What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 3 of 25)
(continued from Willie Montanez)
The Braves’ trade of their lone 1977 All-Star, Willie Montanez, didn’t seem to help the 1978 Braves. They lost their first three games of the season, won one, lost four more, won two, then lost four more, so at the early date of April 14 the team was 3-11 and already 7 games out of first place. They played close to .500 for a couple months, perhaps convincing themselves that their destiny might be in their control if only they changed a thing or two. At that time, the team echoed the Montanez deal by trading its lone 1976 All-Star, Dick Ruthven, for Gene Garber. This didn’t help either. The Braves treaded water for a while, then in August lost 13 of 15 games. By the first week of September they’d been mathematically eliminated, and they ended the season with a seven-game losing streak to finish in last place, 26 games behind the first place Los Angeles Dodgers.
Meanwhile, Ruthven’s new team, the Phillies, caught fire shortly after his arrival, surging from 2.5 out of the lead to 5 games in front within three weeks of Ruthven’s June 15 acquisition. Ruthven was a big part of the team’s charge toward its third consecutive National League East crown. By the end of the year, the veteran had logged a 13-5 mark from the time he was freed from the Braves. His performance earned him the start in Game 2 of the 1978 National League Championship series. Before getting yanked in the fifth inning of an eventual 4-0 loss to Tommy John and the Dodgers, Ruthven pitched in front of a home crowd of 60,642, roughly 58,000 more than the attendance at the last Braves home game of 1978.
Ruthven went on to win a World Series ring with the Phillies in 1980. As far as I can tell, he was the only player to appear in a game for the 1978 Atlanta Braves to ever win a World Series ring [update: this inaccurate claim is corrected in the comments section], and I don’t think he can be counted as a full-fledged member of the 1978 Atlanta Braves because he didn’t stick around until the end, when there was nothing to play for.
Even when there was nothing left to play for, at the last home game, 2,560 people showed up. In a certain sense, I count myself among those listless witnesses. Empty seats everywhere. Meandering organ and murmuring. If anything ever mattered, it’s elsewhere now.
(Love versus Hate update: Dick Ruthven’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)