There has been an about-face on the Atlanta Braves coaching staff. Manager Joe Torre, big-time and polished, is out. Rookie Eddie Haas, small-town and stolid, is in. Pitching coach Bob Gibson, unapproachable and unforgiving, is out. Johnny Sain, outgoing and free-spirited, is in.
Haas, a 27-year organization man who lost out to Torre three years ago, may not be slick at managing the media, but he's an adept baseball man. The change has already had a positive effect. As one Brave put it during training camp, "What we do in 2½ hours now would have taken 2½ weeks before."
But don't look for Haas to give witty 20-second bites on the nightly news. The flair on this team will come from Sain. The 66-year-old coach took his promotion from Class AAA Richmond to Atlanta so seriously that he had an off-season face-lift. "A new look for a new man," says Sain. "I think what he did is cute," says team owner Ted Turner. "But then, I've always been a Sain man." In this case, Turner has good reason. Sain's coached 16 20-game winners, including Whitey Ford, Jim Kaat and Denny McLain.
The Braves themselves haven't undergone major surgery—just a tuck here, a pull there and lots of silicone in the bullpen with the addition of free-agent reliever Bruce Sutter. But a few wrinkles must be smoothed if the Braves are to win the division.
Will power-hitting third baseman Bob Horner, with a metal screw in his wrist, be sturdy enough to play a full season? Will outfielder Claudell Washington beat a marijuana-possession rap and avoid suspension? Will young outfielder Brad Komminsk (.203 in '84) learn to hit major league pitching? Will new catcher Rick Cerone throw out a few base stealers?
The Braves blew a major league-high nine games last year with a lead going into the ninth inning. Hello, Sutter, the $1.35 million man. Even though Sain will be on hand, Sutter still plans to make an occasional call to his longtime mentor, St. Louis pitching coach Mike Roarke.
Under Sain, every pitcher has areas of special concentration. Len Barker is working on changeups and breaking balls. Craig McMurtry is reviving the three-quarters-and-below delivery that won him Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors in 1983; last season McMurtry's record fell from 15-7 to 9-17, in part because he was forcing his delivery unnaturally high. Steve Bedrosian is improving his curveball. And fiery Pascual Perez has been ordered to tone down the antics that ignited the San Diego Brawl last season.
Pitcher Rick Camp calls Sain Ratchet-jaw. "I wish he'd been here years ago," says Camp. "We'd all be better pitchers."