Dick Ruthven

October 6, 2010

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.)


  1. Joe Nolan won a ring with the Orioles, as the back-up to WS MVP Rick Dempsey. And of course Cito Gaston won 2 rings, but that was after he hung up his playing cleats.

  2. Jim Bouton was on the 1962 Yankees, although he didn’t pitch in the World Series. He pitched well in the next two Series, but the Yankees lost both of them.

  3. Also, Glenn Hubbard played his last year for the 1989 A’s, but he was gone before August.

  4. Thanks for the corrections.

    Not that this matters, but Hubbard and Bouton aren’t in the Topps’ version of the 1978 Braves. Nolan is, and I guess he’s in a blind spot for me, ’83 being a year when I was temporarily drifting a little away from baseball.

  5. Josh, good point on Ruthven. He’s often overlooked for his part on the ’78 & ’80 Phillies. The Phillies probably don’t even win the division without the Ruthven trade in 1978.

    I feel kind of sorry for Phil Niekro for having to pitch on that ’78 Braves team. They were pretty horrible fielding team that played in a great hitter’s park. You had Burroughs, Royster, Pat Rockett, Pocaroba/Nolan, Horner on defense. Then you had Dale Murphy in his first year as a lousy fielding poor hitting 1b. That team was just an absolute mess. How Phil Niekro won 19 games with that team is something short of amazing. He might have won 30 games on a decent team in a pitcher’s park.

    Niekro had a 9.1WAR that year which is just incredible and he’s ranked as the best overall player in the majors for the ’78 season.

  6. That 1980 Phillies team had one of those “Spahn & Sain and pray for rain” rotations.

  7. As my name suggests, I was a Ruthven fan on the Phillies, but Gene Garber was my all-time favorite. Especially when he went all out to strike out Pete Rose (another one of my favorites) to end his 44 game hitting streak in 1978. Garber jumped off the mound in joy after striking Rose out with a change up about a month after his trade to the Braves. Rose threatened to beat Garber up next time in the post game interviews for being happy he struck him out and for throwing his best pitches, but, to his credit, Rose later said he was wrong to be mad at Garber and that Garber did what he should have.
    20 years later, the spirit of Gene Garber’s competitiveness was soiled when pitchers were grooving meatballs down the middle to Mark McGwire to allow him to break Ruth’s record. (I remember a Cubs pitcher by the name of Traschel?? who looked like he was throwing batting practice. They wanted to “be a part the history” . It was sickening.

  8. “That 1980 Phillies team had one of those “Spahn & Sain and pray for rain” rotations.”–

    It’s amazing that was the Phillies team that went all the way. They had those great late ’70s team and the 91 win team was the one that got it done. That pained me, too, because I love those Royals teams.

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