get excited about yachting (still is).

What he brought was some fun that bordered on wackiness.  A cow milking contest featuring manager Dave Bristol, egg throwing contests, chariot races and of course the Braves uniforms (below) that featured the nicknames of the players. Andy Messersmith's Channel 17 jersey was the most famous of these. 

In the first home game, I remember Ted running on the field to greet Ken Henderson after a home run, the first with Ted as an owner. There were a few "tipsy" rants from Ted throughout the year, but that was just Ted being Ted.

The biggest change was the Braves were now on Channel 17 and instead of being able to watch about 20-30 road games a year on TV, we could now watch practically all the games, including the home games! As I mentioned, wins were hard to come by, but I guess that made them more special. And you could witness it all without season tickets!

Ted eventually did build a winner, but I still have a great affection for those early days.

For some great stories about the 1976 season, I highly recommend Dan Epstein's book, Stars and Strikes: Baseball and American in the Bicentennial Summer of '76

Wednesday, September 10, 2014





The 1975 Braves team finished with a 67-94 record and a staggering 40 1/2 games behind division winner Cincinnati. Clyde King was fired late in the season and the team was looking for a new direction. But things were looking up as the Ted Turner and his deep pockets was about to buy the team and the Braves...were only going to get worse in 1976.

But in one way, the biggest (and best) change for Braves was the firing of announcer Milo Hamilton in 1975 and replacing him in the booth with Hawks announcer Skip Caray and Braves traveling secretary Pete Van Wieren joining broadcaster mainstay Ernie Johnson.

Skip Caray
and his misguided mid-70's afro

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.

Ernie Johnson: 1957 World Series hero

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, the self-proclaimed Bob Newhart of broadcasting, Billy Sample and Don Sutton, who I can still never seem to think of as anything but a Dodger) but the main trio in our heart was always Skip, Pete and Ernie.

Brushes with greatness: I met Skip Caray at the Fox Theater during a performance of Beatlemania! (Me and Skip were obviously such radicals). I met Pete Van Wieren at the library while he was looking at microfiche (What could be better than meeting the cerebral Van Wieren as he is looking at microfiche?) I never talked to Ernie, but certainly felt like I knew him.

If you think about it, players and managers come and go, but the announcers seem to stay forever. Ernie Johnson was the Braves announcer since the Braves moved to Atlanta and stayed with the team for the next quarter century or so. Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren stayed in the Braves broadcast booth for over thirty years.

If you listen or watch a lot of games, and at 162 games a year, that's a lot of time that you spend listening to these guys. If you aren't careful, you may one day realize you have spent more time listening to them than you spent listening to your parents, teachers or your friends! At least it was time well spent (I hope!).

Skip Caray passed away at the age of 69 in 2008. Ernie Johnson passed away at the age of 87 in 2011. Sadly, as I was writing this blog, I saw the news that Pete Van Wieren passed away on August 2, 2014 at the age of 69. I miss them all.