When you conduct hours of interviews with multiple people for a single story, there are always good tidbits and anecdotes that get left out, usually because they don't exactly fit the narrative and including them would bog it down.
There were a good number of these during my interviews for the deep dive into the groundbreaking but obscure 1982 Braves documentary, "It's a Long Way to October," so I thought I'd share a few.
Good luck? Or different good luck?
I mentioned in the story that some on the Braves thought having the documentary crew around during the record-setting 13-game winning streak in April had brought good luck. Pitching coach Bob Gibson saw another reason. When getting on the team bus one night during the streak, Gibson paused to adjust the mirrors. "We've gotta make sure these are just right," he said, according to multiple people, "because that's how we're doing it."
What a Hoot
Speaking of Gibson, for someone with a reputation for being mean and ornery, he took to the documentary well. That fiery demeanor was mostly just his playing persona. “Bob had never been known for his cooperation with the media, but he could not have been any more cooperative than he was with us that season,” executive producer Terry Hanson told me.
More good stuff?
I asked producer Glenn Diamond whether there was any good stuff that had to be cut for time. With 400 hours of footage, certainly there were cool things that didn't make the cut, right? Not so much. “Actually, we had to lengthen things to the point of sometimes it dragged a little bit," Diamond said.
Joe Torre told me that of all his sound bites in the documentary — the arguments, the ranting, the coaching — the clip that seems to have gotten the most attention through the years is a comment about needing a haircut. In the clip, Torre, fidgeting with his hat, rubs his hand through his hair and tells Gibson that he'll wait to get a haircut until he's in St. Louis. “That seemed to get a lot of attention," Torre said. "Here you are in the middle of a game and I’m talking about getting a haircut somewhere. People kept reminding me of that one.”
Microphones? No big deal
Torre said he would let players know when he was wearing a mic. “I never want to blindside anybody," he said. But he wore the mic so much that the players hardly paid it any mind. When it's every day, he said, "it’s probably easier to deal with than (saying), ‘This Saturday I’m going to be mic’d, so be careful’ and all of a sudden everybody changes the way they do things. When it’s an everyday situation, you just went about your business playing baseball."
Even though Torre was more than willing to wear the mic, there were times when he needed a break. “There were a few days when he’d turn to me and go, ‘Can we not do it today?’ And I’d go, ‘Yeah. No problem. Moving on,’” Diamond said. Sometimes Torre took matters into his own hands. “He was pretty adept at knowing when to take that microphone and turn it off or somehow mute it so he couldn’t be followed around, but that was seldom," Hanson said. "He basically opened up himself for this entire season for the special.”
Torre, the real MVP
The documentary shows Torre pushing and prodding Dale Murphy to reach his full potential. The footage only provides brief examples, however. The reality was far greater. “When Dale Murphy was on the field and in the cage preparing for a game, Joe Torre was behind the cage working with him every day," Diamond said. "Dale Murphy, his MVP seasons, were a direct result of Joe Torre. Most people don’t know that. I know it because I was there every day.” Of Torre's instruction, Murphy said: “He knew how to individually reach a guy, and what would help him.”
Murphy didn't have a good finish to the 1982 season, and Torre didn't want that sour taste to linger all offseason. So shortly after the season ended, just as Murphy was about to win the MVP award, Torre called him and said he wanted Murphy to go to an instructional league to get some hitting reps, re-focus and take away some positives. But he didn't send him alone. Torre, along with his brother Frank, went with Murphy to Orlando to work on hitting. Torre pitched BP and Frank helped critique. It worked out OK: Murphy won a second MVP award in 1983. "It was incredibly generous and incredibly helpful," Murphy said. "It was invaluable."
Murphy the Cardinal?
Murphy's relationship with Torre lasted long after the manager was fired in 1984. A decade later, just after Murphy retired and when Torre was managing the Cardinals, the skipper invited Murphy to spring training as a guest instructor. Murphy obliged. "I've seen a picture of me somewhere in a Cardinal uni," Murphy said. Quite the strange sight.
Niekro turns slugger
During the season's final series in San Diego, with the Braves and Dodgers battling for the division, Phil Niekro pitched his second straight shutout to put the Braves in a strong position. Not only that, but he hit a two-run homer to put the game away late. After Niekro rounded the bases and got back to the dugout to prepare to pitch the next inning, he got a glimpse of Diamond and the crew near the tunnel to the clubhouse. With a big grin on his face, Niekro looked to Diamond and said, "How about THAT?!" “Those are moments that you never forget,” Diamond said.
What about the '90s?
I asked Diamond whether anything similar to "It's a Long Way to October" was ever considered when the Braves were winning all those divisions in the '90s. He said he didn't recall any such suggestion. Though Turner still owned the team during part of that stretch and probably could've allowed full access again, leadership within TBS had changed, as had MLB's rules for camera crews and microphones. It's a shame. It seems like any of these seasons would've offered great material for an all-access project. However ...
Curse you, 1996!
Turner did produce a series of highlight tapes during the early '90s that chronicled the team's seasons. In 1996, as the Braves made their way through the postseason trying to defend their 1995 World Series title, Diamond once again went behind the scenes with the team for a tape that would've offered taste of that "Long Way to October" vibe. I say "would've" because it was never finished. “We had great behind-the-scenes stuff. We were headed to a great tape," he said. "We had done stuff with players, morning of games and stuff like that. Well, when they lost to the Yankees, the whole thing got scrapped.” Such. A. Shame.