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Ashway: Adrian Devine epitomized the ‘70s Braves
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

Adrian Devine, a baseball player who epitomized the woeful fortunes of he ‘70s Braves, passed away on June 27. He was 68.

“My dad got tongue cancer 15 years ago, and beat it,” Renee Rafanelli told Bobeth Yates of CBS46.com. “Then he had it again this year, and he beat the tongue cancer. Then it came back in his brain. He beat the brain cancer, and now it came back to his lungs.”

In May, coworkers from Creekland Middle School, friends, neighbors, and former teammates created a garden of love for him. Rafanelli read a letter from Devine, who was unable to speak after fighting tongue cancer: “As I wait for that final day, I’m overwhelmed by the acts of kindness. This is my funeral: cards, letters, gifts, flowers, and more flowers.”

The Braves picked Devine out of Ball High School in Galveston, Texas, in the second round of the 1970 draft. Like so many Braves draftees in those years, Devine initially failed to impress. His first season produced a 5-6 record and 5.18 ERA. His second lasted only 30 innings because of a sore arm.

Devine turned things around at Savannah in ’72, and he was 2-7 with a 4.39 ERA at Richmond in ’73 when the Braves called him up. His first game was a start against the Giants on June 27. He was charged with five runs in five innings and took the loss.

That was Devine’s only start; he finished the season with a 2-3 record and 6.40 ERA in 32 innings, and another sore arm. In ’74, back at Richmond, four starts produced 14 runs in 14 innings, and the arm was no better. Doctors advised Devine to quit baseball and go back to school, but he opted for surgery.

In ’75, he won 10 games at Richmond, earning a September call-up to Atlanta. In ’76, Devine made the Braves opening day roster and compiled a fine record. He was 5-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 73 innings, second among Braves relievers. His five wins led Braves relievers, and his nine saves led the team.

After that season, GM Eddie Robinson took the same job with Texas. The Braves wanted outfielder Jeff Burroughs in the worst way, and they succeeded. He cost the Braves $250,000, Ken Henderson, Dave May, Roger Moret, Carl Morton, and Adrian Devine.

At the time Robinson said Devine was the key to the entire deal. “Just ask any scout; I think 99% of them will say he’s a helluva prospect.”

Burroughs hit 41 homers in his first season with the Braves, but just 47 over the next three years, all the while patrolling a patch of about 30 square feet in left field.

Meanwhile, Devine went 11-6 with a 3.58 ERA and 15 saves in a career-high 105 innings in Texas. He also had the unique experience of saving both ends of a doubleheader against the Twins in September.

Thinking that they had made a big mistake, and wanting to unload Willie Montanez and his hefty unearned salary, the Braves concocted an incredible four-team trade. The Mets acquired Montanez, and Tom Grieve and Henderson from the Rangers. The Rangers acquired Al Oliver and Nelson Norman from the Pirates, and Jon Matlack from the Mets. The Pirates acquired Bert Blyleven from the Rangers, and John Milner from the Mets.

Got all that? The Braves wound up with Tommy Boggs, Eddie Miller (who never learned how to steal first base) and Adrian Devine.

After such a successful season in the bullpen, rookie manager Bobby Cox naturally envisioned Devine as a starter, alongside Phil Neikro and Dick Ruthven. “They’re paying me to pitch,” Devine said at the time. “My contract doesn’t say start or relieve, just pitch. I’ll give them 100% either way.”

So, naturally, Devine was in the bullpen on April 10, 1978, when the 0-3 Braves hosted the Padres. Devine pitched two perfect innings, then watched in amazement as Darrel Chaney hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the ninth. The future Braves announcer would hit three homers all season, and 14 in his 11-year career.

Devine got the win, the first of 2,504 in the managerial career of Bobby Cox.

Devine would miss two months with a strained elbow, and finish with a disappointing 5-4 record and 5.92 era. He bounced back in ’79 with a 3.24 era in 40 games.

All it earned him was a trade — back to Texas. Pepe Frias joined him, and Burroughs was part of the deal, but he refused to go back to Texas. So, the Braves paid $50,000 to clinch the deal. That’s how far Burroughs’ trade value dropped in four years.

Whom did the Braves receive in return? Larvell “Sugar Bear” Blanks, and Doyle Alexander.

The 1980 year was Devine’s last season in the majors. He pitched only 28 innings with a 4.82 ERA. He pitched part of the 1981 season in the minors before being released.

Devine’s tours with the Braves skipped the ’74 season, the only year in the '70s that the team won more than 82 games. On average, the Braves teams Devine played on went 70-92, and finished 29 games out of first place. The ’74 Braves won 88 games.

But Devine took a positive view of missing that season. “It made me appreciate my job and baseball,” he said at the time. “I always said I could do without it, and I can, but you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”