1958 Topps Ernie Johnson 78 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

When I was a younger man, I preferred Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. Like myself, Skip was a smart-aleck. I’ll even admit that on those occasions when he would lapse into outright meanness, as he did with me one time when I called into his post-game show in 1995, he cracked me up. (My own fault, I called in to complain about the umpiring. Skip, shall we say, dismissed me as an idiot and said the umpiring was fine. Funny, since Skip spent a large portion of the broadcast complaining about the umpiring himself!) While Skip appealed to my sarcastic side, Pete appealed to the geek in me. I would spend hour upon hour staring at the backs of the cards I collected, often memorizing the numbers. Listening to the professor on the TBS broadcasts, it wasn’t hard to picture him doing the same. He always had the numbers at hand and his nickname, “The Professor”, was well earned.

Then, there was Ernie Johnson. I look back now and realize that not only did I not relate to Ernie as I did the other two, but that I lacked a proper appreciation for what he brought to the table. It wasn’t that I disliked Ernie, after all, how could you? His spirit was kind and good natured. He came off like a nice old man you might find yourself chatting baseball with at the counter of a diner while having breakfast. Ernie was always affable and his enthusiasm for the Braves was infectious, even during those awful years of the late 1980s. I was a cynical kid, and at the time, I simply didn’t understand Ernie’s appeal. Now, I look back on him as one of the great voices of my youth.

1958 Topps Johnson 78a

Remarkably, for a guy who meant so much to the Braves over the years, he had few “signature moment” calls, if any. As Braves fans, we can all remember the sound of Skip’s voice proclaiming that the Braves win after Sid Bream slid, or Skip and Joe Simpson trading calls of “Yes” after Marquis Grissom squeezed the last out of the 1995 World Series into his mitt. Make no mistake, I can hear his voice in my head as a plain as day saying “we’re zipping right along here” during a long game, but I simply cannot place his voice with any specific moment with the Braves.

As many Braves fans know, he missed out on calling one of the greatest moments in Braves and MLB history. The night Hank Aaron hit home run number 715, the home run that sent him past Babe Ruth on the all time home run list, Ernie Johnson was in the radio booth for the Braves. We’ve all heard Vin Scully’s poetic call from Dodger’s radio. We’ve heard Curt Gowdy’s call for ABC television. We haven’t heard the call by Ernie Johnson though. You see, even though it was his inning to call, Milo Hamilton, as overrated an announcer as any who ever walked the planet, insisted that he be permitted to call each of Aaron’s at-bats. So yes, we’ve heard Milo Hamilton’s call of number 715. To Ernie’s credit, we’ve never heard him complain about missing the opportunity to call his former teammate’s most famous home run. (Skip Caray, of course, had other opinions. Needless to say, he disliked Hamilton even before his father’s feud with him during the WGN broadcasts of the early 1980s.)

All in all, that’s OK though. You see, when I think of those Braves teams of the 1980s, and I picture that team on the field, if I hear a voice calling the action on the field, that voice is Ernie Johnson. I’m no longer that kid that preferred Skip’s sarcasm or Pete’s numbers. I miss the good-hearted humor he would share on the air with Pete and Skip. I miss his calling a strike as being “right down Peachtree”. I miss his enthusiasm for baseball that you could hear in every second of every game he called. He was, for myself and many others throughout the country, as Skip Caray once famously referred to him, the voice of the Atlanta Braves.

1958 Topps Johnson 78b

It is hard for me to picture a lot of veterans, especially those that you see quite often in their later years, as they were in their playing days. We all know, of course, what Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial looked like as young men. Images of them abound both from their playing days and from their appearances in recent times. Not so with many of the lesser players. That’s just another great thing about collecting baseball cards.

Take a good look at his 1958 Topps card. He’s still a young man, but he’s nearing the end of his solid, if undistinguished career. He’s already married to Lois, the love of his life and his announcer son, Ernie Jr., has already been born. He’s played alongside legends such as Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Lew Burdette. He has pitched in the World Series. Do you think he had any idea that one day he would become one of the most recognizable faces in the history of the franchise, not to mention a national star?

1968 Topps Felipe Alou 55 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

I’ve been a fan of the entire Alou family for a long time. Felipe is my favorite because he spent most of his best years playing for the Braves, he was a flat out terrific baseball player and he was a terrific manager.

I love Jesus Alou because he basically spent three seasons out of the game and was able to come back and play in the big leagues. (I tend to picture him as he appears on his 1980 Topps baseball card with the Astros.

I know next to nothing about Matty Alou other than he had a solid career with a few flat out great years for the Pirates.

The best Alou brothers story takes place on September 15, 1963. Felipe Alou started in right field for the Giants. In the bottom of the 7th, Felipe moved to left and Jesus came into the game in right field. In the bottom of the 8th, Felipe moved to center field and Matty came in to play left field. For the first time in baseball history, three brothers played in the same outfield.

1968 Topps Alou 55a

1968 Topps Alou 55b

1993 Topps Jamie Arnold 559 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Yeah, this was not a good draft pick. Prep pitchers tend to be crap shoots anyway, but this one did not pan out. He seemed to get worse in the Braves system with each passing year. His cups of coffee in the big leagues with the Dodgers and the Cubs are inexplicable. I guess being a first round draft pick buys you a lot of chances.

1993 Topps Arnold 559a

1993 Topps Arnold 559b

1985 Topps Pascual Perez 106 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Pascual Perez was clearly the type of character that would have gotten under the skin of an old-timer like Dick Williams. When the Pirates first gave him a chance to pitch in the big leagues, he would occasionally blow the smoke away from his imaginary finger gun after blowing a hitter away. Perez dropped that act in short order, after all, it couldn’t have been popular with guys like Chuck Tanner or Willie Stargell. It’s also the kind of thing that people don’t forget. I don’t know that Dick Williams ever witnessed this act, but there’s nothing about Perez that would have appealed to him. Do you remember Pascual Perez sprinting into the dugout at the end of an inning? Williams would have hated that. Can you remember Pascual Perez spiking the ball into the dirt around first after he made the final out of an inning like Pete Rose used to do? Yeah, Williams wouldn’t have liked that either.

1985 Topps Perez 106a

I can only assume that Dick Williams didn’t like Pascual Perez, otherwise, the events of August 12, 1984 don’t make a lot of sense. That’s not to say that Dick Williams dislike of Perez was the only reason for the events of the day. Even though the Padres had a comfortable lead of nearly 10 games over the second place Braves, Williams was worried that his team was soft. I doubt that he looked around his clubhouse and found himself reminded of his world champion 1972 Oakland A’s. Old school guys like Dick Williams believed a fight could bring a team together, and it sure looked like he wanted one that Sunday afternoon in the late Summer of 1984.

The Padres sent Alan Wiggins to the plate to start the game, and the first pitch he saw from Pascual Perez landed in the small of his back. Perez wasn’t exactly known for his subtle body language, and it sure looked like hitting Wiggins was not his intention. The Padres have claimed that Perez told Wiggins he was planning on hitting him to start the game. No matter, as he walked to first, escorted by the umpire and a Padres trainer, Wiggins let Perez know what he thought about him. The Padres, a bee buzzing in their bonnet, emptied the dugout onto the grass. Order would be restored, but Dick Williams put a plan in motion. They would not retaliate immediately, but would instead get Perez, during this game, no matter how many tries it took. He went as far to specify a list of replacement managers and pitchers should any of them be ejected.

The Padres had their first chance in the bottom of the second. Ed Whitson sent a fastball that came in high and tight on Perez, who was trying to bunt the ball. The ball caught the knob of his bat, but Padres catcher Terry Kennedy was ready to get in Perez’s face. Even in the midst of a serious situation, Perez was funny and entertaining. He raised his bat like a weapon and all but danced away from the Padres towards the Braves dugout and his backup. (Well, actually, he sprinted. It was still hilarious.) Both dugouts emptied and met at home plate where they did a lot of yelling and a lot of staring. Tensions were not high with both teams. It’s notable that at this point, nobody was ejected from the game. Perez hit Wiggins and the Padres took their shot at Perez, but missed because Ed Whitson simply wasn’t a very good pitcher. The umpires followed the code. As far as the Padres were concerned though, it wasn’t over until Perez was bruised from a fastball.

Pascual Perez would again face an angry Whitson in the bottom of the fourth. Perez came up to the plate in his dancing shoes, and Whitson again failed to hit the Braves’ colorful starter. The umpires gave the Padres their chance in the second, but now they were done. Whitson and Williams were ejected and the game carried on. In the sixth inning, Perez came to the plate to face Padres reliever Greg Booker who, keeping with tradition, attempted to hit Perez and failed. This time, the Braves weren’t mollified by the ejection of Booker and Padres coach Ozzie Virgil Sr and the game’s first brawl took place. It’s unfortunate that MLB left the footage of the first brawl out of their highlights of the infamous game.

1985 Topps Perez 106b

If Padres pitching had been even remotely competent that day, it’s doubtful that anyone would have remembered this game as anything special. Everyone watching the game on WTBS had to know that the Padres would not give up after failing to hit Perez in three straight at-bats. Craig Lefferts was on the mound when Perez again came to the plate in the eighth. The target this time was Perez’s elbow. Lefferts did not miss. The dugouts and bullpens emptied again and the resulting brawl was full of highlights. There was Tony Gwynn all but body slamming Brad Komminsk to the ground before he could reach Lefferts. There was Tim Flannery and Gerald Perry throwing haymakers before wrestling each other to the ground. Craig Nettles managed to get a punch in on Braves reliever Donnie Moore.

The late Champ Summers wanted to rush the Braves dugout and get at Perez but was restrained by Bob Watson. Braves slugger Bob Horner was on the disabled list with a broken wrist, but after the earlier events in the game, he suited up and joined his teammates in the dugout. After Summers slipped free from Watson, he bum rushed the Braves dugout to be met by Horner who, with the assistance of two Braves fans took him to the ground as the fight moved in around them. When the dust cleared, ejections were handed out all around.

To start the ninth inning, the Braves brought in the late Donnie Moore. Braves skipper Joe Torre was ready to put the game away and move on. He told Moore as much, but when he looked in Moore’s eyes, he knew the Braves would be fighting again. Moore promptly plunked Nettles in the small of the back and started walking to the dugout to accept his inevitable ejection. Nettles rushed at him, but was turned around and tackled by former Yankee teammate Chris Chambliss who took him high, while Braves catcher Bruce Benedict took him low. Kurt Bevacqua rushed the field from the Padres dugout swinging wildly at anything that moved. Gerald Perry landed a hilarious sucker punch on Tim Flannery.

Once more ejections were handed out and order was restored on the field. The Padres were not done though. They got into it with the Braves fans behind their dugout. Bevacqua, pulling a Ron Artest, went after the fans, but slipped in beer on top of the dugout and fell and the Braves fans began pummeling him. It took a security guard to get him away from the fans. One of the great images of the game was a shirtless Whitson returning to the dugout from the clubhouse to get into it with the fans. Once everything calmed down, the final tally was thirteen ejections and five fan arrests.

After the game, Braves manager Joe Torre let the press know exactly what he thought of Dick Williams. The words “idiot” and “gutless” were thrown around. To listen to the 1984 Padres tell the story, you would think the game was a turning point in their season. I don’t buy that. They were far ahead of the division at the time of the game and finished the season was a similarly large lead. They played no better after that point. They were, however, a very good baseball team. They would go on to stave off three straight elimination games against the Cubs in the NLCS before losing to a vastly superior Detroit Tigers team in the World Series.

As for the Braves, it was something of a lost season. They played well for a large portion of the year, but floundered as they fell out of contention. Joe Torre was fired after the season and replaced with the inept Eddie Haas. The game did cement Pascual Perez and Bob Horner as Atlanta favorites. Bob Horner showed himself as the consummate teammate, risking his own health to defend the Braves. Perez showed himself as the perfect entertainer: the instigator, the court jester, the comedian. There are those who look back on this game with embarrassment, but to a lot of us, it was simply great, great fun. Stupid, stupid fun.

2003 Topps Gonzalo Lopez 302 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Cards like this are when Topps first started fucking up the flagship set. The flagship set should basically serve as a kind of history book to the past season, while also priming the pump for the upcoming system. It’s one thing for the occasional #1 Draft Pick subset to make its way into the set occasionally. This was far worse.

If you don’t remember Gonzalo Lopez, there’s really no reason you should. His short injury riddled career never saw him rise above high A baseball. Now, he had some power and his stock as a prospect was rising, but he was nowhere near the big leagues. There was no place for this card in flagship. Isn’t this why clown sets like Bowman exist?

Of course, where fucking up the base set is concerned, Topps was just getting started.

2003 Topps Lopez 302a

2003 Topps Lopez 302b

1985 Topps Terry Forster 248 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

If you grew up in the days of MLB.TV and regional sports networks and Extra Innings and so on, it might be hard to understand just how amazing the superstations really were. Baseball was no longer the NBC Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon and Monday nights on ABC before the NFL season started. It was there every single night. Even if you weren’t a Braves fan or a Cubs fan or a Mets fan, you could still watch baseball on WTBS, WGN or WOR.

One individual who loved the newfound glut of baseball games to watch was David Letterman. One player in particular caught his fancy. That player was Terry Forster. His comments were somewhat less than kind! “He’s a balloon.” “He is a load!” “A fat tub of goo.” In fairness to Letterman, these were more descriptions than value judgments. Actually, they were both.

Letterman kept at it. Show after show after show after show. It was good stuff. Letterman actually called Forster to apologize at some point, but still kept it up. Eventually, Forster made an appearance on Late Night with Letterman and was about as good a sport as you could possibly want. He said he was upset at first but then looked in the mirror and realized Letterman was right, and besides that, his wife has called him worse. He walked out with a sandwich and even did a cooking segment with Dave.

20 WAR careers out of the bullpen are not usual. Forster had a number of good to great years in the big leagues, including a few with the Braves. Even so, it was his brief brush with Late Night celebrity for which he’s most famous.

1985 Topps Forster 248a

1985 Topps Forster 248b

1983 Topps Bob Watson 572 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Bob Watson was a hard nosed ball player who was nearing the end of an excellent career when he joined the Braves. The Braves acquired Watson in a deal with the Yankees for Luke Danes. Well, his real name is Scott Patterson who is better known for his role on the Gilmore Girls. Baseball is weird like that.

Watson was also the first African-American GM to win a World Series when the despicable Yankees of 1996 beat the Braves that was totally the result of an MLB conspiracy and not the Braves choking after the first two games.

Even cooler, he also appeared in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. That’s cooler than any of Scott Patterson’s credits, and I’m a Gilmore Girls fan. (Don’t @ me.)

1983 Topps Watson 572a

1983 Topps Watson 572b

1984 Topps Rafael Ramirez - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Rafael Ramirez was the shortstop with the big butt and the goofy smile who manned the middle of the infield for the Braves of the early 80s. I have no desire to look at the numbers because I do not want to be disabused of the notion that he and Glenn Hubbard are the single greatest double play combination in the history of the franchise.

Man, Raffy could be counted on to make highlight plays deep in the hole, and boot a number of balls hit right at him. He was a blast to watch play.

How in the world did he finish 16th in NL MVP voting in 1983? How in the world did he ever get a single MVP vote? Old baseball is weird. Love you Raffy, but MVP? Nah.

1984 Topps Ramirez 234a

1984 Topps Ramirez 234b

1998 Topps Mark Lemke 36 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

So, I’m about to have something in common with Mark Lemke. There are a few things we already have in common. We’re both kind of homely looking. Neither of us have ever received a vote for National League MVP. Soon, just like the Lemmer, I will be single.

Yes, my wife of 15 years, together for 17, returned from her cruise with her Mom and my daughter to tell me straight up that she was leaving me. She loves me but she’s not in love with me. There’s nothing I did wrong. Yes, I got “It’s not you, it’s me” from my own wife. And yes, my future ex-wife looks at love like a forlorn 13 year old. And yes, there’s someone else. But that’s not the reason she’s leaving! Of course that isn’t the reason, and how dare I suggest otherwise. Just because she has someone else lined up, ready to go, is meaningless.

1998 Topps Lemke 36a

The past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions. I’ve been a raw nerve. Frankly, I’ve been pretty fucking mean to her. For that, there are no apologies. She has made a decision that means the first thing I won’t see every single day is the smile on my four year old daughter’s face. I’m going to lose my pets. I don’t get how I move on from that. Frankly, some of her actions to me have been pretty cruel and I feel like I get to respond however I choose.

Except, I don’t get to keep being mean to her. No matter how pissed off I am that my wife would rather runaway than confront our problems head on, we have a four year old daughter to worry about. She is now the only thing in my life that has any meaning. Every memory of the past 17 years might be worthless, but I have so many amazing ones from the last four. I’m going to work with my soon to be ex to shield my daughter as much as possible from the negative ramifications of her Mom’s actions.

So, now we start the process of taking apart what took 17 years to build. I’m under pressure from her to get it going quick so that she and “her” daughter can have some stability. (Funny, considering she’s the one who caused the instability.) This is not going to be fun.

So Lemmer, I don’t know if you ever plan on getting married. Despite what we have in common, if you do get married, you’ll need to look somewhere else for marital advice. It would appear I’m no good at it.

1998 Topps Lemke 36b

1979 Topps Larry McWilliams 504 - Braves Card of the Day ⚾

Braves Card of the Day - 1979 Topps Larry McWilliams 504

Larry McWilliams was absolutely fantastic in his 1978 rookie season. Unfortunately, he was never really good for the Braves again. Like Bob Walk before him though, he would go on to find success with the Pirates. Truthfully, the most memorable thing about Larry McWilliams with the Braves is the hair sticking out of his hat on his baseball cards.

1979 Topps McWilliams 504a

1979 Topps McWilliams 504b