Mahler made five Opening Day starts for Braves

Updated: March 2, 2005, 6:23 PM ET
Associated Press

VIERA, Fla. -- Rick Mahler, who won nearly 100 games during a 13-year career spent mostly with the Atlanta Braves, died Wednesday. He was 51.

Mahler died of a heart attack at home in Jupiter, Fla., while preparing for his second season as a minor league pitching coach for the New York Mets, the team said. He was set to rejoin the Mets' Class-A team in Port St. Lucie.

New York pitcher Tom Glavine telephoned the Braves to inform them of his former teammate's death shortly before Atlanta played Georgia Tech in its first exhibition game of the spring.

"He was a great guy, a great teammate,'' Glavine said. "I talked to him a lot about pitching when I first came up. He was a big help, especially for a young guy who was struggling.''

Mahler pitched in the majors from 1979-91, going 96-111 with a 3.99 ERA. His best season came in 1985, when he went 17-15 with a 3.48 ERA for the Braves. The next year, he led the majors with 18 losses.

The right-hander started on Opening Day for the Braves five times in the 1980s, including the first game of the '82 season, when Atlanta went on to win the NL West title. Mahler made four straight Opening Day starts beginning in 1985.

In 1987, he tied an NL record with his third opening day shutout.

"Rick was a great competitor,'' longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He could pitch.''

Glavine, who played with Mahler from 1987-88 and again in '91, said the right-hander was always fun to be around, even if things weren't going well.

"One of those veteran guys who was always trying to help other people,'' Glavine said. "My first year in the big leagues I lost 17 games. He was always there to kind of lift you up. Always upbeat.''

Mahler pitched twice in the playoffs -- with the Braves in 1982 and in 1990 with the Cincinnati team that went on to win the World Series. He also appeared in 10 games with the Montreal Expos in 1991.

Mahler's brother, Mickey, also pitched in the majors for eight seasons between 1977-86, finishing 14-32 with a 4.68 ERA. The brothers were teammates in 1979, and at least once pitched in the same game.

Before joining the Mets, Mahler served as a minor league pitching coach for Kansas City and Florida, and was a roving instructor for the Cardinals. He also managed St. Louis' Double-A affiliate in the Texas League from 1996-97.

"He taught a lot of guys a lot of stuff,'' Mets reliever Mike Matthews said. "The kind of guy you could really admire.''

Mahler is survived by his wife, Sheryl, and five children.

"Our heart goes out to Sheryl and his children,'' senior vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette said Wednesday after the Mets lost their spring training opener 5-3 to the Washington Nationals. "Obviously, it's a difficult day for the organization.''


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press