When Dale Murphy was called for jury duty this off-season, the National League home run champ was nervous about the questions he might be asked during the selection process. "I was worried the lawyers would ask me what went wrong with the Braves," says Murphy. "I was all set to take the Fifth Amendment." As it was, Murphy was impaneled for a Cabbage Patch Doll licensing case.
Here are a few closing remarks about Atlanta's 66-96 season: The Braves finished fifth in the NL West with the worst ERA (4.19), worst home record and second-worst fielding percentage in the league.
When the season ended, the Braves were broken. So Ted Turner did what he does best. He spent lots of money on new personnel—not players this time, but management. He hired former Pittsburgh manager Chuck Tanner and lured Blue Jay manager Bobby Cox home to Georgia to run the front office. "A tremendous step," says Rick Mahler, the only starter with an ERA under 3.50. "It was more important than going out and getting two superstars."
"As players, we kind of lost the spirit last year. Chuck will keep it in us," says Murphy, who also has a warm spot in his heart for Cox. "He saved my career." It was Cox who moved Murphy out from behind the plate in 1978.
Cox has already made a few changes—he traded for a starting catcher, Ozzie Virgil, and reinforced the bench with Ted Simmons and Billy Sample. Cox did nothing to speed up the second-slowest team in the league, but he may have set a record for the fastest swallowing of $3.45 million in salaries. Gone from the pitching staff are Len Barker, Pascual Perez, Terry Forster and Rick Camp. Free-agent signee David Palmer joins Mahler, Zane Smith and Joe Johnson in the rotation. The good news is that Bruce Sutter, coming off shoulder surgery and a bad year, gave up only one run this spring.
Meanwhile, Cox and Tanner seemed to be getting on quite splendidly; some days they're on the phone to each other at 5:30 a.m. "Who knows," says Tanner, "five years from now, maybe we'll switch jobs."
The best news of all may have come over the winter. Turner told his new management, "Jeez, guys, I'm busy this year, buying M-G-M and all. You run the team."
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Has only four hits in 38 career at bats in Atlanta Stadium, no home runs.
Handled 950 chances at 1B without an error in '85; at 3B, his fielding pct. was .887.
Career 5 for 53 against pitchers named Smith: Bryn, Dave, Lee and Mike.
Led NL shortstops in errors (32) for the 5th straight year-the longest streak in NL history.
Hit only .181 in LIP situations, but has a career LIP average of .287.
One of only two players in either league to hit three extra-inning home runs in '85.
Led the NL in runs (118), walks (90) and strike-
The only player to hit for the cycle against Gooden. That's in a career, not in one game.
Total of 79 extra-base hits allowed was 2nd highest in NL last season.
Has allowed only one HR per 33.4 innings, 2nd lowest career rate in NL.
Set career-high marks in '85 for games started, innings pitched and strikeouts.
Believe it or not, he is the 1st Joe Johnson ever to play in the majors.
Allowed 13 homers, tying Mark Davis for highest total among NL relievers.