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Thread: 7TH WORST DAY IN BRAVES HISTORY: WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY

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    Director of Minor League Reports rico43's Avatar
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    7TH WORST DAY IN BRAVES HISTORY: WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY



    New uniforms, new outlook. Jim Breazeale and Mike McQueen were supposed to be key parts of the new look Braves, but their near-fatal collision meant 1972 would prove to be their final season in Atlanta.

    THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21, 1972
    TWO TOP PROSPECTS CRITICALLY INJURED IN WRECK

    The Braves had big plans to rebuild their club when the members of the 1969 NL West champions began falling away due to retirement, age or a trade. Two rising stars that caused a good deal of the buzz were big first baseman Jim Breazeale, their first-round pick in the now-defunct January phase of the 1968 draft, and left-hander Mike McQueen, who was taken in the fourth round of that June’s draft at the age of 17.

    Breazeale had arrived with a bang, hitting his first big league homer in the final game of the 1971 season. He was described by Braves g.m. emeritus Paul Richards as “a Rusty Staub with more power.” He had hit over .300 in two of his four minor league seasons. With the Braves in 1972, he hit three pinch-hit homers and again hit .300.

    The Atlanta fans and management alike were hungry for a good, young left-handed starter when McQueen hit town with a bang. He was only one month past his 19th birthday when he threw a complete game victory against the Big Red Machine at the end of the 1970 season. In ‘71, he seemed to pick up when he left off as the teen got off to a 4-1 record before an elbow problem, later diagnosed as a stress fracture, derailed what would have been his rookie season.

    In September of 1971, he had to have surgery on a cracked elbow and was still on the comeback trail at the time of his wreck, having gone only 0-5 in the 1972 season.

    Late on the night of December 20, 1972, the pair of players were involved in a head-on collision when a car, trying to pass a truck, collided with their car near the small town of Uvalde, Texas.

    Originally, the Braves believed that the injuries were not that serious, until Atlanta Braves Player Personnel Director Eddie Robinson called Methodist Hospital in Houston during the day Thursday and found out that McQueen would be in traction for six weeks due to a “very serious” dislocated hip. Meanwhile, Breazeale suffered a fractured right ankle and cracked wrist.

    Robinson was told Breazeale, who had been expected to take over first base in 1973 so that Henry Aaron would be allowed to return to the outfield, would be in a cast for three months and would not be ready to play until June. That proved to be wildly optimistic.

    That anticipated return from his injuries never happened. Breazeale played only seven minor league games that 1973 season and he did not return to the majors until 1978.

    In the spring of 1974, Breazeale told the Palm Beach Post that the town of Uvalde had only one ambulance, and it was decided that McQueen and the other driver were the more seriously injured and were transported quickly. Meanwhile, Breazeale lay on the side of the road, fully conscious, until a local hearse could be summoned to pick him up.

    His injuries were likewise far worse that Robinson was led to believe. He had two broken bones below his knee, five broken metatarsal bones in that foot, three broken ribs and a broken wrist.

    “The doctor said it was the worst accident he’d ever seen where nobody died,” Breazeale told the Post. Further, he admitted, “I can run better than I can walk. … Looking back, I’m just glad I’m alive.”

    He couldn’t run, either, and his damaged legs wrecked him as a hitter as well. Marooned in Richmond while the Braves moved through an assortment of first basemen including Mike Lum and Darrell Evans, Breazeale did not show any hints of his former talent until the 1977 season, when he hit .263 with 19 homers in 119 games. The Chicago White Sox claimed him in the Rule V draft that winter and he managed to return to the majors for 25 games in 1978, hitting .208 with three homers.

    Breazeale retired after spending 1979 back in the minors.

    McQueen did not fare much better. His injuries kept him sidelined for the entire 1973 season, after which he was dropped from the 40-man roster. He was selected in the Rule V draft by the Reds, for whom he made 10 MLB appearances the following year. But after walking 11 compared to five strikeouts in only 17 innings, he was returned to the Braves on July 1. He was placed in Triple-A, then dealt to the Orioles a month later. He did not return to the majors.

    That looked to have been his last hurrah, but he attempted a comeback in 1977 with the Astros system, and threw the most innings he’d thrown since 1972. But that would be it.

    In 1972, when the future seemed so bright, this is what was written in Braves Illustrated:

    “Hank Aaron once remarked that Mike McQueen reminded him of a young Warren Spahn. The young left-hander is more interested in looking like he thinks Mike McQueen should look on a major league mound.”

  2. The Following 10 Users Say Thank You to rico43 For This Useful Post:

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    Where's My Cup of Coffee?
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    I remember that both of them were great prospects, but I had forgotten about the automobile accident. Thanks Rico.

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    10 yr, $185 million Extension striker42's Avatar
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    I'd never heard this story before. Thanks Rico!

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