Braves One Year Wonder, Buzz Capra

Braves One Year Wonder, Buzz Capra played with the Atlanta Braves from 1974-77, but his 1974 was something to behold.

The Atlanta Plagues

I referred last week to the Braves’ lack of success between their division wins in 1969 and 1982.  “Lack of success” was an understatement.  One year it was Blood, the next Frogs, then Lice, followed by Flies, Dead Cows, Boils, Hail, Locusts, and Days of Darkness.  My first child was born in 1982; fortunately, the plagues finally came to an end that year. (Only to have another six year run from 1985-1990—pestilence, war, famine, death, and a couple of other bad things—but that’s a story for another day.)

I suspect those of you who became Braves fans in the last thirty years can’t imagine how bad it could be. Yes, I remember 2015-17, and I know 2006-2009 were disappointing. But the 1970’s for the Braves weren’t just a dry spell; being committed to the Braves in that decade was to experience disillusionment, dismay, and despair that fortunes would ever change.

After the 93-69 division championship in 1969, here are the win totals for the next decade: 76, 82, 70, 76, 88, 67, 70, 61, 69, and 66. If you read each number in that list, one number should stand out. Yes, in 1974 our Atlanta Braves went 88-74. In many years, that’s enough to make the playoffs, or at least play meaningful games in September. Unfortunately for the Braves, the NL West was a powerhouse; the Dodgers won the division with 102 wins.The second place Big Red Machine-to-be was second with 98 wins. Despite the strong overall record, our Braves were never in the pennant chase.They were only 50-49 on July 27, when they fired manager Eddie Matthews. Under Clyde King, they went 38-25 the rest of the way, but they never got within 9 games of the lead, and despite a strong September finished 14 games out of first. So even that relatively strong year is not memorable. (Curious fact: the 1974 team may have been better than the 1969 pennant winners; the Pythagorean for the 69 team was 88-74, while the Pythagorean for 1974 was 93-69.)

Hammerin’ Hank Hammers Number 7-1-5

Of course 1974 is memorable today for the events of the first week of the season. Henry Aaron’s tying and breaking of Ruth’s record in April will always be the standout memory of that season—and any other Braves season. But the rest of the season is lost in the shrouds of memory, as perhaps it should be. In fact, I suspect more people remember the 1973 Braves, which was the first in history to have three players with 40 home runs each (and still the only non-Colorado team to do so). Aaron hit forty to finish at 713 for his career. That was a terrific offensive team, leading the league in runs scored. Even so, that team finished 76-85, because as usual for the Braves of that era, the pitching wasn’t good; they also led the league in runs surrendered.

In 1974, other than Ralph Garr, who led the league with a .354 average, none of the hitting stars of 1973 were nearly as good. Age finally started to catch up with the 40 year old Mr. Aaron. For the first time in 20 years, his OPS+ was under 141 (and it was still 126!). The always underappreciated Darrell Evans was excellent, with 126 walks, an OPS+ of 120, and a bWAR of 7.3, but his Triple Crown stats were only 25, 79, and .240, so everyone considered him a disappointment.

The difference was that the pitching, for once, was outstanding. Phil Niekro finished with 8.0 bWAR. He tied for the league lead in Wins with 20, led the league in innings pitched and in complete games, and was second in the league in ERA, with a 2.38—all while pitching in the best hitters’ park in the league. Carl Morton was a solid starter, eating 274 innings with a 3.15 ERA and winning 16 games.

Braves One Year Wonder, Buzz Capra

Niekro finished second in the league in ERA. Who topped him? Why, our One Year Wonder, Buzz Capra. Capra was as unlikely an ERA champ as ever pitched. The 26 year old had pitched in 41 games for the Mets over the past three years (only 6 of them starts). His ERA+ up to that point in his career was under 100. The Braves, as always, were desperate for pitching, so they purchased Capra’s contract at the end of spring training in 1974. After 11 relief appearances, Capra had a six inning scoreless relief appearance in mid-May. From that point until the end of June, he went 9-0 in 10 starts with a 0.98 ERA. He finished the season with 217 innings, a 16-8 record, five shutouts, 11 complete games, the lowest hits per inning ratio in the league, a bWAR of 5.4—and as noted, the lowest ERA in the league of 2.28.

Capra’s ten game stretch of starts in May and June was eerily similar to Kris Medlen down the stretch in 2012. You may recall that Medlen went 9-0 over his final 12 starts with an ERA of 0.97. Both Capra and Medlen were listed as 5’10”, although Capra seemed even smaller. And both would have promising careers cut short by injuries. The only other Braves pitcher to be so dominant for a couple of months would be Greg Maddux for most of his career.

Neither Buzz Capra nor the Braves could come close to replicating their 1974 success.  A bum shoulder limited Capra to only 12 starts the next year, and in another year he was finished.  And the Braves returned to their abysmal ways with a vengeance in 1975, winning only 67 games, not to see even 80 wins for another 6 seasons.   But for about half of one magical season, Buzz Capra was the most dominant starter in the league.  And for that I will always remember him.  Thanks, Buzz.

Thanks for reading on Braves one year Wonder, Buzz Capra. If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to catch the whole wankers and wonders series right here.

Author: tfloyd

Tfloyd was born on the site of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Before the stadium was built, that is; it was then the site of Piedmont Hospital. It took the Braves another 11 years to arrive on what is now Hank Aaron Drive, but I‘ve always liked to arrive at the ballpark early.

16 thoughts on “Braves One Year Wonder, Buzz Capra”

  1. I can count on both hands the number of Braves games I’ve actually seen in person. Somehow, Buzz Capra Poster Night was one of them.

    And the line, “The only other Braves pitcher to be so dominant for a couple of months would be Greg Maddux for most of his career.” is the Maddux of lines.

    Thanks t.

  2. Thanks, tfloyd (and the Maddux line is an all-timer!). 1974 was my first year as a Braves fan — my family moved from Hamburg, NY to Chamblee a year prior (thinking we were escaping the terrible Lake Erie effect weather, but it turns out we arrived just after the Great Ice Storm of ’73 and the city was an absolute mess). Aaron was my first favorite player, of course, but after that came Buzz (and the Road Runner). He was young and new in town, had a cool name, and Ernie and Milo were newly impressed by him, so it was a natural fit for a 7-year-old kid listening via the transistor radio under his pillow. His struggles after that year were my first lesson that athletic performance was not a constant.

  3. “The only other Braves pitcher to be so dominant for a couple of months would be Greg Maddux for most of his career.”

    That was very Thomasonian of you tfloyd.

  4. Great job, tfloyd. And great job, Buzz.

    I read about the firing of Eddie Mathews on the Paris Metro. I was surprised just because a .500 team seemed so unattainable in those bleak years. I said to my friend, in English, “Jeez [or some such]! They fired Eddie Mathews!” And a Gallic-looking-but-obviously-not-even-as-he-clutched-his-baguette man sitting across from us, said, in perfect Southern drawl: “The Braves fired Mathews? Why, for god’s sake?”

    Even then, Braves fans were everywhere.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, guys. In fact Seat Painter paid the ultimate compliment. But a good line is Thomasonian only if one could offer equally good lines every day year after year. Mac was one of a kind.

  6. That season holds great memories for me. My college roommate and I bought outfield seats for a game. When the Braves took the field, the fans shouted “Hello, Henry” and he would turn and tip his cap. When the Reds took the field, the fans shouted, “Hey Rose, kiss my rosy red a**.” And that’s all he showed us. We drank some beer and smoked Hav-A-Tampa Jewels. Since Buzz was pitching, there wasn’t much scoring. Dusty Baker walked it off in the 10th with a solo shot; Braves won 1-0. Here’s the box score. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=197406282ATL

  7. @9–Wow, what a memory. The striking thing about that boxscore is the attendance. Over 33,000! That didn’t happen in the 1970’s. But that game was the 10th of those remarkable starts, and Atlanta was experiencing Buzz-mania. Capra didn’t disappoint that night.

  8. It’s pure toilet humor, but these were real Amazon reviews before the product got removed.

  9. When the one year wonder series started Buzz Capra was the first person I thought of. Even though they lost a lot of games during that time, as a kid they seemed to have a lot of likeable players to root for like Aaron, Evans, Baker, Niekro, Garr, and guys like Capra. 73 was the year of the slugger with 3 players hitting 40 plus homers and Baker hitting over 20. 74 was the year of the pitcher with 4 of their 5 starters putting up some really solid numbers. They were 12 games over 500 that year and that was a high water mark but unfortunately they could never put great hitting and pitching together and rarely had great pitching.

  10. I have been waiting for this post: Buzz Capra was the ultimate One Year Wonder. Watching Capra put it all together was a bit like watching some B rate movie about a washed out nobody become a somebody. It seemed like each week the question was how much longer can the miracle continue? When will reality know Capra repeatedly around. But in 1974 it didn’t. Too bad that his career took a nosedive in 1975, but Capra was unforgettable in 1974.

    #1 I was at the Buzz Capra Poster night–I hardly know why I grabbed about 5 or 6 of them, but maybe it felt like an investment–or something which I could give away (I couldn’t). An iconic moment for the 1974 Braves….

  11. Great article! I just read the article on the Atlanta Braves Official site titled “Best Braves player to wear each Number” and wondered why I didn’t see one guy who made one of my childhood years special. Buzz Capra. So I started my search and found that he wore number 47 during his stint in Atlanta. Another player was mentioned in that article who was also a player that gave me many special baseball years. Tom Glavine. Now I know. But during that horrible’70s decade Buzz Capra was a bright ray of hope. Only if….

  12. I caught Buzz Capra for four years in Semi-pro baseball in Chicago. When he signed with the Met’s in ‘69 I knew he could make the show. I always said I could catch Buzz sitting in a rocking chair. His control was excellent and he had a 12-6 drop curve ball. Also, a relentless competitor. Buzz played shortstop when he didn’t pitch and his arm from the hole between short & third was incredible!
    A great young man and teammate. Great article about a great big league pitcher.
    Carl Cassata, Jr.

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