Braves manager Chuck Tanner is becoming the patron saint of lousy baseball teams. For all of his optimism and good intentions, he has had three last-place clinkers in a row—two in Pittsburgh, one in Atlanta—and he could become the first manager since Connie Mack (Philadelphia A's, 1940-43) to finish last four straight years.
Tanner's not worried. "We finished 1½ games out of fourth place last year with a rebuilt pitching staff," he says. "We came a long way from the year before. Besides, nobody thought the Astros would win last year."
The loss of free-agent Bob Horner (who could conceivably return after May 1) leaves the team with just one proven power hitter, Dale Murphy. Atlanta is hoping new first baseman Gerald Perry will bring his minor league slugging to the big show. As for his fielding, well, Perry has been called the Claw because his style reminds people of a bear going after a fish in a stream.
NL batters hit .301 last season off No. 1 starter Rick Mahler, who led the majors in losses (18). Behind him is a fragile David Palmer, an untested Randy O'Neal and newly muscled and newlywed Zane Smith. Gene Garber ably took up Bruce Sutter's slack in the pen, but he is 39.
Atlanta fans should, however, see a more exciting brand of baseball. New faces in the lineup include fleet centerfielder Dion James, brought in from Milwaukee, and second baseman Damaso Garcia, rescued from unhappiness in Toronto. "There's so much talent here, it's hard to imagine this club finishing last," says Garcia. "I am such a lucky guy." Sounds like he's been talking to Tanner.
Batting averages since '82: .310, .307, .284, .282, .281; years away from Mendoza Line (.200).
Failed to hit a homer in final 67 at bats; he had hit 30+ every year since '81 strike.
9 for his last 18 to lift career average to .30020; an 0 for 4 on Opening Day drops him to .300.
Two homers off lefthanders last year doubled his previous career total.
Averaged one walk every 6.8 plate appearances, 3rd highest rate in NL.
Eight walks (two intentional) in 335 plate appearances gave him the lowest rate in NL.
Allowed most hits (283) in NL for second consecutive season.
First time in pro career that he made more than 30 starts or pitched more than 140 innings.
Last year for Detroit: 3-4, 4.19 ERA as a starter; 0-3, 4.48 ERA in relief.
Career records: 12-15, 3.38 ERA before All-Star break; 6-11, 4.62 after.
Held top 15 batters to combined .129 average, 2nd lowest in NL.
Hasn't allowed a triple to 1,375 righthanded hitters since July 11, 1979.