Horner Moves to First in Revitalization Project
The Atlanta Braves hope a move from third base to first will revitalize oft-injured Bob Horner’s troubled baseball career.
Broken wrists have cost Horner the last seven weeks of the 1983 season and the final four months last season, and he has been only a shadow of his former power-hitting self so far this season.
Through the Braves’ first 52 games--his wrist and other minor mishaps kept him out of 14 of those--the burly infielder was hitting only .234 with just four home runs.
Few players have come into professional baseball with more promise than did Horner. After setting an NCAA home run record, Horner went from Arizona State straight to the Braves in June of 1978. He had 23 homers in half a season that first year, a .314 average with 33 homers and 98 runs batted in in the second season despite missing 41 games because of injury and 35 homers the third, when he missed 38 games.
But the injuries have taken their toll.
Horner, 27, has missed 330 games--the equivalent of two full seasons--since joining the Braves. He hit 91 home runs in his first two-and-a-half seasons, but only 74 since 1980.
No one with the Braves has been more discouraged about his performance than Horner himself. One of his roles as team captain is to fire up his teammates, but lately Horner, never much of a rah-rah type anyway, has had all he can do to fire up himself.
“It has been frustrating, terribly frustrating, at times,” Horner said while dressing after a game in which he didn’t get to play. “I’ve had to start almost from scratch over and over again. Just when it seems like I’m getting back in the groove, something else happens.
“It will come back, it has to,” added Horner, who had a pin put in his wrist this past winter when it failed to heal properly. “I’ve just got to be patient. After all, just a few months ago they were talking about me missing the entire season.”
Both times Horner broke his wrist he was diving for hot grounders past third. Now, partially because of the wrist, he is less effective defensively than he was in the past and the Braves believe his future may be at first.
“I figured they’d want to do this sooner or later,” said Horner, who played first a third of the time during 1979 season. “It’s fine with me. I’d like to try it.”
If the switch works out, it would help the Braves as much as Horner. Chris Chambliss and Gerald Perry have been unproductive as the first base platoon. Chambliss, 36 and in his 15th major league season, is batting .216 and Perry, 24 and in only his second full season, is batting .215. Between them, they have only 14 RBI.
Moving Horner would enable Ken Oberkfell, a good defensive infielder who was acquired by the Braves last June from St. Louis, to become a regular at third. Oberkfell, who filled in for Horner last season, is currently hitting .276 in a utility role.
Braves manager Eddie Haas has been insisting that Horner’s potential has not lessened.
“Bob’s been making good contact, but right at people,” Haas said. “Those things have a way of evening out. If he keeps hitting the way he has been, he’ll get his hits.”
“It hasn’t been just me,” Horner said. “It’s looked a little grim for most of us all year. We haven’t been playing very good at all. We’ve been great in spurts and awful in spurts.
“We get the feeling that we’re getting something accomplished. We keep hoping our luck will change, that we will get something started.”
Braves general manager John Mullen sees Horner as the key to that.
“A healthy Horner, hitting the way he was a few years ago, batting behind Dale Murphy (who leads the Braves in every batting category with a. 319 average, 14 homers and 42 RBI),” Mullen said, “would give us the sort of one-two punch that wins pennants.”