Braves: Revisiting the ’80s when times were bleak

An image showing celebrated relief ace Bruce Sutter giving up a home run late in the Braves’ 1985 season may describe how the club’s current players are feeling these days.

That season the Braves finished with 96 losses and was the beginning of a six-year stretch where the club lost an average of 96 games a season and including losing 106 in ’88, a franchise-worse since the team dropped 115 games in 1935 when the team was in Boston and the next year they changed their name to the Bees before going to back to the current moniker in 1941. In 1989, the Braves would lose 97 and then 97 again the following season before the big turnaround in 1991.

But look closely and notice the player in the background that hit the home run and is running around the bases.

It is Cincinnati Reds first baseman Nick Esasky, who in December 1989 signed a huge three-year deal with the Braves for $5.6 million.

In a long history of many disappointments before the 1990’s for the Braves, Esasky has to be at the top of the list. He came to Atlanta at the age of 29 and the year before had hit 30 homers and driven in 108 runs for the Boston Red Sox.

But stemming from an ear infection, Esasky came down with a horrible case of vertigo and the 35 at-bats he had with the team in 1990 were his last in the major leagues. He tried many different treatments but nothing worked. The Braves did everything they could do to try to help him and he remained on the disabled list for a good part of ’90 and ’91 before going to spring training in ’92 and appearing to be on his road to recovery.

The Braves were coming off a World Series appearance and he was sent to Triple-A Richmond to begin that season and played in 30 games, hitting .278 with five homers and 14 RBIs. But there was no room on the Atlanta roster and Esasky asked for his release and retired. He has kept a very low profile since and was last seen in 2012 at Boston’s Fenway Park for the club’s event for former players for the 100th anniversary of the Red Sox.