Atlanta Braves History: Greatest Players of the 1980s

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIJanuary 22, 2012

Atlanta Braves History: Greatest Players of the 1980s

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    The Atlanta Braves came into the 1980s after five straight seasons of sub-standard play in which the team lost 92 or more games each year.

    However, things seemed to look bright for the Braves as they entered the decade with Dale Murphy and Bob Horner in the heart of the order.

    In the end, the Braves finished the decade with a record of 712 wins and 845 losses. Not great, but the Braves did make it to the National League Championship Series in 1982. However, they ended up losing to the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The decade also ended with a little hope for the Braves, although one wouldn't have thought so with four more seasons of 92 or more losses to end the decade.

    Players like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, David Justice and Jeff Blauser gained spots on the Atlanta roster, and they would stay there for many years through the 90s. So, while the '80s weren't the greatest for the Braves, it still set up for the success the team would have from 1991 on through the 2000s.

    Before we get to that, here's my top 10 Braves of the 1980s.

    Note: This is the third in a five-part series on the best Braves of each decade.

10. Bruce Benedict

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    Bruce Benedict spent his entire 12-year career with the Braves, playing all 10 years of the 1980s.

    During that time, he compiled a .243 average with 18 home runs, 244 RBI, 637 hits and 197 runs scored.

    Although those numbers aren't great at the plate, Benedict played a much more important role behind the plate, throwing out potential base stealers 32 percent of the time, or 327 total times.

    In his 10 years, he committed only 46 errors in 873 games caught and was named an All-Star in 1981 and 1983.

    In a decade where the Braves didn't experience much success, Benedict was one of the mainstays on the Braves' roster.

9. Rafael Ramirez

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    Rafael Ramirez was a mainstay at shortstop for the Braves until a knee injury derailed his career and he was traded to the Houston Astros in 1987.

    While with the Braves, Ramirez batted .263 with 37 home runs, 301 RBI and had 929 hits. He also stole 93 bases and scored 387 runs.

    In 1984, his efforts were rewarded with an All-Star game appearance.

    On defense, he helped turn 636 double plays, averaging a fielding percentage around 95 percent.

8. Glenn Hubbard

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    Many Braves fans know Glenn Hubbard as the former first-base coach.

    But for those who aren't as educated on his playing days, let me let you in on a little information.

    Hubbard played as a second baseman for the Braves from 1980-1987, where he hit .245 with 59 home runs and 361 RBI. During that time, he also garnered 866 hits, scored 449 runs and had an on-base percentage of .333.

    Although hitting wasn't his strong suit, Hubbard was a strong defensive player, standing at the second-base bag to turn the double play, no matter which runner was bearing down on him. For that, he helped turn 784 double plays, with an average fielding percentage of .985.

    He also made one All-Star game in his career in 1983.

7. Gene Garber

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    Gene Garber played for the Braves from 1980-1986, spending his entire time in the bullpen.

    During his time, he went 35-43 with a 3.15 ERA and 94 saves. He also pitched in 602.1 innings, struck out 375 batters, had a 1.263 WHIP and appeared in 397 games as a reliever.

    His 94 saves in the decade, along with the 47 he had in 1978 and 1979, rank him second on the Braves' all-time saves list behind John Smoltz.

6. Chris Chambliss

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    Chris Chambliss played for the Braves from 1980-1986, hitting .272 with 80 home runs and 366 RBI.

    During that time he also had 727 hits, scored 319 runs, had an on-base percentage of .345 and a slugging percentage of .422.

    At first base, his fielding percentage never went below .933, and he led the league in putouts in 1980 with 1,626.

5. Rick Mahler

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    Rick Mahler pitched for the Braves from 1980-1988 (also 1991), including five starts on Opening Day.

    During his time with the Braves in the '80s, Mahler went 78-88 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.374 WHIP. He also pitched in 1,508 innings, striking out 743 batters and completing 36 games.

    Although pitchers aren't known to be great hitters, Mahler was a decent one for the Braves, compiling 84 hits in 468 at-bats, good enough for a .184 average. He also had one home run, 34 RBI, 13 doubles and 35 runs scored.

    Only three of his eight seasons saw Mahler get a winning record, but that was due more to the Braves' offense than his pitching.

4. Rick Camp

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    A good pitcher in his own right, Camp might be more well-known for something he did at the plate in 1985.

    Against the New York Mets on July 5, Camp came up in the 18th inning and hit a game-tying home run off pitcher Tom Gorman. Sadly, though, Camp struck out to end the game in the 19th inning and was the losing pitcher.

    Other than that, Camp went 48-41 in his six years in Atlanta with a 3.23 ERA and 47 saves. He pitched in 778 innings, striking out 327 batters and garnering a 1.316 WHIP.

3. Phil Niekro

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    The only player to make the best Braves of each decade three times, Niekro finished out his Hall of Fame career for the Braves in 1983.

    During the 1980s, he went 50-39 with a 3.62 ERA and 510 strikeouts. He also pitched in 850.1 innings, had 20 complete games and had a 1.331 WHIP.

    Niekro also had three Gold Gloves and one All-Star appearance during this time, eventually playing with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians before calling it quits.

    In 1985, Niekro gained entry into the 300-win club with a shutout win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

2. Bob Horner

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    Horner played until 1986 with the Braves, spending one year in the Japanese leagues in 1987.

    While with the Braves, he hit .272 with 159 home runs and was an All-Star in 1982.

    He also had 491 RBI, 755 hits, 429 runs scored, had an on-base percentage of .342 and a .496 slugging percentage.

    With so much promise coming out of the draft in 1978, Horner lived up to most expectations, until a shoulder injury in 1988 forced him to retire a year later.

1. Dale Murphy

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    Widely considered as one of the best players in baseball in the 1980s, many Braves fans wonder why Dale Murphy isn't in the Hall of Fame.

    When looking at his numbers in the '80s, he had a .271 average with 308 home runs, 929 RBI and 938 runs scored. He also had 1,553 hits, a .361 on-base percentage, a .491 slugging percentage and 134 stolen bases.

    The '80s also saw him receive a lot of recognition with seven All-Star game appearances, two MVPs, five Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards.

    Those numbers are great, but the likely reasons why he won't get elected to the Hall of Fame will be his numbers from 1988 until the end of his career. In the last six years of his career, he batted .234 with 88 home runs and 339 RBI.

    His career ranks include 50th in home runs, 119th in RBI, 169th in runs and 208th in hits.

    While he was dominant for a good part of his career, the Hall of Fame doesn't look for players who were dominant for a few years. Had he not slowed down for six years before calling it quits, there likely would be more discussion for his entry into the Hall.

    While I am a big Braves fan, I still don't think that Murphy should be inducted, but that doesn't mean he's not one of the top 10 Braves of all time.