Sunday, February 9, 2020

I Love the 80s : 1981 Atlanta Braves

This is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

In 1980, Atlanta finished in 4th place in the NL West (that's right, West) with an 81-80 record. The following season they would win 25 games in the first half, then 25 more following the strike. It led to a 5th place finish for the team whose games were now aired regularly on a relatively new medium - satellite television. 

Ted Turner owned the team and a television network then called SuperStation WTBS, based in Atlanta. 1980 was the year the station began airing it's own original programming, including a short lived comedy show featuring locals Bill Tush and future SNL cast member Jan Hooks. It was a heady time in Atlanta! The baseball team, was getting national attention for being on T.V., but not so much for their performance on the field. Manager Bobby Cox would be let go following the 1981 season, having never finished higher than 4th place. The team would find success the following year under Joe Torre, but would not make the post season again until 1991, after Cox had returned as manager.

The Cards:
Donruss #99 Bob Horner - In 1980, the 22 year old slugger would lead the team in homers with 35, then repeat the feat in 1981. Horner hit 4 homers in a single game in 1986, his final season with Atlanta. Horner was the #1 Overall pick in 1978, and bypassed the minors completely. He would win the 1978 Rookie of the Year award, and was a fearsome slugger throughout the early and mid 80s. Collusion robbed him of a 1987 MLB contract, so he crushed 31 homers for a season in Japan. When he returned to the states, an injury shortened season in St. Louis ultimately became his last. He would retire having never appeared in a minor league game. 

Donruss #597 Tommy Boggs - Tommy was the Opening Day Starter in 1981, following a career year in 1980 when he posted a 12-9 record with a 3.42 ERA. Boggs was acquired by Atlanta in a crazy 4 team trade that involved Bert Blyleven going to Pittsburgh, Al Oliver to Texas, Willie Montanez to the Mets, and several other minor players switching between the 4 participants. Boggs was not much of a hitter, though he did slug a solo homer in his first year with Atlanta. A first round pick of Texas in 1974, his first two major league starts were complete games.  

Donruss #339 Jerry Royster - Following several seasons starting at 3rd and 2nd base, Royster spent 1980 all over the field for Atlanta, used as their utility player. He led the team in steals, with twice as many as the next player on the team. Despite being used in a reserve role throughout the 80s, Royster still finished his career with over 1,000 career base hits. He had a successful stint in the Senior Professional Baseball League, hitting .337 in his lone season there. He would go on to be a steady coach and manager, and was even a pioneer of sorts when he was named manager of the KBO Lotte Giants, the first foreign born manager in the Korean league. He led that team to their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade.

Topps #387 Phil Niekro - Niekro was the 1980 winner of the Roberto Clemente Award - the first pitcher so honored. He had the dubious record of having led the NL in losses 4 straight years by the end of 1980, but that can come with the territory of being a Knuckleball pitcher. He also led the NL games started those years, as well as complete games, innings pitched, and batters faced from 1977 through 1979. He was a 20 game winner 3 times in his career and is the all-time leader in victories for a knuckleball pitcher. He finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in two of those seasons, and won Gold Gloves in 78, 79 and 80. All told he won 5 Gold Gloves and was on 5 All-Star teams. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997.

Topps #504 Dale Murphy - 1980 and 81 were the beginning of something great for Dale Murphy. He started his career as a catcher and was being moved farther and farther from home plate as the years went on, finding that Center Field would be the place to find his greatest success. 1980 was his first All-Star appearance, but starting in 1982, he would go on a run of 6 straight All-Star seasons. He was the MVP of the NL in 1982 and 1983. He would lead the NL in at least one major offensive category in each of those six years. He led the league in homers, runs batted in, and slugging percentage twice. He'd lead the league in Runs scored and walks once each. He was a 4 time Silver Slugger winner, and a 5 time Gold Glover in Center Field. 

Topps #247 Glenn Hubbard - Many card collectors know Hubbard from his Fleer card with the snake around his neck, but he was also a regular contributor to the 1980s Atlanta teams. Primarily a second baseman, Hubbard was an All-Star in 1983, and 5 times surpassed 100 base hits in a season. He led the NL in errors committed in 1979, but would become an excellent defender, leading the NL in range factor/9 innings 6 times. He's currently the All-time MLB leader in that defensive metric. He turned 975 double plays in his career, good for 32nd All-time. He was a member of the 1988 A's World Series roster as well at the end of his career. 

Fleer #247 Bobby Cox - His first tour with Atlanta was a rough one- he compiled a decent record of 266 wins and 323 losses. While he was improving the team from a 90 loss club to a .500 club, the success of his rebuilding efforts would not be realized while he was the manager. The team would win the NL West in 1982, one year after his departure, no doubt due in part to his leadership in the leaner years. He would get a second chance however in the 1990s and would make the team a dynasty. He was a 4 time manager of the Year winner, and finished in the top five in voting 18 times over his career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014. 

Fleer #254 Bill Nahorodny - Atlanta's 3rd string catcher in 1980, Nahorodny slugged .414 in limited duty behind the plate. He was the catcher for the 1978 Topps All-Star Rookie team, a squad which was denied the little trophy on their 1979 Topps baseball cards. Despite being used sparingly, he was able to rack up extra base hits for Atlanta in 80/81. He would move on to Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, and Philadelphia in the following years, though he'd spend more time at those orgs AAA Affiliate than the big league club. 

Fleer #251 Garry Matthews - "Sarge," as he was known to fans and teammates, was playing in his final season for Atlanta in 1980. An All-Star in 1979, and the 1974 NL Rookie of the Year, he was the only player valuable enough to acquire the indomitable Bob Walk in a trade prior to the 1981 season. Matthews would go on to have a great season in 1984 with the Cubs, finishing 5th in the MVP balloting while leading the NL in walks, OBP, and Sac Flies. He scored 101 runs that season, the only time he surpassed the century mark in his career. His son would do the same in 2006 in an All-Star campaign for the Texas Rangers. 

Do you have any fond memories of the 80/81 team? Did you watch the SuperStation?


  1. Totally grew up watching the Braves on TBS. As for 1981 Atlanta Braves memories... the main one was me and my buddies trading back and forth for the 1981 Donruss Al Hrabosky, because we thought it was some error card (due to the weird purple border, instead of the light blue border).

  2. Definitely watched tbs. Was confused as a kid about the odd start times for programming but soon recognized the genius of the five minute offset from every other channel.