One question, hundreds of answers. Which Brave had the greatest offensive season at his position?
Major League baseball has been asking fans this same question in an effort to choose each team's best ever collection of stars. They are calling it MLB 9s.
My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:
Catcher: Javier Lopez (2003)
Javy Lopez wins the battle for the best offensive year by a Braves’ catcher hands-down. 2003 marked his first All Star appearance since the back-to-back nominations in 1997-98 and it was statistically the greatest single season of his career.
He hit 43 home runs, drove in 109 batters and scored 89 runs, all against a backdrop of a .328 batting average. His .687 slugging percentage was second in the National League only to Barry Bonds, while he was only four home runs behind leaders Jim Thome and Alex Rodriguez. He also led all catchers in total bases, extra base hits and RBI.
Highlight Game: June 21, 2003 vs Baltimore. Lopez drove in six runs in a two-homer night, going 2-for-4 and helping the Braves to a comfortable 10-2 victory.
Competition: Joe Torre sure came close to taking this battle, belting 36 home runs and driving in 101 with a .315 batting average in 1966. Lopez’s numbers are just that much better across the board.
First Base: Andres Galarraga (1998)
Galarraga made a splash in his first season with the Braves, launching 44 home runs and driving in 121 men. The 37-year-old scored 103 runs and ended the season with a .305 batting average, finishing sixth in the MVP voting.
Galarraga had eight multi-home run games (tied for first all-time with Javy Lopez in 2003) as well as a franchise-high 28 on the road which is yet to be beaten. The first baseman is also the Brave most-hit by a pitch in a season with 25.
Highlight Game: July 15, 1998 @ New York Mets. Galarraga went 3-for-4 with two home runs, five RBI, three runs, a steal, and a hit by pitch as the Braves dismantled the Mets at Shea Stadium 12-1.
Competition: This is just a straight battle of power bat versus power bat. No finesse, no speed, just raw boom. Fred McGriff (1994), Joe Adcock (1956) and Orlando Cepeda (1970) all had at least 34 homers, 94 RBI and a .291 average, but Galarrage put up 44-121-.305.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby (1928)
Considered by many Braves’ fans as the best offensive showing from one of their second basemen, Hornsby’s 1928 season with the Boston Braves was stunning.
He hit .387 and had an on base percentage of .498. Hornsby hit 21 home runs and seven triples, driving in 94 runs and coming around to score 99 times. The batting champ also led the league in walks with 107 and stole five bases. Hornsby would win his second MVP award the following year with the Chicago Cubs.
Highlight Game: August 18, 1928 @ Cincinnati. Hornsby took the Reds’ Dolf Lugue deep twice, once in the fourth inning and then again in the ninth, for his 234th and 235th home runs of his career.
Competition: I was torn between Hornsby and the 1973 season of Davey Johnson. How can you root against a guy with 43 dingers? The answer is with a .387 batting average, even if he did finish 13th in the MVP race that year. Fun fact: Johnson also finished 13th in the NL MVP race of ’73.
Shortstop: Jeff Blauser (1993)
Blauser narrowly edges out the 2003 season of Rafael Furcal for the best single season by a shortstop. Blauser, a first-time All Star in ’93, batted .305 with 73 RBI, drilling 15 home runs and stealing 16 bases.
Only Barry Bonds and Lenny Dykstra were on base more often. If you want to give this category to Furcal, I would be happy with that too—his speed certainly justifies his place up there.
Highlight Game: May 7, 1993 @ Colorado. Blauser went 3-for-3 with two bombs, a double, a walk, sac fly, and four RBI in a 13-5 victory against Don Baylor’s Rockies.
Competition: Edgar Renteria is worthy of a mention for his .332 average and dozen home runs of 2007, as is the 2003 season of Rafael Furcal for 15 homers, 25 steals, and 130 runs.
Third Base: Chipper Jones (1999)
Larry Chipper Jones had the best season of his career in 1999, his fifth full season with the Braves. Jones continued to grow as a hitter, winning his first MVP award with 96 percent of first place votes ahead of Houston’s Jeff Bagwell.
He hit 45 home runs, drove in 110 runs and was 25-for-28 on the base paths. He also batted .319 and was ranked second among all National League players for extra base hits with 87.
Highlight Game: July 7, 1999 @ New York Mets. Chipper continued to torment the Mets, going 2-for-2 with a pair of dingers, two walks and a stolen base. The damage could have been a lot worse but, with a 12-0 lead, the Braves rested Chipper in the seventh inning, losing him two at bats.
Competition: Average, power and speed. Chipper is a true five-tool player and his ’99 season is hard to match. Eddie Matthews’ 1953 season is as close as it gets, he was just missing the wheels.
Outfield: Hank Aaron (1963)
Aaron played 21 seasons with the Braves and you could probably make an argument for any of five different seasons being the best by an outfielder in Braves’ history. There was the year he hit .355 with 39 home runs (1959), his MVP season of 1957 and his 1971 where he launched 31 dingers at home—still a franchise record.
But I am selecting the perennial All Star’s 1963 season with the Milwaukee Braves where he batted .319 with 44 home runs, 130 RBI, 78 walks and a career-high 31 steals. He led the league in runs scored (121), extra base hits (83) and runs batted in, plus he was second in the NL in steals. Sandy Kofax was 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA in 1963, the only man standing between him and a second MVP.
Highlight Game: September 10, 1963 @ Cincinnati. Strangely, nothing spectacular. A 3-for-4, two-RBI, two-home run game against the Reds is about the best of the year. It’s more of a testament to his consistency than anything else and it was his only multi-homer game of the season.
Dale Murphy (1983)
Murphy won his second consecutive MVP award with the Braves in 1983, shining brighter than even the previous year. Murphy hit 36 home runs, drove in a National League-high 121 runs, came across to score 131 times, stole 30 bags and walked 90 times.
He also led the league in slugging percentage at .540 but could not guide the Braves back to the playoffs in Joe Torre’s second year in charge.
Highlight Game: September 8, 1983 @ San Francisco. Clean-up hitter Murphy went 3-for-4 with two home runs and a double. He scored four times, drove in four men and was walked three times in a 12-9 victory over the Giants.
Gary Sheffield (2003)
As hot as Jones was, I’m going to controversially give it to Sheffield. His 2003 campaign saw Shef at his very best offensively. As well as a .330 average, he drove in 132 runs, scored 126 times and walked 86 times.
Barry Bonds may have walked his way to the MVP, but Shef was the second best player in baseball that year, combining power and speed with clutch hitting.
Highlight Game: July 18, 2003 vs New York Mets. Another Brave who beat down the Mets. Shef went 5-for-5 with two home runs and four RBI, powering Atlanta to a 11-4 win in the second game of a four-game sweep.
Competition: Ah, the age-old question. What is better—power or speed? I had one outfield spot to fill, but a shortlist of four. Otis Nixon set a franchise record with 72 steals in 1991; Gary Sheffield batted .330 with 39 home runs and 18 steals in 2003; Ron Gant had a 30-30 season in 1990; and Andruw Jones hit a franchise-high 51 homers in 2005.
Pitcher: Kid Nichols (1901)
Who? My thoughts exactly. But research told me that Nichols—a member of the Boston Beaneaters— batted .282 with four home runs, 28 RBI and 13 runs at the turn of the century. You may not know who he is, but those numbers are good enough for me.
Competition: Eddie Eayrs batted .328 with 24 RBI and 34 runs back in 1920, and Jim Tobin hit six bombs in 1942. As with most National league teams, the depth of offensive pitchers is weak.
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