To my great shame, in the late 1970s, I watched a lot of New York Yankees baseball. Outside of Reggie Jackson, my favorite Yankee was first baseman Chris Chambliss. I have never been able to get the image of Chambliss' greatest moment out of my head. Obviously, I'm talking about his 1976 walk-off home run in the ALCS against the Royals. That homer would send the Yankees to the World Series for the first time since the age of Mantle and Maris. The chaotic celebration at Yankee Stadium was dramatic and amazing, if a little scary.
After the 1979 season, the Yanks would deal Chambliss to the Blue Jays for the "great" Rick Cerone. Toronto would, in turn, send Chambliss down Atlanta's way. It stands to reason then that when I first became a Braves fan after my family's relocation to Georgia in 1981, Chris Chambliss was one of my first favorites on the Braves.
For Atlanta, he was what he was for the Yankees, solid but a little short of great. He was the tough, good bat veteran filling out the lineup behind the "stars" Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. From the time of his arrival, through the first half of the 1984 season, he would start at first. The Braves would later trade for Ken Oberkfell in June of 1984 and with Bob Horner moving to first base, Chambliss would find his playing time decreased. Still, the next season, he would provide me with one of my first great memories of attending a Braves game in person.
I'll be charitable and just say that the 1985 Braves were not very good. Before the season, Joe Torre was let go and replaced with Eddie Haas. A friend of mine at Richards Junior High, Kevin Higginbotham, told me that Eddie Haas was great for the Braves. He would focus on the fundamentals and get the team heading in the right direction. That didn't happen. (He would be replaced after 120 games or so with the Braves 20 games under .500.) The team was abysmal and only a truly awful Giants team kept the Braves out of the cellar of the National League West.
Against this backdrop, my Mom, Dad, brother and I drove up I-85 to see the Braves play the Pirates on May 26, 1985.
Rick Mahler pitched a good game, giving up only two runs through seven innings. Bruce Sutter would give up another in the 8th and the Braves would find themselves down 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Remarkably, with the bases loaded, Rafael Ramirez would send a line drive into the gap tying the game and sending it into extra innings. The euphoria of Raffy's double would be lost though when Jeff Dedmon would allow the Pirates to score in the top of the 10th. Things didn't look good when the Braves came to bat in their half of the inning.
Paul Zuvella would lead off the Braves 10th with a bloop single. He was followed by Gerald Perry who drove one at Pirates right fielder Doug Frobel, who let the ball get by him. Zuvella would score and Perry would end up on 3rd. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was buzzing. Chuck Tanner, in a bit of over-managing, would order Dale Murphy and Terry Harper intentionally walked to load the bases. He would then bring one of his outfielders into the infield and the two remaining outfielders were positioned shallowly. They wanted a force at the plate if at all possible, and if the fly was shallow, they wanted every chance to vut the runner down. The pitchers spot was up and Haas sent the veteran Chambliss to the plate. Tanner would counter with his own veteran, former Phillies closer Al Holland.
To the best of my memory, Chambliss took the first pitch for a ball. On the next pitch, he would poke the ball over the head of the shallow Pirates outfield where it` would just sort of land in the grass behind the fielders. Perry would score, and the stadium went crazy. It was, to that moment, the most exciting moment of my life as a baseball fan. Nothing I had experienced before would compare to that feeling of watching the Braves win one in their last at-bat. A younger player, a lesser player, might have tried to do too much. Chambliss knew that all he had to do was get the run in. I'm certain that my brother and I didn't come off the high the entire drive home to Columbus.
During the Braves worst-to-first season in 1991, Chris Chambliss would return to the Braves organization and manage the AA Greenville Braves to a first place finish. The following season, he would manage the Braves AAA franchise in Richmond. It looked like Chambliss would get a shot at managing in the big leagues, but that day has never come. He left the Braves for the Cardinals hitting coach position and has continuously worked as either a minor league manager or as a hitting coach in both AAA and the majors. That includes a stint as hitting coach for the Richmond Braves in 2008.
So, when I come across a Chris Chambliss ball card, that game in 1985 is the memory that floods back to me. Do any of you have any memories of Chambliss?