While doing some research for another project, I came across a series of interesting discoveries regarding players who once suited up for the Atlanta Braves.
There have been plenty of players who have started their careers in Atlanta (Jermaine Dye, Jason Marquis, Jason Schmidt to name a few), but I was more interested in players who started out or made their name elsewhere, but towards the end of their career made a cameo in Atlanta.
There were some surprising names.
From 1966 to 1998 seven players who went on to become big-time managers took the field for Atlanta.
Felipe Alou, Joe Torre, Cito Gaston, Dusty Baker, Tony La Russa, Davey Johnson, and Ozzie Guillen all spent time during their playing careers with the Braves.
Five of the seven have won at least one World Series as a manager, and two of them (La Russa and Torre) will go down in history as a couple of the greatest managers ever.
Too bad there was no precursor of that success during their time with the Bravos.
One of the game’s most iconic broadcasters sucked as a catcher in portions of six seasons in the big leagues.
In his banner season of 1966 he hit .208 with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 78 games with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He actually started and ended his playing career with the Braves (the first two seasons were in Milwaukee).
His last season in the majors he hit .146 with three home runs and 13 RBI. He played in 62 games that year catching a pitching staff that probably helped inspire his iconic line, “Juuust a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.”
Simmons had some big-time years with the Cardinals in the 1970s highlighted by his 1975 season in which he hit .332 with 18 home runs and 100 RBI in 156 games—almost all as a catcher.
He was primarily a backstop in his career but he also played some first base, third base, and outfield.
But by the time he made it to the Braves his career was moving toward the light. He managed just 10 home runs and 66 RBI in three seasons as a backup catcher and first baseman on some awful Atlanta teams.
Nettles was a fixture at the hot corner for the powerhouse Yankees teams of the ‘70s.
For the Braves in his next-to-last season he made himself a fixture near the Mendoza line. He dropped five of his 390 career bombs as a Brave while hitting .208 and driving in 33 runs.
When you can’t nudge Ken Oberkfell out of the starting lineup, you know it’s time to call it a career.
Charlton made a name for himself as one of the Nasty Boys in the Reds bullpen when they led the NL West from start to finish and won the World Series in 1990.
That year Charlton went 12-9 as a reliever and setup man for the maniacal Rob Dibble.
Charlton made 13 forgettable appearances for the Bravos in 1998 before bouncing around a few more years and eventually hanging it up after the 2001 season.
El Presidente spent his last year in office as a member of the Braves in 1998.
After spending most of his career as a starter, most notably for the Orioles and Expos, he was used primarily as a reliever in his final season.
He won 245 games in his long career and tossed a memorable perfect game for Montreal in 1991 against the Dodgers. (The Braves won the NL West that year by one game over L.A. Gracias, El Presidente!)
He went 4-6 for Atlanta in ’98 and recorded two of his eight career saves.
(Yes, that's him in the photo.)
I’ve followed the Braves closely since childhood, but I must confess to having absolutely no memory of Bonilla playing in Atlanta.
That may be because his distinct mediocrity that year was subconsciously deleted from my cognizance.
He played in 114 games for the Braves, mostly as a left fielder, and batted .255 with five home runs and 28 RBI.
His best years were when he was a budding star with the Pirates and Mets in the early- and mid-‘90s. And oddly enough he was on the 1997 Marlins team that won the World Series.
Bonilla’s career numbers ended up pretty good, but injuries and a sense of general indifference left him well short of the potential that he flashed early in his career.
Why the Braves went through this odd faze of signing washed-up big names in the early 2000s escapes any logical explanation.
By the time he reached Atlanta, the former MVP and admitted doper had apparently set aside his needles and pills in an effort to clean up his act.
His performance was decidedly un-enhanced.
He hit .222 with six home runs and 16 RBI in a failed attempt to supplant Rico Brogna from the starting first baseman’s job. (Brogna was so impressive that by the following season he was coaching high school basketball.)
Unfortunately, Caminiti never found a taste for the straight and narrow and died of what was ruled an accidental drug overdose just over a year after his career ended in Atlanta.
Why the Braves went through this odd faze of signing washed-up…oh, never mind.
Mondesi had a hey-day with the Dodgers and Blue Jays from 1994 to 2001, a period in which he averaged more than 26 home runs and 85 RBI.
The Braves took a flier on him as a stopgap outfielder between whoever was playing there the year before and a promising young rookie named Jeff Francoeur.
Mondesi lasted all of two months with the Braves as he hit .211 with four home runs and 17 RBI before being released on May 31.
B.J. Surhoff, Hoyt Wilhelm, Reggie Sanders, Clete Boyer...