Behold the genius of the 1983 Fleer Series!
I have written about this series before. The series was simply bananas. Fleer was new in the baseball card business and clearly could not get access to game shots, so they had to go around during batting practice and in the clubhouse to sneak shots.
The result was a bizarre collection of poses and unlikely cards, like this one of Rick Mahler in the clubhouse signing baseball.
Everything about this card screams 1983 Fleer. The setting is strange, the action is not exactly dramatic and is a little bit of an illusion breaker. Isn’t the concept of getting an autograph appealing because it creates the image that the player signed something specifically for one person, not a mass production like Lucy and Ethel at the Chocolate Conveyorbelt.
And his expression clinches it as well. It looks like he is saying “Really? Here? OK, take the picture, buddy.”
Mahler had a good solid career, mainly with the Braves. An undrafted free agent, Mahler signed with the Atlanta organization in 1975. In 1977, he made it to AA and made an impression on the organization as a starter and reliever for Savanah. In 1979, he got his first call up to Atlanta but he did not stick.
In 1980, the 26 year old had a terrific season in AAA and there was no reason to keep him in the minors.
He began 1981 as a reliever for the Braves, going multiple innings in his games including a 3 shutout inning save in a May 15th game against San Francisco. With his ERA at 1.59 at the end of May, he was moved to the rotation. His success was mixed as a starter but did throw a complete game victory against the playoff bound Astros on September 23.
Mahler was the opening day starter for 1982 and rewarded manager Joe Torre with a 2 hit shutout of San Diego. His second start was also a complete game shutout, this time of Houston. He helped the Braves get off to their amazing start and capture the South’s imagination.
His superstar start was met with a mixed bag between May, June and July. Sometimes he would look like an ace, but as his 4.40 ERA would suggest, other times, he would get bombed.
In August and September, as the Braves raced with the Dodgers and Giants for the NL West title (remind me why Atlanta was in the West), he would switch between the bullpen and rotation. He did pitch into the 10th in a game against the Expos on August 18th while other days providing long relief.
He pitched an inning and two thirds of shutout ball in the NLCS against the Cardinals but the Braves were swept.
1983 was a tough year for Mahler as he spent most of the season back in AAA , making only 10 relief appearances. But by 1984, he was back in the big leagues for good. As the Braves stunk on national cable television, Mahler was one of their most reliable innings eaters.
Regularly he would give Atlanta well over 200 innings, often seeing his win total in the teens for truly dreadful clubs.
After the 1988 season, he signed with the Reds and was there in time for the Pete Rose suspension and the chaos of 1989.
In 1990, however, he was a spot starter and managed to get 4 saves in the deep Reds bullpen that went wire to wire. He returned to the post season, throwing 1 2/3 shutout innings again, this time against the Pirates in the NLCS. The Reds would win the pennant and ultimately the World Series, earning Mahler his ring.
He spent 1991 with the Expos before returning to Atlanta in time to see them win the NL Pennant. He wasn’t on the playoff roster but was there for the good times and the bad.
Rick Mahler passed away on March 2, 2005. No word of where any of those autographed baseballs ended up