Chipper Jones and the 15 Biggest Icons in Atlanta Braves History

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIDecember 20, 2011

Chipper Jones and the 15 Biggest Icons in Atlanta Braves History

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    The history of the Atlanta Braves has seen numerous Hall of Fame and soon-to-be Hall of Fame players come through town, especially within the last 20 years.

    Third baseman Chipper Jones was the one hitter that was a constant Brave for almost the entire dynasty in the 1990s and early 2000s. After being a part of nearly the entire run, he has become an icon after winning a World Series ring, batting title and MVP among other accomplishments.

    This article takes a look at Chipper and the 14 other biggest icons in the history of the franchise, dating back to its days in Boston.

15. John Schuerholz

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    The architect of the Braves' dynasty, former general manager John Schuerholz, played a big part in the success of the club. Schuerholz took over as general manager in 1990 and stayed until 2007, at which point he retired to a role as club president.

    During his tenure, Schuerholz made countless big moves that worked out well. From the signing of Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, to acquiring Fred McGriff, to bringing in players such as Marquis Grissom, Denny Neagle, Gary Sheffield and Tim Hudson, it seemed like Schuerholz always made the right move.

    It also seemed like Schuerholz got away without giving up much in his big trades, as up until his final big trade only a few players had succeeded in a big way with their next club. Sure he gave up Adam Wainwright, Jason Schmidt and Jermaine Dye, but all of the other big prospects he gave up never lived up to the hype. Schuerholz moved prospects like Andy Marte, Bruce Chen, Melvin Nieves and many others at the height of their prospect status.

    For that reason, Schuerholz is loved by the Braves fanbase. His last big deal in 2007—the Mark Teixeira deal where he gave up Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison for a one-year rental—sticks in the mind of fans today and is the only reason that he isn't ranked higher.

14. Phil Niekro

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    Phil Niekro spent 21 of his 24 major league seasons in a Braves uniform. The 318-game winner won 268 of those games in a Braves uniform, making him among the best pitchers in the history of a franchise that has seen the likes of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Warren Spahn among others.

    That's not the only reason Niekro is one of the biggest icons in franchise history, however. He was famous for his knuckleball, something that always got him attention. Not like he needed the extra attention, as he was a large personality who pitched until he was 48 years old.

    The combination of his long-term success, the knuckleball and his personality makes him one of the biggest icons in franchise history. The fact that he managed a women's baseball team that traveled the country playing semi-professional men's teams only strengthens his reputation for being an interesting personality.

13. Terry Pendleton

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    On December 3, 1990, the Atlanta Braves signed Terry Pendleton. The free-agent third baseman from the St. Louis Cardinals had hit .277 with six homers that season, and was expected to fill a hole for the worst team in the league.

    What ended up happening was better than anyone could have anticipated, as Pendleton went on to hit .319 with 22 homers. That was good enough to win him the 1991 National League MVP Award and help lift the Braves from the cellar to a division title and a World Series appearance.

    Pendleton's role in starting the long run of success can't be measured, as he provided a veteran presence for a young team. He then went on to have two more strong seasons before making way for young top prospect Chipper Jones.

    While Pendleton's run as hitting coach didn't exactly go smoothly, his place in the heart of most fans remains unchanged. His monster season out of nowhere helped bring the team from nowhere to the top, which means that he will forever be an icon.

12. David Justice

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    David Justice won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1990, when he hit .282 with 28 homers. The slugger quickly became one of the great young stars in the game, and his marriage to top Hollywood actress Halle Berry got him even more press.

    Justice was a good player the remainder of his Braves career, before being traded to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton in 1997, but never became an elite player in Atlanta other than his 40-homer season in 1993. Overall he spent parts of eight seasons with the Braves and hit .275 with 160 homers with the franchise. 

    The young slugging right fielder was a middle-of-the-order threat with a huge fan following. His postseason heroics of hitting six playoff homers in the team's runs to the World Series in 1991 and 1992 have helped cement his status as an icon in Atlanta.

11. Ted Turner

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    Before Mark Cuban came along, Ted Turner was the owner who took over a struggling team and drew criticism from the league for his antics, but in the end would do whatever it would take for his team to win.

    The media mogul bought the team in 1976, and quickly made his mark on the team. He spent big money on free agents at the beginning of the free-agent era, something he continued until the end of his ownership of the team. He also owned TBS, the television station that helped the Braves become the first team on national television every night—something that brought in fans from all across the nation.

    Turner's personality also drew fans' interest, like the 1977 incident where he tried to manage the team during the middle of a long losing streak. He was also married to actress Jane Fonda.

    Turner eventually lost control of the team after selling his Time Warner empire to America-Online, which became AOL Time-Warner. Eventually Liberty Media took over the team after some business deals.

    Turner is beloved by Braves fans, and it's hard to find fans that don't want him to come back as owner if/when new owner Liberty Media sells the team. The way he built the team and the fanbase, as well as his personality have earned him a spot on this list.

10. Andruw Jones

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    After being the top prospect in the game for two seasons, the Braves brought up 19-year-old center fielder Andruw Jones down the stretch in 1996. Jones played in 31 games and only hit .217 with five homers, but made his impact felt when it counted. Jones hit .400 with two homers of his three postseason homers in a tough World Series loss to the Yankees.

    While Jones went on to have an up-and-down rookie year in 1997, he really broke out in 1998. He went on to hit .263 with 368 homers in parts of 12 seasons with the Braves, and won a total of 10 Gold Glove Awards. Jones became the best defensive center fielder in the game, and among the best in the history of the game in addition to being a middle-of-the-order slugger.

    The Braves allowed Jones to leave as a free agent following the 2007 season, after he posted a career-worst mark of .222 with 26 homers as a 30-year-old. He is still playing today, but is more of a bench or platoon player than the star we once watched.

    The early decline, likely due to poor conditioning, is the reason that he isn't ranked higher. However, during his time Jones was one of the most exciting players in all of baseball, both with the bat and the glove. That fact combined with the success of the team is enough to earn him a top-10 spot on this list.

9. Eddie Mathews

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    Third baseman Eddie Mathews was the Chipper Jones of his time, although he did most of his production in the shadow of Hank Aaron. Mathews, who played with the team from 1952 until being traded in 1966, appeared on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated.

    During his 15-year career with the Braves, Mathews hit .273 with 493 of his 512 career homers. He also played strong defense at the hot corner despite not winning a Gold Glove Award during his career. He may have only hit .300 or better three times with the Braves, but he went 10 consecutive seasons with at least 29 homers.

    Mathews falls a little short of some of the other guys on this list because he played in the shadow of Aaron. He is clearly one of the biggest icons in franchise history, but he failed to get the same level of attention that Aaron did, and the biggest icons are the ones getting that type of attention.

8. Dale Murphy

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    Dale Murphy was Andruw Jones before Andruw Jones came along. The fifth overall pick in the 1974 MLB draft, Murphy was a hyped prospect. Although he didn't begin his career in center field, he would eventually end up there after failing at other positions defensively.

    Murphy's true comparison to Jones starts with his five consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1982 through 1986. That's not the only thing though, as he was also a feared slugger who won two National League home run titles. Murphy may have been a better offensive player than Jones, as he won the 1982 and 1983 MVP Awards.

    Murphy wasn't just a great player who hit 398 career homers, but he was a great person as well. A devout Mormon, Murphy avoided drugs and alcohol. He was also very fan-friendly, which only contributes to his status as a franchise icon.

    Murphy was the type of player that teams love to have, as he was a well-rounded star on the field and a great human being off the field. While his success didn't last long enough, there is a reason that Braves fans want to see him elected into the Hall of Fame.

7. John Smoltz

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    A prospect acquired from the Tigers in the deal that sent Doyle Alexander to Detroit, John Smoltz was never expected to become an ace. However, Smoltz not only became an ace, but also an elite closer.

    The 1996 Cy Young Award winner won a total of 213 games and saved a total of 154 games over a career that lasted 21 seasons. Smoltz, who finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting in 1998 as a starter, went down with an arm injury late in 1999. When it was time to return, partly because of his health and partly because of the team's pitching depth, Smoltz agreed to move to the bullpen.

    After a strong year in his return in 2001, Smoltz became the full-time closer the next three seasons. He was so good as a closer that he was named to two All-Star teams and earned MVP votes in each of the three seasons. However, after that great three-year run, Smoltz decided to make the move back to the starting rotation.

    Smoltz went on to win 44 games over his first three seasons back in the rotation, and was off to a strong start in 2008 before an injury ended his season after only six games. Smoltz came back in 2009, but pitched for the Cardinals and Red Sox, and never found his form. He would retire after that season at the age of 42.

    Smoltz was one of the three big starters that started the Braves' long run of division titles. His success in the rotation and bullpen, as well as the fact that he was willing to help his team and move to the bullpen for so long, helped to make him a fan favorite.

6. Bobby Cox

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    Bobby Cox began his managerial career with the Atlanta Braves in 1978, and lasted five seasons. He only managed one winning season, an 81-80 season in 1980. After the Braves let him go he went on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays for four seasons before returning to the Braves as a general manager.

    Cox eventually got another chance to manage the Braves, taking over in the middle of a last-place 1990 season. Cox helped the team turn around the next year and reach the World Series. That season would become the first division title for Cox and the Braves in a run of 14 consecutive division titles.

    Cox went on to manage the Braves for five more seasons after the streak ended, only reaching the playoffs in his final season—2010. During his career in Atlanta he won 2,149 games at a .557 winning percentage to go with a World Series title and five National League pennants.

    Cox was loved by both players and fans, and was a huge part of the Braves' dynasty. The success and amount of respect he had from both fans and opponents has made him one of the biggest icons in the history of the Braves. It's a near lock that he will one end up in the Hall of Fame, likely on the first or second ballot he is eligible.

5. Tom Glavine

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    Tom Glavine, a left-handed pitcher from Massachusetts who decided to sign with the Braves instead of the Los Angeles Kings—the NHL team that drafted him—went on to become one of the best left-handed pitchers in the history of the game.

    The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner won a total of 305 games during his 22-year career, with 244 coming in his 17 seasons with the Braves. He posted a 3.41 ERA with the Braves and had five seasons where he won at least 20 games. Glavine was a big-game pitcher who was dominant when it counted, going 4-3 with a 2.16 ERA in eight World Series starts.

    Glavine was not only a key front-of-the-rotation starter, but he was the team's ace prior to Greg Maddux signing for the 1993 season. Glavine's back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1991 and 1992 helped the Braves start their run of 14 consecutive division titles.

    The only reason that Glavine doesn't rank higher is because he left after the 2002 season to sign with the rival New York Mets, the organization he actually picked up his 300th win with. In the end, Glavine came back to Atlanta in 2008 as a 42-year-old to finish out his career.

    The success he had is enough to keep him high on this list despite taking the Mets' offer as a free agent.

4. Warren Spahn

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    Although Warren Spahn pitched for the Braves from 1942 through 1964, his impact on the franchise is still talked about today. In fact, Spahn was the ace for the Braves from 1946 through 1950, when he and teammate Johnny Sain were the only decent starters the team had. That started the famous saying "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

    While Sain flamed out fairly quickly, Spahn continued his success. A career 363-game winner with a 3.09 ERA, Spahn won 356 games with a 3.05 ERA pitching for the Braves in Boston and Milwaukee. Spahn was also strong in three trips to the World Series, where his ERA matched his career regular-season ERA with the Braves.

    Spahn's Hall of Fame career and total of 356 wins in a Braves uniform is enough to make this list. However, it was that saying that helped him rank so high, as it continues to make him an icon to this day.

3. Greg Maddux

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    The 1992 National League Cy Young Award winner with the Chicago Cubs, Greg Maddux signed with the Braves as a free agent for the 1993 season. While the Braves knew they were getting a very good pitcher to join Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, they didn't expect what came next.

    Maddux started out his Braves career by winning three more Cy Young Awards from 1993 through 1995. The 355-game winner with a 3.16 ERA pitched parts of 23 seasons in the big leagues. He pitched 11 of those in Atlanta and won 194 games while posting a 2.64 ERA, numbers better than he posted with any other franchise.

    Maddux helped a good young team turn into a dynasty with his great success at the top of the rotation. His postseason success, especially a 2.09 ERA in five World Series starts, shows that he was a big-game pitcher.

    Maddux was absolutely dominating at times during his Braves career, and that made fans love him and opponents hate to face him. His list of accomplishments is just too long to list, so it's easy to see why he's such an icon in franchise history.

2. Chipper Jones

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    It's safe to say that Chipper Jones has lived up to all expectations of being the first overall selection in the 1990 MLB draft, and exceeded most. Jones has gone on to accomplish almost everything he could while becoming the face of one of the most popular teams in the game.

    After getting three at-bats in 1993, Jones was a top prospect expected to win a starting job in 1994, before an ACL injury ended his season in spring training. He came back in 1995 to hit .265 with 23 homers, good enough for a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year Award voting.

    Since then Jones hasn't stopped producing. He's spent all 18 seasons in the big leagues with the Braves, where he has hit .304 with 454 homers and 1,561 runs batted in. He's won a World Series ring, a batting title and an MVP Award.

    Jones is clearly at the end of his career today, and he is a potential Hall of Famer—but one has to wonder what more he could have done if injuries hadn't slowed him so much during his career. In addition to missing the 1994 season, Jones has only played in more than 135 games once since the 2004 season.

    Jones is a huge icon in Atlanta for all he has accomplished as well as being a key part of the Braves' run of division titles. Now he is the veteran leader for a talented, but young ballclub that has a chance to win it all in 2012.

1. Hank Aaron

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    As big of an icon as Chipper Jones is, is it possible that anyone outranks Hank Aaron? The former all-time home run champion, only dethroned because Barry Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs, is a clear choice for this spot.

    Aaron spent 21 of his 23 seasons with the Braves. During his time in Milwaukee and Atlanta, he launched 733 homers with a .310 batting average. He was also great in the field, which led to him winning three Gold Glove Awards. This makes Aaron one of the greatest players to ever put a uniform on.

    However, it's not the only part of why Aaron tops this list. As an African American in the South during a time of racism, Aaron taking over the all-time lead in home runs over Babe Ruth had a special meaning. The way he dealt with the racial pressure against him was also a great example to everyone around him. As if that's not enough, Aaron was always considered a very high-character guy who was great off the field.

    Aaron isn't only the biggest icon in the history of the Braves, but other than Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson would be the biggest icon in all of baseball.