#12: Bob Horner

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Third Baseman/First Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1978-1986
Stats With Braves: .278/.339/.508, 215 HR, 652 RBI, 545 RS

You may not realize this, but Bob Horner was the first offensive player from the core group that that had a brief period of success in the early eighties to establish himself as a good player, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1978. Murphy had been up since 1976 but didn’t become good until 1979. Hubbard was up in 1978 but didn’t get useful until 1980. And Jerry Royster was around already when Horner came up, but he sucked. Horner was Hope.

Horner was the first pick in the 1978 draft out of Arizona State and was immediately put in the Major League lineup. (Take that, Joey Devine!) In 89 games he hit .266/.313/.539 with 23 homers. In 1979 he followed that up with .314/.346/.552 and 33. As it turned out, 1979 was basically his peak; he rarely reached those levels again.

Already he was missing a lot of time (the fewest games he would miss in a season would be 21, and in 1979 he missed 41) and his defense at third base was reaching legendary levels of humor. Horner managed to stay in the lineup for 142 games in 1980, and hit 35 homers (a career high) but his average dropped to .268, his OBP to .307. He played 79 games in the 1981 strike year, hitting .277/.345/.460; it was the last time until 1988 that anyone but Murphy would be the Braves’ leader in OPS.

In 1982 the line was .261/.350/.501, but he managed 140 games and made the All-Star team for the only time. He was down to 104 games the next season, but it was probably his best per-game, .303/.383/.528. At that point, Bob was still only 25 and had 158 homers, and if not on a Hall of Fame path would at least be in the next level down. But that was pretty much it for Horner as a star-level player. (Interestingly, a lot of the players on Horner’s comp list through this age are guys who started off brilliantly but came up short of immortality — Jim Ray Hart, Juan Gonzalez, Strawberry, Canseco. I don’t know if this means anything, but Eric Chavez and Hank Blalock should probably watch out.)

Bob played but 32 games in 1984 and hit only three homers. He was better in 1985 and 1986, hitting 27 homers in each season, but his averages were in the .270s and OBPs in the .330s, pretty unexciting for a first baseman, as he was now full-time, in the Launching Pad.

After the 1985 season, the owners all got together and decided to not sign free agents. This was a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (ironically, because of a clause the owners had wanted in) and eventually cost them a great deal of money, in particular because they did such a lousy job of it that it was obvious that they were doing. Some of the free agents of 1986-1987 wound up staying with their old teams at reduced rates, even missing the early part of the season because of the re-signing eligibility rules. Horner apparently was so eager to leave that he went to the Yakult Swallows. After a year, he came back to America, but with the Cardinals, and played one ordinary season before retiring.

Horner rates here partially because of a quirk of the system; I rate players mostly by the years they had above average, and he never had any really bad years per plate appearance. His OBP for his Braves career is a little above average, but his slugging percentage is so good that he was creating a lot of runs. So he’s more than ten spots ahead of Glenn Hubbard, even though if I had to choose one of them for a team I don’t know that I’d take Horner. He was a fun player to watch, when he was in the lineup. Maybe more fun for a generic baseball fan than for a Braves fan, since he was so important to the team and so often out. He also looked ridiculous out there with his little wispy mustache, resembling an unsuccessful truck driver who had wandered onto the field.

Bob Horner Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

52 thoughts on “#12: Bob Horner”

  1. I will never forget the 1979 Braves for their defensive prowess: having Jeff Burroughs patrol leftfield while Bob Horner occupied 3B had to be seen to be believed. All the more reason why a number of us thought that Phil Niekro was the most underrated pitcher in baseball.

  2. The best all time Atlanta brave in my books, mac your write up disappointed me, it sounds like you really did not want to include the big lug in here, and thus you did not have that zip and or zet like you do on all the other writes that you do flawlessly.
    Injuries killed this guy, the damn WRISTS, It seemed like everytime he got going going “snap” and the wrsit and or hand was gonzo. That is the reason why the shift from 3B to 1B, to stop the insanity over there. it certainly was not to give ken “useless” a spot at third. I could go on and on and on and on about Bobby, I won’t though ( thank goodness ah)
    Just to say, I own the infamous 4 hr game on tape ( which thebraves lost of course).
    he was a monster guys for you younger folks. I would a knock was that he was not motivated enough to turn it up a notch.
    He came out from Arizona state with huge fanfare and directly went to the show after huge contract issues with agent Bucky. His first game folks using the wood, Guess what HOME RUN of Blyleven of the Pirates.
    Injuries and contract woes were the downfall for this guy. He could and or would have set then smashed all the Atlanta records , and yes I do think would have been better then DALE

  3. He always looked overweight to me. Was that part of why he was often injured. I thought that if he had been more driven and disciplined he could have had a better career. Maybe I’m wrong and he just had a fragile body. I hope Chipper’s not on the same track. His motivation to play through pain might decline if he gets to play on teams that stink as bad as the Braves’ did in the mid-late 80s.

  4. Horner had a lot of natural ability. That was a fact. Just a born hitter. He was over weight but remember the era. No one worked out in the off season back then. Baseball and preparing your body for baseball weren’t all year activities. Again the clarity of hindsight. Horner was good but if he could have stayed on the field his numbers would have been really something.

    @#3 Motiviation and preparation will never be a problem for Chipper Jones.

  5. Sorry, guys. Anytime you have to pay a guy to stay in shape (Horner had weight clauses in his contract), then you have serious problems. Absolutely a lot of potential, squandered.

    Great swing though. He had the best bat speed of any player at the time.

  6. Horner’s injury in ’83 just killed the Braves. They were probably the best team in the NL when he went down, the injury cascaded into huge mistakes (the Butler/Jacoby trade, the worst moment in Atlanta Braves history) The big guy could hit, I remember coming home from a family dinner listening on the radio on his 4 HR game, I got home just in time to see him on deck before his 4th home run!

  7. @#5 He had a short quick batting stroke. Another era and he hits 50 homers a year. I used to have hallucinations about what a core lineup we would have had with Horner at first, Brooke Jacoby at 3rd, Murph in right or center, Brett Butler in CF. Or am I mixing eras? Anyway we would have had a lot of 3 touchdown games with our pitching of that time.

  8. Comparing Horner to Chipper is ridiculous; Chipper has had many very good or great seasons. Horner had one or two at best. Chipper is a much better player than Horner ever was and comparing them just because Chipper has been hurt a lot recently is really unfair. And Chipper has played through a lot of injuries over the year, which Horner never did. Granted, Horner played in a less offensive-oriented era, but he never came close to putting up Chipper’s numbers. Chipper is, or is close to, an HOF caliber player. I always thought Horner could have been one but he never developed, kept getting hurt and didn’t really seem to care. But Randy is correct; when Horner got hurt in ’83, the team collapsed.

  9. Bob Horner’s a rather prominent character in Robert Whiting’s seminal book about Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa, as are Charlie Manuel and Derrek Lee’s dad and uncle, Leron and Leon Lee. Summary: Horner was a drunken bum, Manuel was a drunken lout, and Leron and Leon were cultural ambassadors whose importance will never be fully appreciated.

  10. @#6
    Man you aren’t kidding. The absolute nadir of Atlanta Braves baseball management. Butler/Jacoby for (just saying his name promotes a gag reflex) Len Barker. Of course some could argue that the absolute nadir of Braves Baseball is any team that puts Omar Moreno and Andres Thomas on the field at the same time. Geez this trip down bad memory lane is making me feel better about our prospects for next season.

    For all of you kiddos and new Braves fans, if y’all thought that we sucked last year, the late 80’s Braves were the black hole of ‘major’ league baseball.

  11. Marc, read what I wrote more carefully. Horner seemed to have a fragile body/be injury prone. The last few years, Chipper has also been injury prone. I hope that this isn’t something that is inherent to Chipper’s body, the way it seemed to be with Horner.

    But, if a player is injured, are they going to be more motivated to play through pain and risk further injury to 1) contribute to a winning team likely to go to the postseason or 2) play for a team that will lose 90 -100 games?

    Chipper appears to be as driven, competitive, and motivated as they come, the opposite of Horner. But at a given level of pain, I think playing for a winning team does change a player’s motivation level and desire to play. I’m sure that had a bigger impact on Horner than it might on Chipper.

  12. My favorite Brave. Glad to see him this high. I even sponsored his page for a year over at baseballreference.com. I remember having to watch the 4 HR game on tape delay because TBS was showing the stupid Goodwill Games. I nearly flipped when he hit that 4th homer. As a kid, I played 3rd base in Little League and my body-type was much closer to Horner’s than Murph’s which is why I gravitated towards him I guess. The Captain is now living in Texas. Last year I sent him a picture of him and Murph to sign and he promptly returned it, “To a great Braves fan, Bob Horner.” It probably made him happy to know that I was one of a few people who would rather have his autograph than Murph’s. Here’s to you Horns.

  13. AAR – I don’t recall Horner being a drunken lout in the Whiting book, but would recommend that book, not only for the Horner chapter, but on the facinating contrasts between Japanese and American baseball and how sports does truly reflect one’s culture.

  14. Never one of my favorites, I found him to be a disappointment as a player. Given Mac’s choice between Hubbard and Horner, I’d take Hubbard every time. Hubbard played hard and maximized his talent. Horner wasted his. I don’t think he rates this high.

  15. Good ol’ Bob.

    With Bob, it was all about those fragile wrists. And yes, when he went down in 1983, there was a huge negative domino effect that really set the team back. (BTW, AAR’s right: “You Gotta Have Wa” is a helluva book.)

    Lotsa memories there. I recall going to a day game his rookie year in 1978 vs. San Diego where he hit a HR off eventual Cy Young winner Gaylord Perry. I was 14 & after the game, my friend & I went to The Omni to see Ted Nugent (“Double Live Gonzo” tour, baby). A big day in the big city for a pair of Columbus kids.

    I also recall going to a July 4 game in 1982 vs. the Reds. Horner hit a pair of HRs & the Braves won 4-1. The Braves were kicking ass & taking names at that point—August would be different.

    With Horner & Murphy hitting back-to-back, though, we had a scary middle of the lineup. Horner with that short stroke would launch HRs to left that got out in about a half-second; Murph, of course, with that loping swing would hit lasers to right. Great combo.

  16. A. West,

    You are right and I apologize for misreading what you wrote. I was probably reacting to comments in other forums that seem to have disparaged Chipper in recent years even though he was always known to have a high threshold of pain and played through a lot of injuries. I suspect a lot of injuries is just a matter of luck rather than some inherent flaw in players’ bodies. ON the other hand, at some point, after playing a lot of games, your body is probably going to become more susceptible to injury. Chipper seems to be at that point. I liked Horner a lot when he first came up and thought he had a chance to be a much better hitter than Murphy because of his more compact swing. But he leveled off very quickly and then got hurt.

  17. I remember getting the 1984 Rotesserie Baseballo book, back before Fantasy Baseball became a billion dollar industry, they would rate each player in the majors. Horner’s entry: “Million dollar swing, ten cent wrist.”

  18. It looks like Horner had a pretty nice season in Japan (although I bet he missed time for injuries) – 31 homers in 300 ABs, .327 batting average.


  19. Too much sake?

    Dunno, wish I had that book with me right now. It’s been more than 10 years since I read it. My guess would be an injury.

  20. Whiting follows Horner’s season pretty closely. He was basically mythologized before he ever got there: blond, built like a lumberjack, and as American as could be: which was sort of his cultural downfall. He was basically like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, except he never was able to change his own character enough to want to stay. He wasn’t a lout, but like in America he didn’t particularly care for his own physical fitness or preparation for the game, which APPALLED the Japanese. Charlie Manuel was worse, though: he was kind of a jerk when he was drunk, and he and Horner drank together a lot. Leron and Leon Lee basically had to counterbalance the bad blond Americans, all while facing their own prejudice because they weren’t just gaijin, they were kokujin.

    In that culture, the game is what you play in order to prepare for practice. Bob Horner never quite fit that mold.

  21. i’ve been getting more and more interested after following matsuzaka and then watching some youtube videos of some of the other stars. no particular point, i guess.

  22. When I was in the Navy, during one of our port calls I had a chance to see a game in Fukuoka to watch the then Daei Hawks. It was a great experience, much different than watching an American game, with all of the fans cheering in unison, singing, banging drums and waving big flags.

    Even though it was a beautiful night, the dome was closed, and after the game everyone stayed around as they opened the dome, which opened sort of like opening a clam.

    I also had an opportunity to watch a high school baseball team practicing. Those boys worked very hard, all of the time. Both experiences were a lot of fun.

  23. The best third baseman in team history who is named Eddie Mathews is, of course, Eddie Mathews.

    Chipper Jones is pretty damn close to Mathews without the caveat…

  24. Following up from some things in an ealier thread. Third basemen today stand in most measures today, if Chipper never played again: 1. Mike Schmidt 2. Eddie Mathews, 3. Larry Wayne Jones, Jr.

    Chipper’s two year offensive peak around the MVP year was not that much better than Horner’s offensive peak. And if (and I know what would happen to bullfrogs “if”) Horner had maintained conditioning better and possibly avoided his personal or genetic propensity to injury, he would be a better version of Frank Thomas. Slightly better fielder for his career, starting 3 or 4 years younger (he was no more than 21 when he came up), and adjusting for the much less potent offensive era. That would project Horner retiring around 37 with 550 or so home runs (which adjusted to Thomas’ era would be 650).

  25. As I recall, didn’t Horner break his wrist in 1983 sliding into second? The 1984 injury came fielding a groundball, I think. I didn’t get to see him break it, but I remember waking up the next day and my mom telling me that he had broken it and would miss the rest of the season.


    I went to a Cubs-Braves game in 1983 and watching The Penguin and Horns playing third was a riot.

  26. @34
    Cliff you don’t count George Brett?

    I am biased but I am thinking that in the end if Chipper puts together a couple of 140 game seasons. (I know not likely) He passes Eddie on the all time Braves list. As for the Atlanta Braves list (not counting Milwaukee time) IMHO he is the best POSITION player already or at least tied with Hank.

  27. Horner wasn’t nearly Big Hurt’s equal – Thomas also had a great batting eye and hit for a high average.

  28. So. Ten left. Aaron, Murhy, Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Chipper, Andruw, Javy…?

    I forget the eligibility rules. Do Mathews and Spahn count?

  29. Big Bob-what a hitter!
    He got stuck in an argument with the management in the mid-80’s where they wanted to send him down. Not for rehibilitation, mind you, just sent down. Bob thought it ridiculous and so did I. But comments on the Braves management can be read above.
    The nadir was an interview with Sport Magazine in which Bob told the interviewer he’d walk if asked about the controversy.
    Of course the guy asked and Bob was as good as his word.
    Whatever happened to Sport Magazine,anyway?

  30. Here’s my guess:

    10. Javy
    9. Justice
    8. Smoltz
    7. Andruw
    6. Murphy
    5. Chipper
    4. Glavine
    3. Niekro
    2. Maddux
    1. Aaron


  31. Bob Horner was THE best hitter I ever played with…he became injury prone with wrist injuries and it cost him perhaps a Hall of Fame career. Can’t hit with bad wrists. Just fyi, he was even a better PERSON than player. A genuine gentleman, always had time to give a kid an autograph ‘anywhere’ and just a class act. He was Captain of the early 80’s Braves and was looked up to by every player. I wish him all the luck he deserves! ralph from philly

  32. I remember abd miss those days. As far as the guy up above in the comment ridiculing the ome comment about Horner being compared to Jones, well, you need to learn a bit about the era that Horner played in. He was one hell of a player and it was more exciting to see him come up to bat then it was Murphy. Of course you were probably pooping green or stillin liquid form when that was going on…lol.

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