Thursday, September 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: 1988

I hate summertime. It hasn't always been like that, though. There were plenty of blissful summers during my youth, but the only redeeming aspect of the season at this point in my life is baseball. And when your team sucks, well, all you can do is wait upon the start of football season, I guess.

Most of those earlier summers were spent outside, in the heat, playing ball. You see, while the heat never bothered me much as a child, it has become an enemy as I have gotten older. The other reason I hate it has to do with my work schedule. It's a very busy time for me at work and vacationing isn't an option. It's been like that since '89. But I digress...

Oh, yes, horrible baseball. Speaking of which, have you seen the what the Braves have done this second half of the season? Bad team. Bad manager. Rosenthal reports that the manager has lost the team. And I believe him. 

The team has been so bad, in fact, that it has had an historically bad stretch- unmatched in team history. Certainly the worst I've ever endured.

I became a fan of the team in 1981 and spent the next four years watching a pretty good team. From 1985 through 1987 I still followed them from a distance. I was a high schooler and had too many other things to do besides watching every game or keeping an eye on the daily boxscores. And when I did catch a game, they didn't seem all that bad (although their record during those years reflects bad teams). At least they were entertaining. Or perhaps I just have selective memory.

The next three years ('88-90) were a time where I didn't follow the team at all. All that mattered to me during these years was playing music and partying. Baseball took a backseat, finishing below football in sports hierarchy, for some reason. It's probably a good thing, too, because this was- until this summer- the darkest period in franchise history since 1935, when the Boston Braves went 35-115. 1988: 54-106; 1989: 63-97-1; 1990: 65-97. 

Before joining the Braves organization, Chuck Tanner had had a pretty successful run in Pittsburgh- where he won a World Series in 1979. Charles' tenure in the ATL wouldn't go so well. His three year reign saw the team go 72-89 (.447) in 1986, 69-92 (.429) in 1987, and 12-27 (.308) during the 1988 season before being fired on May 22.

His replacement:

Russ Nixon.

There are probably not many managers who have the distinction of managing in parts of 5 major league seasons and finishing in sixth (last) place during each of those seasons. Russ Nixon is one such manager.

 Before coming to Atlanta, Russ served one-and-a-half seasons as skipper in Cincinnati, recording a .435 winning percentage. After being fired by the Reds, Nixon was brought on the Braves coaching staff and served two seasons as Tanner's third-base coach before Chuck removed him from his staff following the '87 season. Nixon then began the '88 season as the Braves AA manager in Greenville, South Carolina. Upon Tanner's firing, Nixon returned to the big league club and let the world know of his disdain for his former boss. I don't think he was trying to fire up the troops- and if he was, it didn't work. The Braves would go on to play better under Russ that year (42-79 .435 under him), but then regressed the following year to 63-97 (.394) under him. Going into 1990- Nixon's final season as manager in Atlanta (or anywhere else in the majors, for that matter)-  Russ predicted that the team would be better, that they would escape the cellar and climb to .500- or better. Problem was, it would be the next season- when they would make an improbable turn around to reach the World Series- and he would no longer be managing the team. Nixon would get fired after only 65 games into the 1990 season, as the team sat at 25-40 (.376).

As bad as his managerial record was (he finished with a .400 winning percentage), there is actually one man who believes Nixon is one of 6 managers since 1986 who affected the performance of his players more than the average manager. In other words, he was a top-6 manager in WAR, or whatever you'd call it for managers. I don't even want to try and wrap my head around this guy's argument.

I spent the summer of '88 (and the rest of the year, for that matter) in a drug-induced daze. I guess you could say it was in the top three darkest parts of my life. But I guess it wasn't as bad Tanner's and Nixon's summer. At least I had the pleasure of attending the Monsters of Rock concert in Spokane, WA, featuring Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, and Kingdom Come.

Russ Nixon, pictured in 1988 with two beauty pageant winners.

Okay, so maybe Russ topped my summer.

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