If you were a Braves fan in the early 1980s, you were a Brett Butler fan. He was plenty exciting already in 1983, but you also had the feeling that he was just starting to tap into his prodigious talent. He was a fan favorite from the start.
On August 28th, 1983, the Braves were a half game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. As the trade deadline approached, owner Ted Turner and GM John Mullen were looking for starting pitching. That evening, they closed a deal with the Cleveland Indians for starter Len Barker. The price was $150,000 and three players to be named later.
Did the uncertainty surrounding the players to be named later lead to the six game losing streak that followed? Maybe. It wasn’t long before rumors started that the popular Butler was one of the players to be named later. When it became official, Braves fans were incensed. It didn’t help that Barker was mediocre down the stretch and the team finished three games behind the Dodgers.
Even if Len Barker had pitched for the Braves as well as he had for the Indians, it was still a bum deal. Of course, he didn’t. The Braves signed Barker to an expensive long term deal over the off-season and he was bad when he was healthy, and that wasn’t often.
Meanwhile, only Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines were better lead off hitters than Brett Butler over the next decade. The Braves would see a lot of Butler after he left the Indians for the Giants and then the Dodgers.
There have been numerous bad deals made by the Braves, but this was one of the worse. Joe Torre had gotten the team to contention with a core largely built by late GM Bill Lucas, but Mullen and the ever meddling Ted Turner did little to nothing to help. 1984 would be a lost year for the Braves and Torre would get the blame and lose his job. Mullen peter-principled his way into a VP job in 1986 with the Braves as Bobby Cox returned as GM.
Better days were ahead, but who knows, maybe the Braves would’t have been historically bad if they hadn’t sent Brett Butler to the Indians. (Not to mention, they also sent Brook Jacoby who would be excellent through his first five seasons in Cleveland, including two All-Star appearances. Imagine Jacoby at third base instead of the pointless Ken Oberkfell.)