Rick CampDecember 9, 2010
What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 14 of 25)
(continued from Tom Paciorek)
Rick Camp was just getting a foothold in the league at the time this card came out. He didn’t make much of an impact one way or another during the 1978 season, but by the early 1980s he had become a good relief pitcher, in 1981 performing so well in that role that he even garnered some MVP consideration (finishing 20th in the voting). In 1982 he moved to the starting rotation and helped the team win its first division title in thirteen years, putting an end to the franchise’s long malaise that had been at its directionless nadir in 1978. Camp, a Georgia native who never played for anyone other than the Braves, stuck around long enough for the team to recede back into irrelevance. In his final season, 1985, the team lost 96 games, including an epic 6 hour and 10 minute 19-inning 16-13 Independence Day defeat at the hands of the New York Mets. Camp took the loss that day, giving up six runs in three innings, and he also struck out to end the game. But earlier in the marathon, Camp, a terrible hitter, came up with two outs and no one on and the Braves down a run in the 18th inning, promptly went down in the count 0-2, and then, defying all logic, drilled a game-tying home run. There’s no way to really wrestle any definitive meaning out of anything, but sometimes you can slow down time and isolate a moment when everything breaks so right that heaven itself seems to be bubbling over with laughter. I see Rick Camp circling the bases. Years later, he was circling a tiny prison yard track, doing tight laps to augment his daily workout regimen, which also included 500 sit-ups and 500 pushups. After baseball, he’d fallen in with some people who conspired (without Camp’s knowledge, Camp claims) to swindle $2 million from a mental health facility. He spent 21 months behind bars. “Once in a while,” wrote Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Steve Hummer in 2008, when Rick Camp was again a free man, “an old baseball card would get past the prison censors, some fan wanting an autograph.” Maybe a version of this card: a young pitcher with no real worries. Rick Camp in his twenties, holding a ball and a glove; Rick Camp in his fifties, holding a baseball card. You can never circle back to where you were.
(Love versus Hate update: Rick Camp’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)