It's interesting that this week's Open Mic topic is a team's all-time lineup, as ESPN started discussing the all-time franchise players for each major league team. Considering the history of the Braves' franchise goes back to the Boston Red Caps in 1876, there's a lot of potential players to put in the lineup. Because this history is so deep, some seemingly obvious choices are going to be either out of position or not in the starting lineup.
46 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame were members of the Braves organization at some point in history. While technically Babe Ruth was a Brave, his contributions in a Brave uniform were dwarfed by his years with the Yankees and even the Red Sox. In order to be considered, a player had to spend at least 5 years with the Braves.
For instance - Chipper Jones has the 2nd highest lifetime batting average for a switch-hitter (behind Frankie Frisch's .316), and 3rd on the all-time homeruns list for switch-hitters behind Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray. He's 3rd on the all-time home run list for 3rd basemen, with Mike Schmidt leading the pack. All of the people in front of him on these 3 lists are in the Hall of Fame, and someday Chipper will join them. The problem is for this lineup, since Eddie Mathews is already in the Hall of Fame with his 512 homers and 14 straight seasons with 23+ homeruns.
So - let's get the pitching out of the way because it's the easiest. Of the 23 pitchers who have reached 300 wins, eight have played for the Braves organization at one time or another. Only two (Gaylord Perry and Cy Young) played a majority of their careers for other teams. John Clarkson played 5 of his 12 years with the Boston Beaneaters, having an unheard of 49 wins in 1888 and then again in 1889. The other five make up our all-time Braves starting rotation.
Where's Smoltz? In addition to winning over 200 games in his career and being one of the best post-season pitchers in history, he's also the Braves career saves leader, and is tied for the NL record for saves in a season with 55 in 2002. It's hard to keep him off this list, but it's hard to leave any of the five guys listed off this list.
For people following baseball today, Glavine and Maddux need no explanation. 655 combined wins, 6 total Cy Young Awards, only begin to describe that pair. Warren Spahn is 5th on the all-time wins list with 363, the winningest left-hander ever, played in 3 World Series and pitched a no-hitter after he turned 40. Kid NIchols won 5 pennants with the old Boston Beaneaters between 1890 and 1901 and is tied for 6th on the all-time wins list with 361. Phil Neikro is one of very few knuckleballers in the Hall of Fame, and earned many of his 318 wins on some really bad Braves teams. The only two years he went to the playoffs were with the Braves in 1969 (23-13, 2.57) and in 1982 (17-4, 3.61), as both times the Braves lost in the NLCS.
Sorry John Smoltz - guess you'll be the closer for the Braves this time.
Now getting to the lineup, we have our position battles like at catcher (Javy Lopez, Del Crandall, Joe Torre or Brian McCann), third base (Eddie Mathews or Chipper Jones), and center field (Andruw Jones or Dale Murphy).
Other positions there are no obvious choices at all. One position fills out nicely - shortstop. Or, maybe not.
Rafael Furcal may have been the most talented shortstop the Braves have ever had, but he's not in the Hall of Fame with 2600 hits and a runner up for the MVP for a team that scored one of the biggest upsets in World Series history. That distinction belongs to Rabbit Maranville, who was one of the key components of the Miracle Braves of 1914, who shocked the A's and swept the 1914 World Series. His career offensive stats don't compare to modern numbers, but at the time a .258 lifetime average for a shortstop was considered pretty good. Also, the RBI didn't become a statistic until his 9th season in the majors.
Despite Maranville's accomplishments, we're going to need a position change. There's no way I can put Rabbit Maranville in the all-time Braves lineup and leave out either Chipper Jones or Eddie Mathews. Since Chipper Jones was drafted as a shortstop and has major league experience (about 80 games I believe) at the position despite being a third basemen for 14 seasons and playing parts of three seasons in left field, we're putting him and his bat at shortstop over Maranville.
This makes the choice for third base much easier. Eddie Mathews played in all three cities for the Braves, the only player to do so. He retired after 17 seasons in the majors in 1968, hitting .271 with 1503 runs scored, 512 homeruns and 1453 RBI. Although he was a bench player his final season with the Tigers, he did earn a 2nd World Series ring in 1968 to add the one he earned in Milwaukee in 1957.
The Braves have had a number of memorable second basemen over the past 50 seasons. Red Schoendienst is in the Hall of Fame and was a huge part of the '57 and '58 teams that went to the Worls Series, but played most of his career in St. Louis. Mark Lemke was a mainstay at 2nd in the 90s, as was Glenn Hubbard in the 80s. However, neither of these two were great offensive players. Davey Johnson had 3 good years with the Braves, hitting 43 homeruns and setting the record for second basemen.
However, the most likely player to be the 2nd baseman on the all-time Braves team is Felix Millan. He was a career .279 hitter, only struck out 242 times in over 5700 career at-bats, won two Gold Gloves and made two All-Star teams during his 8 seasons with the Braves from 1966 to 1973.
Looking to the outfield - three names jump out at you. One is in the Hall of Fame and arguably the greatest player in Major League History. One has back-to-back MVPs, and the third won ten straight Gold Gloves all by the time he was 30.
Andruw Jones would start in center field. He's the best defensive player of the bunch (looking at his time with the Braves - not this season obviously). Dale Murphy's arm would put him in right field. Henry Aaron would be playing left as he did in All-Star Games because Willie Mays was in center and Roberto Clemente was in right. He won three straight Gold Gloves in right field from 1958 to 1960. This outfield has about 1400 homeruns in a Braves uniform along with 18 Gold Gloves and over 4,000 career RBI. I'll take this group anyday.
Mark Teixeira had one great season with the Braves, but that doesn't qualify him for this list. For most Braves fans' the biggest name to come to mind is probably Fred McGriff. The Crime Dog did have a great career with several teams, but only 4 1/2 seasons were with the Braves. Orlando Cepeda is a Hall of Fame first baseman, but while he had some great years with the Braves, he spent most of his years in San Francisco.
As a result, the all-time Braves first baseman is Joe Adcock. He spent ten years with the Braves from 1953 to 1962. He hit .277 with 336 homeruns and over 1100 RBI in a 17 year career, often overshadowed by other National League first baseman like Ted Kluszewski, Willie McCovey and Gil Hodges. He was an excellent defensive first basemen, having the 3rd highest single-season fielding percentage (.994) in major league history. For a time, he held the record for most total bases in a single game with 18, hitting four homers and a double in 1954, until it was broken by Shawn Green in 2002.
Catcher may be the position that brings up the biggest debate. Brian McCann may one day go down as the greatest catcher to ever wear a Braves uniform. He's the only Brave player to go to an All-Star game in each of his first 3 full seasons in the majors, and might get to 100 career homeruns when he is only 25 years old.
Joe Torre was a career .297 hitter, and played 9 seasons with the Braves, earning a Gold Glove in the process. His best year was after he was traded to the Cardinals and won an MVp in St. Louis in 1971.
Del Crandall won four Gold Gloves during his 15 years in the Braves organization, going to eight All-Star Games. However, he was never a high average hitter, but did have 3 seasons with 20+ homeruns.
In a tight race, the catcher for the all-time Braves team has to be Javy Lopez. He played on three World Series teams during his 11+ years in Atlanta. He was voted to 3 All-Star Games, won a Silver Slugger and Comeback Player of the Year in 2003, when he set the single season homerun mark for catchers. For his career, Lopez hit .290 with 263 HR and 867 RBI.
For the rest of the backups on the roster. We'll include the following.
Joe Torre (1B/3B)
Del Crandall (C)
Rabbit Maranville (SS/2B)
Fred McGriff (1B)
David Justice (OF)
and in the bullpen
I could deal with a lineup that looks like. . . .
2B - Felix Millan
1B - Joe Adcock
SS - Chipper Jones
LF - Henry Aaron
3B - Eddie Mathews
RF - Dale Murphy
CF - Andruw Jones
C - Javy Lopez
P - Warren Spahn/Greg Maddux
Couldn't you??? Bobby Cox is a smart manager already. He'd be thrilled to put this lineup card out every day.