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Jeff Burroughs

October 21, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 5 of 25)

(continued from Bobby Cox)

Jeff Burroughs, in the context of the 1978 Braves, raises the question of protection. In baseball, the term “protection” is used to refer to how much effect a player in a batting order will have on the way the opposing pitcher treats the player one notch higher in the batting order. When a team is lucky enough to have a good slugger, that team will want to maximize the efforts of that slugger by placing another good hitter behind him in the lineup. With that protection, the opposing pitcher will be less likely to pitch around the slugger. Of course, not all teams are lucky enough to be able to protect their best slugger, leaving the opposition with a simple game plan: don’t ever give the slugger anything good to hit, walk him if necessary, and take a chance on the next guy, the flimsy protection.

In 1977, Jeff Burroughs swatted 41 home runs and drove in 114 runs. In 1978, the National League took the bat out of his hands. Among the players rookie manager Bobby Cox used to protect Jeff Burroughs in the lineup were (on multiple occasions in all cases) Biff Pocoroba, Brian Asselstine, and Rowland Office. Eventually, two very young, erratic sluggers, Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, joined the ragged collection of protectors, but their occasional flashes of power didn’t stop the opposition from taking a wide berth around Jeff Burroughs whenever the situation in the game was the least bit dicey—for the year, Burroughs walked a career-high 117 times, led the National League in on-base percentage, and despite batting .301 with 23 home runs with 30 doubles drove in only 77 runs.

Without protection, what chance have you got?

***

What protects you? This subject has come up before on this site in loose relation to Jeff Burroughs, whose 1974 card caused me to recall that when I worked at a liquor store in Manhattan in the 1990s we had a Jeff Burroughs bat hanging from two nails behind the counter. This was for protection, I guess, though none of us ever used it as such. Sometimes it was brandished for comedic purposes, and then in more solitary, anxious moments it was held, at least by me, as a way to pretend to feel a little more powerful in a setting that could occasionally seem a little scary. We got shoplifters periodically, gangs of street kids who fanned out around the store, some barking questions in our faces (“Yo, you got Alize?”) while others moved quickly up and down the aisles in their parkas, their hands moving fast. There wasn’t much subtlety in their method; it was built on speed, shouting, and menace. To get them out you had to confront them (“You got ID?”), which led to more shouting and menace, the aura of impending violence ratcheting up a notch. They’d be in and out quickly, maybe some bottles gone with them, and after they left I’d move back behind the counter feeling shaken and weak, and I’d pick up the Jeff Burroughs bat and hold it, imagining that I’d handle things differently next time.

One night when we were locking up, I made my co-worker Ngai laugh by updating the old “Another day, another dollar” saying with, “Welp, another day . . . and we didn’t get shot.” At that time I was immersing myself in violent movies of the 1970s, and someone was always getting their brains blown out, often in the very city in which I was living, and occasionally even in a liquor store. It was a small store, and usually there were only two of us on duty at a time. When I started, I was the guy who went out on deliveries, leaving the store under the watch of one guy, either Morty the boss, Dave the adjunct philosophy professor, or Ngai. Ngai was the gentlest and most introspective of the three, a sweet guy whose constant stream of hobbies that he worked on in the back during lulls eventually branched out from the peaceful pursuits of such things as origami, window design, drawing, and tending to bonsai trees to include obsessions with weight training, nutritional supplements, guns, and increasingly complicated and terrifying gravity knives. I didn’t share his interest in any of those violent or nonviolent pursuits and instead got through my hours by reading novels about alienation, staring at baseball games on the little television up front, or dwelling on whatever 1970s portrait of A Man Alone In A Society On The Brink I’d watched the night before. As the years went on, I eventually became the guy who stayed behind at the store while a newer clerk went out on deliveries. I’d sit there behind the counter, the Jeff Burroughs bat close at hand. On many occasions, this thought occurred: If someone comes through the door with a gun, what the fuck am I really going to be able to do with this Jeff Burroughs bat?

Which brings me to this question of protection. It’s a violent world, I guess. I wish I knew kung fu or something. Without it, I guess I’m just hoping to get lucky and get through the day without getting shot.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Jeff Burroughs’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

12 comments

  1. Those mid-late 70′s Braves uniforms really look like softball uniforms in retrospect. Jeff Burroughs looks like a guy who was an accountant in a Sunday night softball league in that photo.

    I remember when I was a kid my optometrist had a poster on his wall that said: “What do Dick Allen, Reggie Jackson, and Jeff Burroughs have in common?” And the answer read: “They won consecutive American League MVPs from 1972-1973 and they ALL WORE GLASSES!” I guess it was supposed to make you feel better as you were getting beat up.

    Kid One: Hey four-eyes
    Kid Two: Hey douche face
    Kid Three: Hey fag-boy
    Glasses Kid: Hey Jeff Burroughs won an MVP Award wearing glasses.
    Kids One, Two Three: Who the f#@* is Jeff Burroughs?? He must be a douche like you.

    Looking at some of the more modern fielding metrics, Burroughs should have been a full-time DH because he was such a horrible fielder.


  2. I loved Burroughs dating back to his early days with the Rangers: the bushy hair, the giant ’70s glasses, the power stats with high batting average for lousy teams… I’m now so old that, as the Rangers progress through the playoffs, Burroughs is still the face of that franchise, along with ealier memories of the Washington Senators showing through. Burroughs, Bob Horner, and Glenn Hubbard were a classic trio of relative stars on a second-division team, kind of like the early days of Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and any number of underachieving, once-promising stars who joined them on the Reds and later Nationals.


  3. Am I the only one who is bothered by the way the Braves had a lower case “a” in Atlanta?

    It’s funny how uniforms were pretty much the same from 1900 to 1970, then went nuts until about 1980 and went back to being conservative. I think the A’s are the only team that stayed with kind of a colorful, zany look, right? Even the Astros have a uniform that wouldn’t be out of place in 1930.


  4. Good points sb1902. The lower case “a” was a bit odd, I can’t think of too many teams that featured a lower case letter on their cap. I know the Angels had a lower case “a” on their hats during the 60′s-early 70′s. I think the Phillies may have had a lower case “p” on their caps. The Braves also had that triangle shaped shield on the front of their cap/helmet that a few teams wore in the 70′s: Orioles, Blue Jays, Padres, Mariners, Expos, Brewers and Twins.

    Yeah there were variations on the baseball uniform but it basically was the same from 1900-1970.

    Basically 3 things happened:

    1-polyester double knits in 1971. This gave teams more choices as far as color and style.

    2-Free Spirit of the 60′s-70′s. Baseball is kind of conservative so it took a little bit longer for the colors and fashions of the 60′s to hit baseball.

    3-Prevelance of color t.v. I think teams wanted to show off their teams with more color and variation. That’s the only reason I could think of for those powder blue road uniforms.

    It was a pretty wild time as far as baseball uniforms were concerned. That went on basically to 1987. I remember Rawlings starting making baseball uniforms in ’87 and a lot of teams started going back to the traditional button up jersey with belts. Solid caps, no more powder blue jerseys, no more racing stripes, no more softball uniforms, no more Pirate uniforms.

    If you’re interesting in Uniforms/caps, this guy has an awesome site:

    http://www.uniwatchblog.com/


  5. Sb1902,

    I didn’t realize how rare the “lower case” letter on a hat was in baseball history. I only found 3 other cases of teams using the lower case. I guess most teams refrain from doing it because it’s not grammatically correct to put a proper noun in the “lower” case.

    The Braves use of the lower case “a” was a bit inconsistent. They used the lower case “a” on their caps from 1972-1980. They had “Braves” in upper case in both their Home & Road uniforms from 1972-1976. From 1977 to 1980 they kept “Braves” in Upper Case on their home uniforms yet changed to a lower case “atlanta” on their away jersey. I think the lower case “atlanta” from ’76-80 was the only time a team had the name of their city start with a lower case.

    The use of “atlanta” can be seen on Burroughs’ road jersey. It’s odd though because the letter “a” is in lower case yet it’s written large like an Upper case letter.

    The 1971 Angels used a lower case “a” on their cap & uniform. They switched to the Upper case “A” on their cap in ’72 but left the lower case “a” on their uniform for the ’72 season.

    The 1978-1993 Brewers had that lower case “m b” that looked like a baseball glove on their cap but kept “Milwaukee” and “Brewers” upper case on their uniform.

    The 1978-84 Padres had S-D in upper case on their cap yet had “padres” spelled out in lower case on their uniforms.


  6. Since the topic today involves players with dorky glasses, I’ll share this family story. One of our favorite players from the 70′s was Darrell Porter, an all star catcher for the KC Royals who died in 2002 of a cocaine overdose (undoubtedly related to being a major league player in the 70′s). He had the annoying quirk when batting of adjusting his batting helmet and his glasses several times between every single pitch. Our family jokingly began to chant out hat-glasses-hat-glasses each time he did this until it became sort of a ritual for each at bat. When he passed, I sent my brother this tasteless poem:
    Darrell’s Demise

    Hat
    Glasses
    Hat
    Glasses
    Hat
    Snort
    Thud


  7. Jimmykc1,

    Porter was a great catcher and one of the best trades those Royals made in the 70′s.

    He’s really underrated for some reason maybe it’s the glasses and the fact that he played a position that’s viewed as a tough-guy’s position. I know a lot of places rank him as one of the top 20 catchers of all time.

    He had a huge 1979 season. He had a .421 on base percentage which is the 13th highest for a catcher in bb history and he had 121 base on balls which is ranked 3rd all time for catchers. He’s tied for second with a 8.4 WAR (wins above replacement) with Fred Lynn & Dave Winfield in the Major Leagues in 1979. His team-mate Brett led the majors with a 8.7 WAR.


  8. An apt card to play in your Meaning series, Josh, given the events of last night. A friend unearthed a used scorecard from the inaugural Rangers season in Arlington and sent it to me. There is no date or any other basic information beyond the rosters for each team; the opponent is Boston, by the way. Burroughs is prominent among those Rangers, for what he would do more than his contribution that season, but also because, wow, that’s a scruffy looking group of names.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/TEX/1972.shtml

    They surely earned every one of those 100 losses in 1972, just as the 2010 Rangers earned all their wins. American League champions, though… I was rooting for them over the Yankees, so I’m glad to see this turn of events and good for them, but it’s going to take a little getting used to. I believe Burroughs would approve, though.


  9. For what its worth, in the “new cursive” method that I was being taught back when these cards were in packs, that actually is a capital A.


  10. John, even as a kid I was obsessed with that 1979 Darrell Porter season. Playing APBA, I was vaguely aware of the importance of walks, even if not in a systematic way like we do now. Porter’s OBP was largely built on his 121 walks, not surprisingly, but what IS surprising is how he never did that sort of thing again. His next highest walk total was 89 and his third was 69. Why all the walks in 1979?

    The other player that comes to mind in jacking his walk total in one year was Eddie Joost in 1949, but for Joost the reason was pretty clear–he got glasses that year and could finally see the ball properly. Does anybody have any idea why Porter walked so much in 1979? Scutaro boosted his walk total in 2009 with Toronto for some reason.

    1979 was a great year for catchers, too. Fisk was around, Bench was still around, the hugely underrated Ted Simmons was there, Porter, Lance Parrish was coming along, Gary Carter. Munson was around for most of the year, Sundberg had that great glove if not much else. Alan Ashby was… a carbon based life form, I guess. Lots of talent at the 2 position in any case.


  11. Maybe Porter in ’79 had similar issues as Burroughs in ’78: lack of protection. He was followed in the lineup most often by slap-hitting Pete LaCock or Al Cowens, who did most of his damage against lefties (i.e., if a righty was on the mound, why not tiptoe around Porter?).


  12. More good (i.e., awful) ’70s Braves unis right here:

    http://reallybadbaseballcards.blogspot.com/2014/10/uniforms-i.html



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