Cardboard Memories of Braves baseball from the early 80s, as seen on WTBS: the slow running catcher, the second baseman with the beard and the pitcher who couldn't find the stadium.
One of my favorite baseball books I had as a kid was titled “Baseball’s Greatest Insults”. It was nothing but a silly collection of quotes and honestly, only a child would have found the majority of the quotes funny. I was a child and I loved the book. The vast majority of the insults have faded from my memory over the years. There’s one I still remember. It is a rather obvious joke, but it is a funny one and I use the line often myself. Tommy Lasorda said that Braves catcher Bruce Benedict would “come in third in a race with a pregnant woman”. I always thought Lasorda was a bit of a fraud, that his personality was a front created for the press. I did not like him, but I still love that line.
In the early 1980s, my favorite players tended to be catchers. Before moving to Georgia, I was a Montreal Expos fan because we had an Expos AA franchise in Memphis, the Memphis Chicks. My favorite player in all of baseball, before I became a Braves fan, was the late Gary Carter. I had family in the state of Missouri and loved Ted Simmons of the Cardinals (and later a Braves, and I believe to this day that he belongs in the hall of fame). I used to love looking at baseball cards of Darrell Porter and those ridiculous big sunglasses he would wear. Every Saturday morning I would watch the Baseball Bunch on television which was hosted by Johnny Bench, who had already established himself as one of the greatest to ever play the game. My favorite old player to read about at the time was Yogi Berra. Lost in all the jokes and the Yogi-isms was the fact that he was a legitimately great player.
I was such a big fan of catchers that I owned a catcher’s mitt years before I ever actually played catcher. I would tell anyone who would listen that the catcher was the most important player on the field because he was the only one looking in the other direction. (I’m sure I heard that line somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you where.) Back then, I tended to store my baseball cards in stacks of teams with rubber bands around each team. Typically, I had one stack with nothing but catchers and it was always near the top of the shoebox.
When my family moved to Georgia in the midst of the 1981 season, I immediately became an Atlanta Braves fan and my first favorite Braves player was, of course, Dale Murphy. My next favorite was Bruce Benedict. In 1981, Benedict was an All-Star, largely on the value of his defense, although he was also solid with the bat. He’d repeat as an All-Star in 1983 in the midst of his best all-around season, which saw him just miss hitting .300. His offense would fall sharply after 1984, and he spent the remainder of his big league career backing up Ozzie Virgil, Rick Cerone and Jody Davis. The Braves uniform was the only uniform that Benedict would ever wear.
I’m sure that most of us who became Braves fans because of the WTBS broadcasts have the same memory of Benedict. Whenever he would step to the plate at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, you would think that Mr. Springsteen was in the house. The chants of “BRUUUUUUUUUCE” would cascade down from every row of the stadium. At least once for every Braves home game, one of the Braves announcers would point out that the fans were not booing but were chanting his name. The Braves became a sensation on the back of the thirteen game winning streak that opened the 1982 season. Thanks to the Braves popularity, there are people all over America who remember Bruce Benedict.
Of course, he’s not the only Braves player to enjoy widespread popularity during that period. Baseball on WTBS was a legitimate sensation that to the explosion of access to cable television. While Dale Murphy, Bob Horner and Phil Niekro were the superstars, virtually every player on the team was known throughout baseball. I used to travel a lot for work and I inevitably found myself discussing baseball with people from other parts of the country. I would mention that I was a fan of the Braves and every baseball fan I met would talk about watching the Braves on WTBS. in the 80s. They would know many of the players. Almost every single person would remember the infielder with the beard, Glenn Hubbard.
I have no idea if the new stats would back up my memory, but I remember Hubbard as a terrific second baseman who just gobbled up ground balls. He just seemed to make play after play with amazing consistency. One of the great joys of WTBS baseball in the early 80s was watching Hubbard and Rafael Ramirez get a Braves pitcher out of a jam with a great double play. Hubbard possessed a great pivot at second. He was the definition of a scrappy player. I doubt there was a Braves fan alive who didn’t love Hubbard.
I have two overriding memories of the second baseman. Not long after my family moved to Georgia, I was visiting the mall with my mother. While we walking through the mall, we noticed a long line leading to our local sporting goods store. Sitting at the table signing autographs was the Brave with the beard, Glenn Hubbard. I don’t remember anything else about the day, but I still have the autograph. My other memory of Hubbard has nothing to do with his play on the field, but with a card of his I pulled from a pack. Anyone who has laid eyes on his 1984 Fleer card will remember the card. There are those who love the card and there are those who hate it. Today, almost every card made is forgettable. In many ways, every card is nice. The designs are sharp and the photography has never been better. Yet, each card sort of blends into the next. No one who has ever seen the Glenn Hubbard snake card will ever forget it. How many cards in 2012 Topps Update series can make that claim? (The answer is none of them.)
When the Braves dealt Larry McWilliams to the Pirates in 1982, they knew they were getting a live arm in return. I’m not sure they knew they were getting one of the game’s great characters. Pascual Perez was endlessly entertaining. His body would twitch in random spastic movements at every ball or strike call. He would, on occasion, lean over and peak at a runner on first through his legs. At the end of an inning, rather than walk calmly back to the bench, he would sprint as if trying to beat his teammates back to the dugout. Many would “tsk tsk” at his antics, but I saw a guy who had fun playing the game. He was one of my favorites.
Following his trade from the Pirates, the Braves assigned Perez to their AAA team in Richmond. He was scheduled to make his first big league start for the Braves on August 19, 1982. I have no idea where Pascual was staying, but he had a bit of trouble. He ended up driving on I–285, Atlanta’s circular expressway, and missed his exit. He kept driving and driving. He missed his exit again. So he drove some more. He missed his exit one more time. Perez would eventually run out of gas and borrowed money from an employee at a gas station so he could get more. He finally made it to the stadium by the second inning of the game. The story was a source of endless amusement for Braves fans. Perez himself enjoyed the attention and the joke. Bill Acree even had I–285 put onto the back of his jacket.
Now, this is how I remember the story and how it has been told to the press. While looking through the game logs, it appears that this was NOT Pascual Perez’s first appearance with the Braves. It’s still a great story and Perez is still one of the most memorable and entertaining players from the period.