The Atlanta Braves have been around for more than 50 years now. We’ve had several chapters in this franchise’s history. Some good, some bad.
There were a lot of lean seasons in the first 25 years, and that might be why some feel Braves baseball started in 1991. But they would be wrong. Even in dark days, with a lot of losing, the Braves were special to a lot of people in this state.
When the Braves came to Atlanta, it was still the Hank Aaron era of Braves baseball. After Aaron was traded back to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers, the team sort of started to take shape with a new generation — without many links to the franchise’s days in Milwaukee.
There’s nothing wrong with Aaron. Good grief, we all view him as the home run champion. But many believe the Braves developed their own identity in Atlanta when two young stars emerged in the late 1970s.
First, there was Dale Murphy. He was a top pick out of Oregon in 1974, and four years later “Murph” started to show signs the Braves might have a new star to build around. He was joined in 1978 by another fresh face, this one from college — Bob Horner.
Horner was the first pick of the 1978 draft, and he went straight from the campus of Arizona State to bat seventh for the Braves. And on June 16, in front of only 18,572 fans, Horner hit a home run in his first big league at-bat.
I can still hear Ernie Johnson going crazy. All the games weren’t on TV back then, but Ole Uncle Ern brought that one to life on radio. Horner was a curly-haired third baseman with a short, compact swing, and it didn’t take long for him to show Atlanta it had another star on the horizon.
During the next few years, the tandem of Murphy and Horner became the core of the Braves team. They were the stars, with others like Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bruce Benedict and Claudell Washington also around.
Those players, and a star pitcher named Phil Niekro, became America’s Team. Since owner Ted Turner decided to beam the Braves all over the country on some new invention named cable television, that group in the late 1970s and early 1980s became national names — even when they weren’t very good.
In 1982, that young talent finally came together and won a division title. There was no Greg Maddux, John Smoltz or Tom Glavine on that team, and if they had been it might have been the best team in baseball. But it was still a really good team.
Horner became a star. He was a great power hitter, and he played a solid third base. He battled injuries and even sometimes his weight. But Horner was so important to the Braves that manager Joe Torre named him the captain of the team in 1982.
He was important. While Murphy was the quiet, humble MVP, Horner was the straw that stirred the drink. He was a leader, and the Braves were rarely good when he was out of the lineup.
Do you remember the great brawl with the San Diego Padres in 1984? Horner was injured at the time, but he came out of the press box in his street clothes and got in uniform. Then he stood at the foot of the dugout to save Pascual Perez from getting killed by Champ Summers.
How about the four-home run game Horner had in 1986 off the Montreal Expos? The Braves lost that day, of course, but Horner made history.
Horner is still in the career top 10 of several offensive categories for the Braves in their time in Atlanta. He’s fifth in home runs and slugging percentage, seventh in runs batted in, runs scored, extra base hits and total bases and ninth in hits and at bats.
There are a lot of fans who loved the Braves back in those days, and they loved Horner. The Braves should put Horner in their Hall of Fame for his great contributions from 1978 through 1986. Many of the no-brainers are already in there, and Horner deserves a spot, as well.
Before there was Gant and Justice or Chipper and Andruw or even Freeman and Kemp, there was Murphy and Horner. They were quite a duo, and now they should stand side-by-side in the Braves Hall of Fame.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.