Remembering Rick Mahler on Opening Day

Bill Shanks

Rick Mahler didn’t have a great career. He was a pretty ordinary pitcher, and he played on some bad teams that probably didn’t help matters much.

His numbers – 96 wins, 111 losses and a career ERA of 3.99, won’t get much attention. But for many years, before pitching was the emphasis for the Atlanta Braves, Mahler was pretty good.

And on opening day, no one was better.

Mahler started five games for the Braves on opening day – in 1982 and then 1985-1988. He was 4-0 with a 0.92 earned run average, 20 hits allowed in 39 innings, four earned runs, 11 walks and 15 strikeouts. And in the first four games of that stretch, Mahler did not allow an earned run in 34 innings.

He started the winning streak in 1982 with a two-hit shutout in San Diego. Mahler only pitched that game because Phil Niekro started that season on the disabled list.

Mahler’s best season in Atlanta was in 1984, when he made 29 starts out of 38 appearances. He was 13-10 with a 3.12 ERA in 222 innings of work. The next two seasons, Mahler made 39 starts each year.

In his 11 seasons with the Braves, Mahler was 79-89 with an ERA of 4.00 in 307 games (218 starts). Again, many of those seasons the Braves were horrible and Mahler did what he could to lead what was usually a bad pitching staff.

The Braves let Mahler walk away after the 1988 season. He was 35 and the Reds gave him a two-year contract. Mahler was on the Reds’ World Series team in 1990. Mahler then signed with the Expos in 1991 and was released that June. With several injuries hitting the staff, the Braves brought him back that same summer. Mahler was 1-1 with a 5.65 ERA in his 13 games (two starts) for the Braves in that worst-to-first season.

Mahler became a minor league pitching coach after his playing days were over. He died of a heart attack on March 2, 2005 at spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

Rick’s brother, Mickey, also pitched with the Braves from 1977-79 and then went on to pitch for the Pirates, Angels, Expos. Tigers, Rangers and Blue Jays.

Here’s to the memory of Rick Mahler, who was very special for the Braves on the first day of several seasons in the 1980s.

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