2006 Topps Jeff Francoeur #445 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I had this fear that after a year or so in the league, Frenchy would hit a wall. I was afraid that his free swinging ways would lead to him striking out often and in the most embarrassing fashion, and I feared he would never walk enough. I was worried that his average would vary from year to year at the mercy of the BABIP gods. If I’m completely honest, I thought there was an outside chance he’d be the worst every day player in baseball. Sure, there would be the highlight reel throws from right, but all they would do is hide his otherwise awful defense.

Fortunately, as you all know, the man we call “The Natural” didn’t just live up to his hype, he exceeded it. It was on Frenchy’s back that the Braves carried their division championship streak into a second decade. While he wasn’t enough to fully get the Braves over their World Series disappointments, he at least brought two more rings to Atlanta. At the time of his retirement, the only Braves player that we can definitively say was better is Hank Aaron, and Aaron only won a single ring. Now, we just wait for his eventual induction to Cooperstown.

2006 Topps Francoeur 445a2006 Topps Francoeur 445b

2008 Topps Martin Prado #651 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The Justin Upton trade was a good trade for the Braves, but I never got used to seeing Martin Prado play in another uniform. Since he’s retiring, I don’t guess I’ll have to worry about it again. I’d like to think the Braves are busy trying to hire him as a coach in the minors.

And yeah, the 2008 set sucked. Just awful.

2008 Topps Prado 651a2008 Topps Prado 651b

2013 Topps Freddie Freeman #105 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Has a franchise cornerstone ever laid a bigger egg on the big stage than Freddie Freeman did in the NLDS last year? If injuries were to blame for his on-field performance, he had no business playing. His public criticism of his teammate, and his team’s best player, is inexcusable. The failure to come to that teammates defense when he became a target during the Game 5 blowout should color the rest of his career.

When the team needed him most, he shed his leadership responsibilities and led the Braves into another post-season disappointment. I expect that Freeman will be fully healed in 2020. I expect that he will again put up his fantastic offensive numbers. I expect that he will again play his position well. I just hope he learns from his mistakes.

On that though, I have my doubts.

2013 Topps Freeman 105a2013 Topps Freeman 105b

1962 Topps Hank Aaron All-Star #394 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

There is no rational explanation for how Hank Aaron ended up in 8th place in the MVP voting following the 1961 season. He was straight-out robbed, but at least you can make an argument that Willie Mays was the one robbed instead, as he finished 6th. Of course, I feel bad declaring that anyone was robbed when the great Frank Robinson won, but he was, at best, the 3rd best player in the National League that year.

1962 Topps AaronAS 394a1962 Topps AaronAS 394b

1971 Topps Orlando Cepeda #605 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I wish I were a better collector. If I were, then I would be on eBay looking to upgrade this card. I’m not however. I don’t see how a version that wasn’t missing paper at the top would bring me any more joy than this card already does. Cepeda is one of my favorites and his best years may have been with the great Giants teams with Mays, Marichal, and McCovey and then again with those damned Cardinals, but Cepeda played a major role in the Braves 1969 Western Division Championship.

1971 Topps Cepeda 605a1971 Topps Cepeda 605b

1989 Topps Andres Thomas #523 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The Braves signed Andres Thomas as an 18 year old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in December of 1981. After a few unremarkable years rising through the Braves system, he would become one of the worst every day players in the history of the sport. He would debut during the 1986 season and would eventually take the starting job from the rapidly declining Rafael Ramirez.

Over the 1988 and 1989 seasons, he started almost every single game and was bad. Very, very bad. He’d lose the starting job to Jeff Blauser during the 1990 season. He’d never have another at-bat in the majors. It’s ridiculous he had as many as he did.

1989 Topps Thomas 523a1989 Topps Thomas 523b

1982 Topps Claudell Washington #758 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’m a stone cold fan of Claudell Washington.

I loved the fact that the contract Ted Turner gave him before the 1981 season sent the writers and his fellow owners into a tizzy. Claudell wanted to be a rich man and Ted made him one and the owners couldn’t stand it. If it hadn’t been for the money Ted threw at Claudell, it’s doubtful that Dave Winfield would have cashed in for as much as he did with the Yankees. The idea that I should dislike Claudell because an owner paid him too much money is fucking stupid.

I loved that so many old school Braves fans complained that Claudell was a loafer. He was a lot of things, but to my eye, he wasn’t a loafer. Claudell played hard, if occasionally reckless, especially on the base paths.

Mostly, I loved Claudell because of the fight he started with Mario Soto. Mario threw at Claudell so Claudell let the bat slip from his hands. He jawed at Soto as he walked towards his bat and went after him, throwing the umpire out of the way. Soto even tried to throw the baseball at Claudell after the fight started! It was great stuff.

Sure, Claudell wasn’t worth the money he was paid, but he wasn’t boring. I was, and I am, a fan.

1982 Topps Washington 758a1982 Topps Washington 758b

1982 Topps Gaylord Perry #115 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Somehow, someway, the Braves finished a game above .500 in 1980. In the eyes of Ted Turner and the Braves fanbase, the team was ready to contend. Sure, maybe Ted could have paid Gary Matthews what he wanted rather than send him to Philadelphia for Bob Walk. The Braves could have made a stronger run at Dave Winfield. Darrel Porter would have been better behind the plate than Benedict or Pocoroba. If it was a pitcher they were after, Luis Tiant and Don Sutton would have made better choices than the great Gaylord Perry.

Perry was perfectly acceptable, and nothing more for the Braves. He certainly gave the Braves fans, in Atlanta and across the country, the chance to watch a crafty all-time great. The goal, however, was to win and Gaylord Perry did not help the Braves achieve that goal.

1982 Topps Perry 115a1982 Topps Perry 115b

1981 Topps Al Hrabosky #636 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Ted Turner didn’t want to pay Gary Matthews what he was worth, but he had no problem spending a small fortune on the past his prime Mad Hungarian. Make no mistake, I love the Mad Hungarian. My most enduring memory of Hrabosky was a feature on This Week in Baseball in the late 70s. He was, in all the best ways, a character.

In December of 1979, he was not worth 5.9 million dollars, even if it was spread out over 35 years. The best part of his time with the Braves was featuring his antics on TBS for the entire country. He was OK in 1980, better in 1981, and at the end by 1982. HIs first year in Atlanta, only Phil Niekro was better paid. Insane.

1981 Topps Hrabosky 636a1981 Topps Hrabosky 636b

1980 Topps Mike Lum #7 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Did the return of Mike Lum inspire confidence in Braves fans? Was this the return of a “Braves great”?

I find that hard to believe. Mike Lum was a guy who had two solid seasons for the Braves in the early 70s and that was pretty much the only thing that kept his career above the replacement line.

Were the Braves even trying to win at this point? No. Not yet. Almost though.

1980 Topps Lum 7a1980 Topps Lum 7b

1980 Topps Charlie Spikes #294 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The Braves didn’t need Liberty Media to cheap out during the off-season. I give you Charlie Spikes. He was signed in early April and it’s shocking that he was on the market still. Sure, he had played parts of 7 seasons in the big leagues and had stunk in every single one of them. Bad. Really, really bad. On the 1979 Atlanta Braves, he didn’t even stick out. Those were some lean years.

1980 Topps Spikes 294a1980 Topps Spikes 294b

1977 Topps Andy Messersmith #80 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The reserve clause was dead, and to the shock of the reporters who spent so many years carrying the owner’s water, it did not mean the end of the game. The reserve clause what the rule that essentially tied a player to a team for as long as that team wished to renew his contract. If he didn’t like his pay, his only choice was to hold out and hope the owner would raise the offer. Not only was there no free agency, there was no arbitration. The owner could pay the player whatever they wanted. With only the rare exception, every deal was a one year deal. Nothing was guaranteed.

The seeds of change were planted when the union hired Marvin Miller. The days of team control would soon be over. In 1975, Andy Messersmith, one of the best pitchers in the National League, filed a grievance over the reserve clause with the support of the union. Their argument was that the language that allowed the owners to renew a player’s contract for one year meant one year only. The owners believed it allowed them to renew the contracts for one year over and over and over again. Messersmith won.

Messersmith hit the open market and the big dollar offers didn’t roll in. No one seem interested in beating the Dodgers three year offer to the talented right hander. Looking to make his first splash as an owner, Turner offered Messersmith a million dollars over three years. He accepted and the Braves had their first ever big dollar free agent.

Unfortunately, Messersmith’s impact on the team was small. He was outstanding his first season, but, bone spurs in his elbow would send his career into a tailspin. He’s remembered more for wearing a jersey with the word Channel above his number 17, an advertisement for Ted Turner’s superstation, before the National League shut it down.

Messersmith’s impact on baseball as a whole is much greater. He’s the guy who took the chance, and it paid off. He proved that the one eternal truth of Major League Baseball is that the owners are liars. The reserve clause did not end the sport. In fact, it ushered in the great period of competitive balance the game had ever known. For the first time, players were able to take their skills onto the open market.

1977 Topps Messersmith 80a1977 Topps Messersmith 80b

1981 Topps Gary Matthews - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Sometimes, the story is simple. Gary Matthews wanted more money and the Braves weren’t willing to pay. Matthews asked to be traded. The Braves tried to deal the All Star for Dave Collins of the Reds, who was at least a good baseball player. The Reds refused to assume a portion of a loan the Braves were owed by Mathews, so the deal fell through.

The Braves had their backs against the wall during spring training of 1981. Mathews was demanding a 5 year deal. When he asked for more money the previous season, Ted Turner ordered Bobby Cox to sit Mathews. Cox, of course, was “SIR, YES SIR”. The team was desperate to dump him. So, Bob Walk happens. Bob Walk. Yes, Bob Walk.

We all remember Ted Turner’s ownership fondly, but for a long time, he was pretty fucking bad at it. He should have ponied up for Matthews. Not only was he pretty darn good, with his best years in front of him no less, but he was the kind of guy that leaves it all on the field.

There were more bad trades to come.

At least Bob Walk hit that extra inning homer on the 4th that one year. (Also, the Brave still lost that game. People always forget that.)

1981 Topps Matthews 528a1981 Topps Matthews 528b

1982 Topps Bob Horner 145 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Bob Horner hit big, long home runs. Bob Horner drank a lot of beer. Bob Horner liked to eat big meals. Bob Horner never played a day of minor league baseball. After Dale Murphy, Bob Horner was the best Brave of the early TBS years. Bob Horner’s career was a victim of collusion.

I miss Bob Horner.

1982 Topps Horner 145a1982 Topps Horner 145b

1996 Topps John Smoltz #139 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I feel sorry for John Smoltz. He wasn’t good enough with his money, so he had to keep working at a job he clearly doesn’t like. When he first started broadcasting as a Braves color man, he was pretty good. He was jovial and shared the worst possible jokes with the entire world. Now, he has to have the job, and he’s clearly unhappy. I don’t understand why a television network would employ someone to call baseball games who clearly doesn’t enjoy the sport he’s calling. The same goes for the mediocre spawn of the great Jack Buck.

Baseball is the greatest game in the world. People like Smoltz are convinced that the game was exactly the same when he played as it was for the entire history of the game, right up until the moment the young kids after him took over. I’m not sure if guys like him are stupid or dishonest. The game has always evolved. In fact, the game has always evolved for the better.

Look, I love John Smoltz the right handed pitcher. He was a bad ass on the mound and he played a part of many of my fondest baseball memories. (Well, not the 1995 World Series when he couldn’t make it out of the third because Cleve land was beating him around and all.) He’s actively ruining that by hating on the game as often as possible. The funny thing is, when he sticks to what he knows best, getting in the mind of a pitcher, he’s not bad at all. Oh John. Go away and play golf.

1996 Topps Smoltz 189a1996 Topps Smoltz 189b

1965 Topps Tommie Aaron - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Tommie is, obviously, the younger brother of the great Hank Aaron. There are many of us, and I’m including myself here, who don’t feel he ever got the shot he deserved at the big league level. It was difficult when compared to his big brother. Still, he did an excellent job as a minor league manager and a big league coach for well over a decade. His dream was to manage in the big leagues, and well, there were reasons that prevented that from occurring. (We all know what that is.) Tragically, he died from leukemia at the age of 45 in 1984.

1965 Topps TAaron 567a1965 Topps TAaron 567b

2019 Topps Heritage Ronald Acuña Jr. #500 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Will I look back on 2019 as the year my wife left me?

Will I look back on 2019 as the year I fell in love with Mary?

Will I look back on 2019 as the year I was laid off from my job of the past 7 years?

Will I look back on 2019 as the year I started with a new company that has me more excited about the work I’m doing that I have been since I was fresh out of school?

Will I look back on 2019 as the year my Mom was diagnosed with cancer?

The answer is obviously all these things, but who really knows. Personal lives are like that. It all matters and we do the best we can.

On the other hand, I think I do know what I will look back on where the Braves’ 2019 season is concerned. It will be the way the season ended. It will be with the Cards lighting the Braves up in the first inning. It will be with blown leads. It will be with the best player of the Braves last 10 years dumping on the best Braves player of this past season and the best Braves player of the 2019 post-season. It will be with that same veteran player ignoring a Cardinals pitcher beaning Acuña for daring to look at his own home run. It will be the with the same veteran limping through the end of the regular season and absolutely stinking up the post-season.

There was nothing I enjoyed more in 2019, and 2018 for that matter, than watching Ronald Acuña Jr. playing baseball. Every minute he’s on the baseball field, he’s having fun. It’s infectious and it’s exciting and we are so lucky to have him on our team. I just hope the Braves Way doesn’t beat the fun out of him.

Yeah, he should have run out both of those hits, but in the grand scheme of things, I just don’t care. I’ll take an Acuña over a Freeman every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

2019 Her Acuña 500a2019 Her Acuña 500b

1984 Topps Traded Alex Trevino #120T - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Whenever I don’t know what card to write about, I use a “random card generator” that I wrote to choose one for me. This morning, it spit out Alex Trevino. I tried to find something interesting to say about him, but I’ve got nothing. He was one of a long line of shitty catchers the Braves acquired from other teams. I think of him as a New York Met because if I were to try and picture him, which I typically wouldn’t, it would be as he was on his 1981 Donruss card. Yeah, he was a Met and he stunk so who gives a crap?

I’ve been thinking about the Braves off-season a lot lately, and I’m convinced that Mike Moustakas would be a perfect “Braves Way” player.

That’s not a complement.

1984 Topps Trevino 120Ta

1999 Topps Ozzie Guillen - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I love Ozzie Guillen so much. I wish MLB had more guys who would say what’s on their mind without any filter. Can you imagine how much more entertaining the league would me? MLB was better with Ozzie managing.

Not the Braves though. Please? Never the Braves.

I wrote quite a bit about Ozzie many years ago at Talking Chop for a book review and I forgot just how much I enjoy his personality. In a world of cookie cutter athletes from the “gosh, I’m just glad to be here” school, it’s a relief to have individuals with real personalities who tells you his truth. I miss Ozzie.

Ozzie Guillen loves to talk. The only two words not to pass his lips are no comment. He is volatile, funny, bright, passionate, ridiculous, absurd, loud, obnoxious, profane, honest and occasionally self-destructive.

He tells what he believes to be the truth in the moment and his most outrageous words always end up in print. He finds himself in hot water more than any reasonable man could tolerate. This is why many of us love him and it is also why many hate him. One thing though, at least he takes his lumps like a man. He doesn’t shoot off to a reporter and then try to blame the reporter for the backlash. Ozzie knows who he is and he knows when he says certain things he’s going to get into trouble. It’s not that he doesn’t care, he just can’t stop himself.

1999 Topps Guillen 301a1999 Topps Guillen 301b

1961 Topps Wes Covington 296 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

In my mind’s eye, I occasionally try to conjure up a picture of Wes Covington’s batting stance. I try to figure out how a player can hold the bat horizontal to the ground, yet as high as his chin. I try to figure out how a player who holds his bat like that can hit for power. I can only assume he must have been hunched over, leaning over the plate. How would it work otherwise? It must have been something to see. Virtually every paragraph written about Wes Covington that I could find on the internet mentions his batting stance. Kids loved to imitate it.

He was also known for wasting time at the plate. There was no part of his uniform that didn’t need adjusting. There was dirt that needed to be knocked off his spikes with the barrel of his bat. His shoes needed to be tied and retied. He had to get his cap just right and there was always dirt that had to be wiped off his hands. He was known to drive opposing pitchers to distraction. I’m shocked that Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale never clocked him for it.

More than anything, I wanted to see video of his batting stance. I wanted to see exactly how he put that unorthodox swing together. I wanted to see his routine before stepping into the batter’s box. I didn’t get that chance though. There’s so much great MLB footage available from yesteryear, but MLB clamps down hard on anyone who tries to use it. If you ever see old-time footage you enjoy on You Tube, my advice would be to save it as soon as possible before MLB arranges to have it taken down.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if MLB did a better job of making the footage available. Sure, I can search the video at the MLB web site and find footage of Aaron’s 715. I can see snippets of Koufax’s perfect game. I can see any number of Mickey Mantle’s home runs. These are all great of course. There’s no doubt that footage of the superstars is the most in demand. Still, for a sport that celebrates its history as much as baseball, it’s a shame that I can’t find any footage of player like Covington. I can’t even find footage of his two great catches in the 1957 World Series.

It’s also been difficult to find any photographs of Covington’s unique batting stance. It would appear that most photographers who posed him with a bat had him hold his bat like virtually every other player did. Topps in particular has really let me down on this one. Covington has any number of excellent baseball cards from his period with the Braves, and yet none of them show the stance that so many remember.

Some of the cards are just great though. I love the 1960 Topps card. As great as the small black and white photo on the card is, the color portrait sets it apart. That’s as cocky a smile as you’ll ever see. The photo on his 1957 Topps card is likewise great, even if the photograph appears posed rather than an actual shot of his follow through. I especially like the 1959 All Star card. Not every player who spent his career as largely a platoon player got an All Star card, but Covington was there in the 1959 set featured alongside greats such as Willie Mays and Stan Musial. It’s hard to top that.

A few years ago, when I was writing for Talking Chop, a reader wrote to me to tout Wes Covington’s 1961 Topps card as not only his personal best, but one of the great cards of any Braves player. Certainly, Covington’s last card in a Braves uniform, as this card was, is his personal best. The red in the Braves uniform looks great. Covington is giving the camera a knowing look as he selects a bat. I’ve always found the 1961 Topps design to be a bit boring, so the success of each individual card relies on the quality of the photograph. This one is a keeper for sure.

Wes Covington is one of those guys who was known as all bat, no field. For Braves fans though, it was his glove in the 1957 World Series for which he’ll be most fondly remembered. In the bottom of the second inning of game 2, the Braves had Lew Burdette on the mound. He had already given up a run when Jerry Coleman singled in Enos Slaughter. With Tony Kubek on second and Coleman on first, Yankees pitcher Bobby Shantz scorched a line drive into left field. Covington had been playing shallow and the ball looked to get past him. Against all odds, it hung in the air long enough for him to catch the ball back-handed over his head. The catch saved two runs in a game the Braves would go on to win 4–2. A loss that day would have set the Braves back two games to none against the Yankees. It wouldn’t be the last time he’s be Burdette’s good luck charm in the series.

Through the first four games, the Braves and Yankees were tied up at two games each. In game 5, the Braves would send Burdette back on the hill to square off against Yankee great Whitey Ford. A pitcher’s duel was expected and the game did not disappoint. In the top of the fourth, he would make one of the great catches off the bat of Gil McDougald. The pitch from Burdette was lined deep to left and Covington had to run after the fly for all he was worth. With his glove hand outstretched, he would catch up with the ball in the same instance that he smacked into the wall. Even Covington didn’t know he had caught the ball until he got up. It was a spectacular moment and was captured in a wonderful series of photographs.

When all is said and done, Covington had an interesting career. He roomed with the future home run king. He endured the racism that dominated the Sally League in the 1950s and rose above it. He captured a World Series ring. He played with Hall of Famers. He had fun. He was popular in the clubhouse and with the fans everywhere he played throughout his career. (Well, with everyone except Gene Mauch.) Covington passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer. While he had stepped away from the Major Leagues, he never left baseball behind as he represented the Edmonton Trappers as a goodwill ambassador. There’s even a street named after him in Orlando, Florida. He may not be the first name you think of when mentioning the Braves greats, but he was one.

1961 Topps Covington 296a1961 Topps Covington 296b

1952 Topps Bob Chipman 388 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

The most expensive card I’ve ever paid money for is my 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews. Sure, it was an absurd amount of money and the card was only graded a PSA 1, but it was the rookie card of one of the Braves all-time greats from the last series of the 1952 card set. I’m not ashamed to have purchased that card.

The money I spent on THIS card, well, I’d prefer to pretend that didn’t happen. And it’s not like I spent a ton of money. I’ve spent more on dozens of cards. Still, this is Bob freaking Chipman.

1952 Topps Chipman 388a1952 Topps Chipman 388b

1958 Topps Ernie Johnson 78 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

When I was a younger man, I preferred Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. Like myself, Skip was a smart-aleck. I’ll even admit that on those occasions when he would lapse into outright meanness, as he did with me one time when I called into his post-game show in 1995, he cracked me up. (My own fault, I called in to complain about the umpiring. Skip, shall we say, dismissed me as an idiot and said the umpiring was fine. Funny, since Skip spent a large portion of the broadcast complaining about the umpiring himself!) While Skip appealed to my sarcastic side, Pete appealed to the geek in me. I would spend hour upon hour staring at the backs of the cards I collected, often memorizing the numbers. Listening to the professor on the TBS broadcasts, it wasn’t hard to picture him doing the same. He always had the numbers at hand and his nickname, “The Professor”, was well earned.

Then, there was Ernie Johnson. I look back now and realize that not only did I not relate to Ernie as I did the other two, but that I lacked a proper appreciation for what he brought to the table. It wasn’t that I disliked Ernie, after all, how could you? His spirit was kind and good natured. He came off like a nice old man you might find yourself chatting baseball with at the counter of a diner while having breakfast. Ernie was always affable and his enthusiasm for the Braves was infectious, even during those awful years of the late 1980s. I was a cynical kid, and at the time, I simply didn’t understand Ernie’s appeal. Now, I look back on him as one of the great voices of my youth.

1958 Topps Johnson 78a

Remarkably, for a guy who meant so much to the Braves over the years, he had few “signature moment” calls, if any. As Braves fans, we can all remember the sound of Skip’s voice proclaiming that the Braves win after Sid Bream slid, or Skip and Joe Simpson trading calls of “Yes” after Marquis Grissom squeezed the last out of the 1995 World Series into his mitt. Make no mistake, I can hear his voice in my head as a plain as day saying “we’re zipping right along here” during a long game, but I simply cannot place his voice with any specific moment with the Braves.

As many Braves fans know, he missed out on calling one of the greatest moments in Braves and MLB history. The night Hank Aaron hit home run number 715, the home run that sent him past Babe Ruth on the all time home run list, Ernie Johnson was in the radio booth for the Braves. We’ve all heard Vin Scully’s poetic call from Dodger’s radio. We’ve heard Curt Gowdy’s call for ABC television. We haven’t heard the call by Ernie Johnson though. You see, even though it was his inning to call, Milo Hamilton, as overrated an announcer as any who ever walked the planet, insisted that he be permitted to call each of Aaron’s at-bats. So yes, we’ve heard Milo Hamilton’s call of number 715. To Ernie’s credit, we’ve never heard him complain about missing the opportunity to call his former teammate’s most famous home run. (Skip Caray, of course, had other opinions. Needless to say, he disliked Hamilton even before his father’s feud with him during the WGN broadcasts of the early 1980s.)

All in all, that’s OK though. You see, when I think of those Braves teams of the 1980s, and I picture that team on the field, if I hear a voice calling the action on the field, that voice is Ernie Johnson. I’m no longer that kid that preferred Skip’s sarcasm or Pete’s numbers. I miss the good-hearted humor he would share on the air with Pete and Skip. I miss his calling a strike as being “right down Peachtree”. I miss his enthusiasm for baseball that you could hear in every second of every game he called. He was, for myself and many others throughout the country, as Skip Caray once famously referred to him, the voice of the Atlanta Braves.

1958 Topps Johnson 78b

It is hard for me to picture a lot of veterans, especially those that you see quite often in their later years, as they were in their playing days. We all know, of course, what Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial looked like as young men. Images of them abound both from their playing days and from their appearances in recent times. Not so with many of the lesser players. That’s just another great thing about collecting baseball cards.

Take a good look at his 1958 Topps card. He’s still a young man, but he’s nearing the end of his solid, if undistinguished career. He’s already married to Lois, the love of his life and his announcer son, Ernie Jr., has already been born. He’s played alongside legends such as Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Lew Burdette. He has pitched in the World Series. Do you think he had any idea that one day he would become one of the most recognizable faces in the history of the franchise, not to mention a national star?

1968 Topps Felipe Alou 55 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’ve been a fan of the entire Alou family for a long time. Felipe is my favorite because he spent most of his best years playing for the Braves, he was a flat out terrific baseball player and he was a terrific manager.

I love Jesus Alou because he basically spent three seasons out of the game and was able to come back and play in the big leagues. (I tend to picture him as he appears on his 1980 Topps baseball card with the Astros.

I know next to nothing about Matty Alou other than he had a solid career with a few flat out great years for the Pirates.

The best Alou brothers story takes place on September 15, 1963. Felipe Alou started in right field for the Giants. In the bottom of the 7th, Felipe moved to left and Jesus came into the game in right field. In the bottom of the 8th, Felipe moved to center field and Matty came in to play left field. For the first time in baseball history, three brothers played in the same outfield.

1968 Topps Alou 55a

1968 Topps Alou 55b

1993 Topps Jamie Arnold 559 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Yeah, this was not a good draft pick. Prep pitchers tend to be crap shoots anyway, but this one did not pan out. He seemed to get worse in the Braves system with each passing year. His cups of coffee in the big leagues with the Dodgers and the Cubs are inexplicable. I guess being a first round draft pick buys you a lot of chances.

1993 Topps Arnold 559a

1993 Topps Arnold 559b

1985 Topps Pascual Perez 106 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Pascual Perez was clearly the type of character that would have gotten under the skin of an old-timer like Dick Williams. When the Pirates first gave him a chance to pitch in the big leagues, he would occasionally blow the smoke away from his imaginary finger gun after blowing a hitter away. Perez dropped that act in short order, after all, it couldn’t have been popular with guys like Chuck Tanner or Willie Stargell. It’s also the kind of thing that people don’t forget. I don’t know that Dick Williams ever witnessed this act, but there’s nothing about Perez that would have appealed to him. Do you remember Pascual Perez sprinting into the dugout at the end of an inning? Williams would have hated that. Can you remember Pascual Perez spiking the ball into the dirt around first after he made the final out of an inning like Pete Rose used to do? Yeah, Williams wouldn’t have liked that either.

1985 Topps Perez 106a

I can only assume that Dick Williams didn’t like Pascual Perez, otherwise, the events of August 12, 1984 don’t make a lot of sense. That’s not to say that Dick Williams dislike of Perez was the only reason for the events of the day. Even though the Padres had a comfortable lead of nearly 10 games over the second place Braves, Williams was worried that his team was soft. I doubt that he looked around his clubhouse and found himself reminded of his world champion 1972 Oakland A’s. Old school guys like Dick Williams believed a fight could bring a team together, and it sure looked like he wanted one that Sunday afternoon in the late Summer of 1984.

The Padres sent Alan Wiggins to the plate to start the game, and the first pitch he saw from Pascual Perez landed in the small of his back. Perez wasn’t exactly known for his subtle body language, and it sure looked like hitting Wiggins was not his intention. The Padres have claimed that Perez told Wiggins he was planning on hitting him to start the game. No matter, as he walked to first, escorted by the umpire and a Padres trainer, Wiggins let Perez know what he thought about him. The Padres, a bee buzzing in their bonnet, emptied the dugout onto the grass. Order would be restored, but Dick Williams put a plan in motion. They would not retaliate immediately, but would instead get Perez, during this game, no matter how many tries it took. He went as far to specify a list of replacement managers and pitchers should any of them be ejected.

The Padres had their first chance in the bottom of the second. Ed Whitson sent a fastball that came in high and tight on Perez, who was trying to bunt the ball. The ball caught the knob of his bat, but Padres catcher Terry Kennedy was ready to get in Perez’s face. Even in the midst of a serious situation, Perez was funny and entertaining. He raised his bat like a weapon and all but danced away from the Padres towards the Braves dugout and his backup. (Well, actually, he sprinted. It was still hilarious.) Both dugouts emptied and met at home plate where they did a lot of yelling and a lot of staring. Tensions were not high with both teams. It’s notable that at this point, nobody was ejected from the game. Perez hit Wiggins and the Padres took their shot at Perez, but missed because Ed Whitson simply wasn’t a very good pitcher. The umpires followed the code. As far as the Padres were concerned though, it wasn’t over until Perez was bruised from a fastball.

Pascual Perez would again face an angry Whitson in the bottom of the fourth. Perez came up to the plate in his dancing shoes, and Whitson again failed to hit the Braves’ colorful starter. The umpires gave the Padres their chance in the second, but now they were done. Whitson and Williams were ejected and the game carried on. In the sixth inning, Perez came to the plate to face Padres reliever Greg Booker who, keeping with tradition, attempted to hit Perez and failed. This time, the Braves weren’t mollified by the ejection of Booker and Padres coach Ozzie Virgil Sr and the game’s first brawl took place. It’s unfortunate that MLB left the footage of the first brawl out of their highlights of the infamous game.

1985 Topps Perez 106b

If Padres pitching had been even remotely competent that day, it’s doubtful that anyone would have remembered this game as anything special. Everyone watching the game on WTBS had to know that the Padres would not give up after failing to hit Perez in three straight at-bats. Craig Lefferts was on the mound when Perez again came to the plate in the eighth. The target this time was Perez’s elbow. Lefferts did not miss. The dugouts and bullpens emptied again and the resulting brawl was full of highlights. There was Tony Gwynn all but body slamming Brad Komminsk to the ground before he could reach Lefferts. There was Tim Flannery and Gerald Perry throwing haymakers before wrestling each other to the ground. Craig Nettles managed to get a punch in on Braves reliever Donnie Moore.

The late Champ Summers wanted to rush the Braves dugout and get at Perez but was restrained by Bob Watson. Braves slugger Bob Horner was on the disabled list with a broken wrist, but after the earlier events in the game, he suited up and joined his teammates in the dugout. After Summers slipped free from Watson, he bum rushed the Braves dugout to be met by Horner who, with the assistance of two Braves fans took him to the ground as the fight moved in around them. When the dust cleared, ejections were handed out all around.

To start the ninth inning, the Braves brought in the late Donnie Moore. Braves skipper Joe Torre was ready to put the game away and move on. He told Moore as much, but when he looked in Moore’s eyes, he knew the Braves would be fighting again. Moore promptly plunked Nettles in the small of the back and started walking to the dugout to accept his inevitable ejection. Nettles rushed at him, but was turned around and tackled by former Yankee teammate Chris Chambliss who took him high, while Braves catcher Bruce Benedict took him low. Kurt Bevacqua rushed the field from the Padres dugout swinging wildly at anything that moved. Gerald Perry landed a hilarious sucker punch on Tim Flannery.

Once more ejections were handed out and order was restored on the field. The Padres were not done though. They got into it with the Braves fans behind their dugout. Bevacqua, pulling a Ron Artest, went after the fans, but slipped in beer on top of the dugout and fell and the Braves fans began pummeling him. It took a security guard to get him away from the fans. One of the great images of the game was a shirtless Whitson returning to the dugout from the clubhouse to get into it with the fans. Once everything calmed down, the final tally was thirteen ejections and five fan arrests.

After the game, Braves manager Joe Torre let the press know exactly what he thought of Dick Williams. The words “idiot” and “gutless” were thrown around. To listen to the 1984 Padres tell the story, you would think the game was a turning point in their season. I don’t buy that. They were far ahead of the division at the time of the game and finished the season was a similarly large lead. They played no better after that point. They were, however, a very good baseball team. They would go on to stave off three straight elimination games against the Cubs in the NLCS before losing to a vastly superior Detroit Tigers team in the World Series.

As for the Braves, it was something of a lost season. They played well for a large portion of the year, but floundered as they fell out of contention. Joe Torre was fired after the season and replaced with the inept Eddie Haas. The game did cement Pascual Perez and Bob Horner as Atlanta favorites. Bob Horner showed himself as the consummate teammate, risking his own health to defend the Braves. Perez showed himself as the perfect entertainer: the instigator, the court jester, the comedian. There are those who look back on this game with embarrassment, but to a lot of us, it was simply great, great fun. Stupid, stupid fun.