Next up in this series is a franchise that has been around since 1871, though they went through a variety of name changes early on, and have been relocated twice. What we now know as the Atlanta Braves, originally began as the Boston Red Stockings. They also were known as the Boston Beaneaters (my favorite!), Boston Doves, and Boston Rustlers, before finally settling on Boston Braves in 1912. There was a brief period in the ’30’s when ownership tried to reshape the team’s image by changing their name to the Boston Bees, but it was short-lived. In 1953, owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee where their top minor-league team (the Brewers) played. After Perini sold the team in 1962 to a group led by William Bartholomay, the new ownership immediately began looking for a larger television market to move into. Atlanta turned out to be the spot, and (a year after having to put things on hold because of an injunction by the state of Wisconsin), in 1966, they officially became the Atlanta Braves.
What that means for today’s post is that there is a lot of history to this team. There may be names you aren’t as familiar with, on this list. So, take a couple minutes, and enjoy the history lesson. Here are the 5 greatest Atlanta/Milwaukee/Boston Braves players in history:
5. Eddie Mathews (’52-’66) – this HOFer is the only player to have played for the Braves in all 3 cities. His rookie year was in Boston, he moved with them to Milwaukee, and his last year with the organization was in ’66, when they moved to Atlanta. Mathews ranks 2nd all-time (behind you-know-who) on the Braves’ HR list, with 493. He’s also 3rd in hits (2201), 5th in SLG (.517), and 3rd in OPS (.896). Mathews appeared in 9 All-Star games, and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 4 times, though he never won.
4. Warren Spahn (’42-’64) – Spahn spent all but the final season of his HOF career with the Braves organization. He started out in Boston, moved with them to Milwaukee, and retired just before they moved to Atlanta. He ranks 5th on the All-Time career wins list (363) – and, that’s all-time, not just among Braves pitchers. He’s obviously at the top of the Braves’ win list, with 356 of his wins coming with them. He led the league in wins 8 times – the last time in 1961, at the age of 40! The Cy Young award wasn’t introduced until 1956, when Spahn was already 35 years old. But, he won it the very next year at the age of 36. And, based on where he finished in the MVP voting, I think it’s safe to say he likely would have won 2 more in ’49 & ’53. He represented the Braves in 14 All-Star games. And, among pitchers that pitched at least 1000 innings for the organization, he ranks 9th in ERA (3.05), 11th in win pct. (.609), 7th in WHIP (1.19), and 3rd in K’s (2,493). All of this, in spite of missing three full seasons during his prime, as he served in WWII.
3. Greg Maddux (’93-’03) – if Maddux had spent his entire career in Atlanta, then we might actually have some debate about who belongs at #1. But, he still accomplished some amazing things in the 11 seasons he played there. In spite of pitching over 800 fewer innings than everyone ahead of him, he still ranks 6th on their all-time wins list (194). Among pitchers to pitch at least 1,000 innings for the Braves, he ranks 4th in ERA (2.63), 1st in win pct. (.688), 1st in WHIP (1.05), 4th in K/9 (6.51), 5th in K’s (1828), and 2nd in K/BB ratio (4.77). He won 3 Cy Youngs in Atlanta (while finishing in the top-5 four more times), 10 Gold Gloves (his most underrated stat), and appeared in 6 All-Star games. All this, in just 11 of his impressive 23 years playing.
2. Chipper Jones (’93-’12) – it’s a shame that Chipper played in the era he did. If hitting 50+ home runs hadn’t become so commonplace, he would get so much more credit than he does. There’s a reason he made my “Most Underrated” list last year. When you start comparing him to some of the all-time greats, you realize just how special Larry Wayne Jones was. He should be considered the 2nd greatest switch-hitter of all time, behind only Mantle. And, he’s in the discussion for 2nd greatest third-baseman of all-time, behind Schmidt (it just depends on whether you favor offense or defense, to decide between Chipper and Brooks Robinson). But, all that aside, there’s no question he’s the 2nd greatest Braves player in history. In Braves history he ranks 14th in batting (.303), 2nd in OBP (.401), 3rd in SLG (.529), 2nd in OPS (.930), 2nd in hits (2726), 3rd in HR (468), 2nd in RBI (1623), and 2nd in runs created (1965). An 8-time All-Star, he won the MVP in ’99, and had 5 more top-10 finishes. It was quite the career, and there’s no doubt in my mind he should be a first-ballot HOFer.
1. Hank Aaron (’54-’74) – the legitimate all-time HR king spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves, split between Milwaukee and Atlanta, smacking 733 of his career 755 HR with the organization. Interestingly, the last two seasons of his career, he went back to Milwaukee to play for the Brewers. I imagine that there will be several teams throughout this series of posts that will have 2 or maybe 3 guys that have a legitimate argument for being ranked as the best to ever play for an organization. But, there’s no debate here. Aaron ranks 3rd on the All-Time hits list (3,771), only trailing Cobb & Rose (1st on the Braves’ list with 3600); and he still holds the All-Time RBI record (2,297 – 2,202 with the Braves). He also ranks 1st all-time with the Braves in SLG (.567), OPS (.944), Doubles (600), and runs created (2465 – 500 more than 2nd place!). Aaron is one of the all-time greats. No doubt he belongs at the top of this list.