Atlanta Braves, 1978February 18, 2011
What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 25 of 25)
(continued from Clarence Gaston)
Years ago the Braves came together in an empty stadium and feigned a smiling togetherness. Afterward, they separated. Some were gone before the season even got underway. Some vanished during the season. By the following year, 1979, about half the men who appeared in cardboard form as the 1978 Atlanta Braves had moved elsewhere, and by 1980 this number was halved again. When the Braves won the 1982 National League West division title, only Phil Niekro, Jerry Royster, Biff Pocoroba, Rick Camp, and Dale Murphy remained from the list of names on the back of this 1978 Atlanta Braves team checklist. Niekro lasted just one more season before the Braves released him, though he returned to the team in 1987 after racking up the last 50 of his 318 career wins in the American League. By Niekro’s brief, winless return in 1987, only Dale Murphy remained from 1978.
Murphy, one of the few players missing from my collection of 1978 Topps Atlanta Braves, may or may not be in the team picture featured here. The picture is grainy and dim, as if the camera used to take the shot was already infected with the pernicious amnesia that would almost immediately pull the team down into an oblivion beyond the recollection of nearly everyone among the relative few humans who ever heard of them in the first place. Could Murphy be in the front row, second from the right? Or is that a bat boy? I don’t know. Anyway, by 1987, when Niekro returned, Murphy had established himself as one of the best players in the league, a two-time MVP seemingly on a secure path to the Hall of Fame. It was his last great season, however, and after that he suddenly tapered off to merely decent for a few years, eventually moving on to the Phillies, but not before a brief reunion with his old manager, Bobby Cox, who returned to manage the Braves in 1990 and continued managing them for the next two decades before stepping down at the end of the 2010 season, his departure the last echo of 1978 finally dissolving. Everything and everyone separates and dissolves. You have no choice but to be brave.