Dale Murphy paints mid-80's Atlanta Braves as collusion victims

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SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Baseball legend Dale Murphy greets fans on July 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for Mobil Super)

It started as a fairly simple answer to a fan's question on twitter... but then an Atlanta Braves' great got on a roll.

Before the incredible run of the 1990's, there was the 1980's.  For the back half of that decade, the Atlanta Braves were a bad team.

Starting in 1985 and running through 1990, the team finished in 5th place twice and 6th place four times among the National Leagues Western Division members (realignment took place in 1994).

The best of those teams was the 1986 squad, which lost "only" 89 games... and still finished last.

In the midst of all that was Dale Murphy - a Braves from 1976 until mid-1990 when he was traded to Philadelphia.

It was those mid-80's clubs that were bad despite Murphy's play.  It was 1982-83 in which he won the league's MVP awards, but he continued to produce at a high level for multiple years after that:

  • 1982:  .281 BA / .885 OPS
  • 1983:  .302 BA / .933 OPS
  • 1984:  .290 / .919
  • 1985:  .300 / .927
  • 1986:  .265 / .824
  • 1987:  .295 / .997

1984 emerged later as having been a key year - this was when Peter Ueberroth became the Commissioner of baseball and effectively told the MLB owners that they needed to change their tactics over player negotiations.

Shortly after being elected commissioner in 1984, Peter Ueberroth addressed the owners at a meeting in St. Louis. Ueberroth called the owners "damned dumb" for being willing to lose millions of dollars in order to win a World Series.

Later, at a separate meeting with the general managers in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Ueberroth said that it was "not smart" to sign long-term contracts. The message was obvious—hold down salaries by any means necessary. It later emerged that the owners agreed to keep contracts down to three years for position players and two for pitchers.

This was the beginning of Collusion.  Roster sizes were reduced after the 1985 season.  Many of the free agents were not getting offers.  A grievance was filed, but nothing changed at that point.

After the 1986 season, the same things were happening:

The free agent market following the 1986 season was not much better for the players. Only four free agents switched teams. Andre Dawson took a pay cut and a one-year contract to sign with the Chicago Cubs. Three fourths of the free agents signed one-year contracts. Star players that ended up back with their old teams included Jack Morris (Detroit Tigers), Tim Raines (Montreal Expos), Ron Guidry (New York Yankees), Rich Gedman (Red Sox), Bob Boone (California Angels), and Doyle Alexander (Atlanta Braves).

The MLB owners continued to stonewall free agency against the players to one extent or another until roughly the end of the decade when sweeping arbitration victories for the players' union and a new Commissioner (Fay Vincent) finally ended the practice.

By then, the players had endured 5 seasons of depressed player movement and salaries.  It seemed that the entire culture had changed.  And at least one player thinks things could have been different.

Next: What Could Have Been