After the Braves won their first divisional title in 13 years and set a home-attendance record of 1.8 million, owner Ted Turner opened his coffers to fortify the club. Nonetheless, Atlanta will be thinner at a number of key spots, which is just the way Manager Joe Torre wants it.
Six players, including Captain Bob Horner, stepped on the Continental scale in the Braves' locker room in West Palm Beach this spring and sent a smile across Torre's face. In January he had suggested that each of them might be better off shedding some excess baggage.
Torre himself dropped 20 pounds in 1970 and then had the two most productive years of his career. Now it was Horner who reported to camp 20 pounds lighter, at 216, than in October. Horner signed a four-year, $5.1 million contract in January. The former fat boy stands to make an added $400,000 by keeping his weight at predetermined levels over the next four seasons: A slimmer Bob Horner/Still plays the hot corner/After eating no postseason pie;/He pulled in his belt,/ Then hauled in the gelt,/And said, "What a good boy am I!"
But not everyone saw the rhyme or reason behind the thin look. "We did pretty good last year when they were bulky," says Jerry Royster, the team's invaluable utility man. "I don't like to change things that work." No one in Atlanta wants to see a change in the way Horner fattened up on National League pitching. Of Horner, who had 97 RBIs, Torre says, "I've got a guy who makes the rest of the lineup better just because of his being in it." Particularly, Dale Murphy, the 1982 NL MVP with 109 RBIs.
The Braves had to juggle their starting rotation nearly every week in '82. Among the regular starters, only Phil Niekro never had to come out of the bullpen. When spring training began only Niekro and converted Reliever Rick Camp were assured of starting positions. One of the openings went to rookie Craig McMurtry, who was the International League's top pitcher in 1982.
Atlanta had only 12 wins from lefthanders last season and didn't carry a single southpaw into the playoffs. To remedy that, Turner signed free-agents Pete Falcone, a starter, and Terry Forster, a reliever. In Gene Garber and Steve Bedrosian he already had one of the most effective bullpens in the majors.
"Without pitching, you can't win," Torre says. "It's not a game played by the clock. You can't freeze the ball. You have to get 27 outs to win. That's why, if I'm going to have to have one part of my pitching staff strong, as opposed to another part, I'd just as soon have the part I've got—relief pitching. You can't win until you finish."
Last season nobody in the division finished better than the Braves; but Atlanta will be hard pressed to match that ending in '83.