I was just a blond headed boy who didn’t know or care too much about the world outside of Gordon County, but I knew when Bob Horner was putting on too much weight and needed to be traded. I knew when Biff Pocoroba’s knees were so worn out that he’d finish third in a race with a pregnant woman. My grandfather believed with all his heart that Atlanta was going to hell in a hand basket. He didn’t even care to drive through that city, but from spring until fall he connected himself to Fulton County Stadium via WSB 750 on the AM dial.
AM radio was meant for two things in my grandfather’s home: gospel music and Braves baseball – both divine gifts to man from God himself. If you so much as touched the dial or bumped the antenna on that old GE radio you risked being struck. He could be clearly unconscious, feet up and mouth agape in his old recliner, but if the signal was suddenly interfered with he was prone to strike out like a cornered rattler. Careless grandkids were most at risk.
All this talk about Chipper retiring got me to thinking about Braves baseball. Back in the baby blue days, when Chief Nock-A-Homa ran through a sparsely populated stadium, you could buy general admission tickets and find a seat on the 1st or 3rd baseline without much trouble at all. Pa mostly complained in those days. They could never put a roster together that satisfied him, until 1976.
1976 was a big year for folks in Georgia. A peanut farmer from Plains was elected as the President of the United States. The city was buzzing because Jimmy’s son Jack lived in Calhoun and Burt Lance was going to Washington to be the Director of OMB. Suddenly, everyone wanted a connection to those running the nation, but truth be known most of our people had more in common with Billy than with Jimmy. It was a bicentennial year and an exciting time to live, but for Pa it was the year the Braves signed Dale Murphy.
No finer man has ever graced the Atlanta Braves dugout than Dale Murphy. “People keep looking for words to describe him. Well, there aren’t enough good words or words good enough,” Phil Niekro said of Murphy. Don Sutton said, “Dale may be the only guy I know who could call twenty-four guys in one locker room a good friend.” Dale Murphy was a class act and Atlanta fell in love with him, but even he couldn’t bring a pennant to Atlanta.
1980 was a rough year — too tough for Pa to handle. Phil Niekro became the first National League pitcher to lead the league in losses for four consecutive seasons. They had a memorable group of players that year: Chambliss at 1st, scrappy little Glen Hubbard at 2nd, Ramirez at short and Horner rounding out the infield at 3rd. They wound up in the middle of the pack, but it cost Pa more Evan Williams than his liver could stand. He left a gold Braves watch behind – one given to him by a co-owner. He died during a slump with no idea of what the 90s would bring.
Still, we have so many fond memories of the lean years. We’ll never forget that 1982 season when Pascual Perez was scheduled to start, but instead got lost and drove three laps around Atlanta on I-285 until his rental car ran out of gas. We’ll never forget Aaron’s 715th dinger over the left-center field wall, and I’ll always smile when I picture a semiconscious old man grinning with his eyes closed after Murphy sends a 3-2 pitch for a ride to the upper deck.