Braves Hall of Fame Candidates: Pre-Modern Major League History (1876-1900) Part II

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If you missed it, please check out Part I of this entry.

Pre-Modern Major League History (1876-1900) Part II

Arthur_SodenArthur Soden (Owner)

Years with Braves as Owner: 1877-1906

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Arthur Soden was a controversial figure in early Major League Baseball. He is credited with inventing the “Reserve Clause,” which gave teams total control over players, and which players would fight against into modern times. He was briefly the president of the NL, and at times he used his own money to backup struggling franchises. His style of ownership and reputation for being cheap eventually hurt the franchise, as many player left the team and the league to play elsewhere.

However, for all the controversy and players’ ire, Soden was an extremely successful owner. In point of fact, he would have to be considered the most successful owner in Braves history with the exception of Ted Turner (and even that could be argued).

During his time as owner, the Red Stockings/Beaneaters won 8 pennants. Over the first 2 decades of his time as owner the club was a consistent contender. By the time Soden sold the club in the early 1900’s the team was no longer a winner. But that did not erase the many years of success prior to that.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I hesitated to even tackle this subject but in the end felt that I had to do it. The chief reason that I was reluctant to cover Soden was that I just don’t have that much information on him. In truth, I’m not that confident in my understanding of the role he played in baseball.

I gather that he would spend the money to be a winner, but that he was also fairly ruthless in his dealings with players. Due to my lack of knowledge and understanding on the subject, I’m only willing to recommend that Soden be in the team HOF. I may amend this later when I learn more on the subject.

But I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be changing Arthur Soden to not being recommended for the Braves Hall of Fame. I mean regardless of his shortcomings, I would have to think that we can assume Soden merits entry into the franchise HOF. He would have to have been a serious asshole to not deserve at least that honor, considering that the franchise won 8 pennants while he was the owner.

Soden has neither a Baseball Hall page nor a Baseball Reference page. Interested readers are welcome to Google search him, just as I will be doing over the next few weeks in an attempt to learn more about him.

bondTommy Bond (Pitcher, Right Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1877-1881

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Tommy Bond was the ace pitcher on Harry Wright’s last 2 championship Red Stockings teams. In 5 years with the club, Bond went 149-87 with a 2.21 ERA, 225 complete games, and 29 shutouts. As a batter, Bond hit .225 with 15 doubles, 6 triples, and 98 RBI.

Bond led the team to its final 2 titles as the Red Stockings. In his first season with the club, 1877, Bond was the best pitcher in the game while leading Boston to the pennant. He went 40-17 with a 2.11 ERA and won the pitching triple crown. Along with wins, ERA, and K’s, Bond also led the NL in shutouts, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/BB, and win percentage. He finished 2nd in the league in WAR, WAR for pitchers, K/9, games pitched, innings pitched, starts, and complete games.

Bond came back in 1878 with an even better year as the Red Stocking won their 2nd straight title. That season he went 40-19 with a 2.06 ERA, leading the league in WAR, WAR for pitchers, wins, games pitched, starts, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, and K/BB.

The Red Stockings were unable to defend their title in 1879, but they were still a very good team, finishing 2nd in the league, and Bond led the way once again. He went 43-19 with a 1.96 ERA, leading the NL in WAR, WAR for pitchers, ERA, shutouts, WHIP, and BB/9. He finished 2nd in the league in wins.

After 3 dominant seasons, the end of the line for Bond came rather abruptly. Bond pitched well in 1880 but the Red Stockings floundered, ending the year with a losing record for the first time as a team. In 1881, Bond made just 3 appearances for the Red Stockings. His time with the franchise was over, and his career would be finished just a few years later.

Tommy Bond’s name is one of the most ubiquitous in Braves franchise leader boards. He is all over the place in single season records. Bond has the top 2 BB/9 seasons in team history and 4 of the top 9. He has the top 2 shutout seasons in team history. He has 3 of the top 7 WAR for pitcher seasons in team history, 3 of the top 17 ERA seasons, 3 of the top 5 win seasons, 3 of the top 9 innings pitched seasons, 3 of the top 8 games started seasons, 4 of the top 11 complete game seasons, and 3 of the top 16 K/BB seasons.

Tommy Bond is the all-time franchise leader in ERA, BB/9, and HR/9. He is 3rd all-time on the team in K/BB, 5th in WHIP and shutouts, 7th in complete games, 9th in WAR for pitchers, tied 9th in wins, 10th in innings pitched, and 11th in games started.

During Tommy Bond’s 5 years with the club the team won 2 pennants. He led the team in WAR 3 times and in Pitching-WAR 4 times. He is 15th in franchise history in WAR.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame

Explanation: While he pitched only 4 full seasons for the franchise, Bond was one of the best in team history. He was the dominant ace on a team that won back-to-back pennants. He is all over the Braves franchise leader boards. I actually think that Bond is a borderline case for the ring of honor. The only thing that prevents me from recommending him for that honor is the simple fact that he played only 4 full seasons for the team.

Tommy Bond’s Baseball Reference Page

c jonesCharley Jones (Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1879-1880

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Charley “Baby” Jones is one of the more interesting players in early franchise history. He was a tremendous power hitter and an offensive force in the early days of pro baseball. He was a popular player, and as so often happens, also quite controversial.

Jones came to Boston in 1879 and that season he nearly doubled the NL single season homerun record, blasting 9 of them. He hit .315/.367/.510/.877 with 85 runs, 22 doubles, 10 triples, 9 homers, and 62 RBI, helping keep Boston in the pennant race throughout the season. The team ultimately finished 2nd, 5 games out of 1st.

Baby led the NL in runs, homers, RBI, walks, WAR for position players, and EXBH. He finished 2nd in the league in slugging, OPS, total bases, and times on base. He was 3rd in the NL in OBP. He was also in the top 7 in WAR, Offensive WAR, hits, doubles, and triples. He was 9th in average.

During the 1880 season Jones became the first player to hit 2 homers in 1 inning. However, he played in only 66 games that year and he was not as good. Nor was the team successful, finishing with a losing record in 6th place. Jones hit .300/.326/.429/.755 that year.

Following the season Charley was suspended by the team for refusing to play. Jones was blacklisted for the next 2 years and forced to play in non-major leagues. He even attempted to sue the Red Stockings, though the court sided with the club.

During his 2 years with the franchise Jones hit .309/.350/.474/.824 with 37 doubles, 13 triples, 14 homers, and 99 RBI. Baby’s name shows up on a few franchise leader boards but nothing notable.

The Red Stockings finished in 2nd place, 5 games out of 1st in Charley’s first year with the team, but that was as close as he came to winning a pennant with the club. He led the team in O-WAR in 1879 and was 3rd in 1880. He finished 2nd on the team in WAR in 1879.

Historically, Charley Jones is actually best remembered for something unrelated to his good hitting or his controversial career. Historians were unable to confirm Jones’ death for over a century. The only reason to believe he had ever died was actually the fact that he would have been over 150 years old. Finally in 2011 evidence was discovered that proved he had passed away in 1911.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Charley Jones was a good hitter for the team but he just didn’t play nearly enough to warrant inclusion into the team HOF. Nor does suing the team help his cause.

Charley Jones’ Baseball Reference Page

john o'rourkeJohn O’Rourke (Center Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1879-1880

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: John O’Rourke was the older brother of longtime Red Stocking Jim O’Rourke, though John did not debut with the team until 6 years after his younger brother. Jim had been around since the National Association days, but John did not play major league ball until 1879.

It would take me a long time to prove this, but I’d be willing to bet that no other player ever debuted in the majors 6 years after his younger brother. Although on second thought, I don’t think that would be a good bet at all. Considering the length and breadth of baseball history, it’s probably happened a dozen times.

1879 was John’s first and best year with the franchise. He had an excellent season, batting .341/.357/.521/.877 with 17 doubles, 11 triples, 6 homers, and 62 RBI. He led the NL in slugging, OPS, and RBI. He was 2nd in homers. O’Rourke also finished in the top 5 in average, OBP, total bases, triples, and EXBH; and in the top 10 in WAR for position players, Offensive WAR, runs, hits, and times on base. The team had a good year, finishing 5 games out of 1st in 2nd place.

In 1880 John O’Rourke hit .275/.314/.425/.739 with 22 doubles, 8 triples, and 3 homers. He finished in the top 5 in the NL in doubles, homers, and XBH; and was in the top 10 in slugging, OPS, total bases, triples, and walks. He and his brother Jim both hit .275 that year for the Red Stockings. The team struggled to a losing record and 6th place finish.

In 2 seasons with the franchise, John O’Rourke hit .308/.335/.473/.808 with 39 doubles, 19 triples, 9 homers, and 98 RBI. His name is found on a few franchise leader boards but nothing notable.

The closest O’Rourke came to winning a pennant with Boston was in 1879 when the team finished in 2nd place, 5 games out of 1st. He was 3rd on the team in WAR in 1879 and 2nd in 1880. He finished 2nd on the team in O-WAR in both seasons.

Following the 1880 season O’Rourke fell into a contract dispute with the Red Stockings (or Red Caps as they were sometimes called). He was eventually paid a few years later but he was out of major league ball in 1881 and 1882. In 1883 he was a player-manager in the American Association and did well, but that was his final season in the majors.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Unlike his brother, John O’Rourke did not play long enough with the club to be seriously considered for the team HOF.

John O’Rourke’s Baseball Reference Page

burdockJack Burdock (Second Baseman, Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1878-1888

Hall of Fame: NA

As Manager: 1883

The Case: Jack Burdock was considered to be the premier defensive second baseman of his day. Burdock was also one of the toughest players of his day. He had a reputation for using physical and verbal intimidation on opponents. He was also known for “trickery,” such as the hidden ball trick. Burdock did not care to play the game as a gentlemen; he was willing to get dirty to win, and for this he earned the love of the blue collar element of the fan base.

“Black Jack” played 11 years for the franchise, batting just .251/.277/.328/.605. His real value was on defense. Early in his time with Boston, he and George Wright formed the best middle infield in the sport. Burdock helped the Red Stockings to their 2nd straight title in 1878, his first year with the club. That turned out to be the final championship under Harry Wright and the last title Boston won under the name Red Stockings (or Red Caps).

Jack Burdock continued to play in Boston and helped the team get out of its slump and reach the top of the league again in 1883. “Birdie” began the year as player-manager, but with the team at 30-24, John Morrill retook the reigns, and the team got red hot, eventually winning the pennant, the first title won as the Beaneaters.

Burdock may only have had managing duties for part of the season, but he was the leader of the club all year long. Burdock’s 1883 season can serve as a lesson to critics who want to attribute every anomaly and spike in production to PED’s. For in point of fact, throughout baseball’s history, going all the way back to the 1800’s, players have been having seasons so unlike the rest of their careers that we can only shake our heads and wonder where the hell it came from.

In that championship season, Burdock batted .370/.353/.475/.828 with 27 doubles, 8 triples, 5 homers, and 88 RBI. In his 12th year in professional baseball, Burdock established career highs in games, at bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, BB, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. His WAR of 4.2 that seasons was more than double his previous best.

Obviously, the increase in the number of games on the NL schedule had an impact on this, but that only accounts for a small part of the jump in production. The dramatic improvement in his rate stats (he had an .828 OPS after having a .560 OPS the year before and never having an OPS higher than .657 in any season prior to 1883) attests to that.

Boston won 2 pennants during Black Jack’s 11 years with the club. He finished 2nd on the team in WAR once and 3rd another time. Burdock was 2nd on the team in O-WAR 3 times. He finished in the top 5 on the team in Defensive-WAR 5 times, finishing 2nd twice and leading the team twice.

Burdock’s tough play ultimately led to numerous injuries, which he always continued to play through. He suffered multiple head injuries, being knocked unconscious during several games, only to regain his senses and continue to play. Later in his career, Burdock began to struggle with alcohol. While all the injuries certainly didn’t help, it was ultimately his binge drinking and general drunkenness that led to his decline and finally his exit from the game.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Burdock is an interesting case because his offensive numbers are so underwhelming, yet he was considered to be the greatest fielding second baseman of his day, in an era in which fielding was nothing short of crucial.

He was clearly on the fringe. Based on his long time with the team, his reputation as the best defensive second baseman, and his 2 championships, I originally had Black Jack recommended for the team Hall of Fame.

However, I later decided to change that and not recommend him for the team HOF. This was in part because I decided that I just couldn’t determine how good of a defensive player he really was while with the franchise.

But upon one final look, I changed my mind again and put Black Jack in my list of recommendations for the HOF. He had a major impact on the team over his 11 years with the club, offensively, defensively, and as a manager.

Jack Burdock’s Baseball Reference Page

morrillJohn Morrill (First Baseman, Third Baseman, Second Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1876-1888

As Manager: 1882, 1883-1886, 1887-1888

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: John Morrill joined Boston in their first year in the NL and was part of 3 championship teams during his time with the club. Morrill helped the team win back-to-back titles in 1877 and 1878. After Harry Wright retired, “Honest John” became Boston’s go-to player-manager, and in 1883 Morrill led the team to another NL pennant. Morrill played all 9 positions during his career.

In 13 seasons with Boston, Morrill hit .262/.310/.371/.680. He was player-manager in parts of 7 seasons, leading the team to a 335-296 (.531) record and 1 pennant. Morrill also took over Harry Wright’s role as reserve pitcher, making 17 appearances during 6 seasons, and going 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA, 2 complete games, and 3 saves.

Morrill took over as player-manager in 1882, taking over for team founder Harry Wright. The team went 45-39 that season but finished 4th in the standings. The following year the team began the season with Jack Burdock managing, but Morrill took over late in the season and the team caught fire, going 33-11 the rest of the way under Honest John to win the pennant.

Morrill remained player-manager for the next 3 seasons. The team played well in 1884 but wound up 2nd in the NL. The Beaneaters then suffered through back-to-back losing seasons in 1885 and 1886, and thus began the 1887 season with King Kelly as manager. The team would again go back to Morrill late in the season, but there was no magic this time, as the Beaneaters finished 12-17 in the final 29 games under Honest John. The team went 70-64 and finished 4th in 1888, Morrill’s final year with the club.

John Morrill’s 1883 season is strikingly similar to Black Jack Burdock’s season from that year. Burdock was player-manager to start the season and he had a career year offensively in literally every possible category. Morrill finished the year as player-manager and he too had a career year at the plate. Morrill batted .319/.344/.525/.868 with 33 doubles, 16 triples, and 6 homers.

Honest John set career highs that season in games played, plate appearances, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, average, OBP, slugging, and OPS. Again, the lengthening of the NL schedule had something to do with this, but like Burdock he made a huge jump in rate stats, going from .748 in 1882 to .868 in 1883. He never had an OPS higher than .769 again.

The Red Stockings/Beaneaters won 3 pennants during Honest John’s 13 years with the club. He was 3rd on the team in WAR 3 times. He finished in the top 3 on the team in O-WAR 7 times, finishing 2nd 3 times. He also finished in the top 3 on the team in D-WAR 7 times, finishing 2nd twice and leading the team 3 times.

John Morrill is 4th in franchise history in triples and 11th in doubles. He holds a spot in a number of other top 15 and top 20 career franchise leader boards. He is 11th in team history in wins as a manager.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Form me, John Morrill was on the fringe of the team HOF. He was a key contributor for many years with the team, helping the club win 3 championships, including 1 as player-manager. In the end, it was his double duty work for the team, plus the fact that he was with the club for so many years, that put him over the edge.

John Morrill’s Baseball Reference Page

suttonEzra Sutton (Third Baseman, Shortstop, Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1877-1888

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Ezra Sutton joined the Red Stockings in 1877, their second year in the NL. Sutton helped the team win back-to-back titles in 1877 and 1878. In 1883, Sutton was one of the best hitters on the first Boston team to win the pennant as the Beaneaters. Sutton’s name shows up on a number of franchise top 20 and top 25 career leader boards.

Early in his career Sutton was considered the best defensive third baseman in baseball. In 1876, a year before he joined the Red Stockings, Sutton suffered an injury that forever changed his arm from the best in the game to average. However, he was still a great fielding third bagger during his time in Boston. Sutton was a master of the trap play, by which he intentionally let the ball drop on the infield in order to trick base runners (the infield fly rule was not in existence until 1894).

During Sutton’s 12 years with Boston he hit .287/.316/.378/.694. He had a number of very productive years, finishing 3rd in the NL in Offensive WAR 3 years in a row from 1883-1885. In 1883 he hit .324 with an .836 OPS, helping the team win the NL pennant. The following season Sutton batted .346/.384/.455/.839, led the league in hits, and finished 2nd in WAR for position players.

The Red Stockings/Red Caps/Beaneaters won 3 pennants during Ezra Sutton’s 12 years with the club. He was 2nd on the team in WAR twice and finished 3rd on the team another year. He was in the top 3 on the team in O-WAR 7 times, leading the team 4 times. He was 2nd on the team in D-WAR once and 3rd another year.

Ezra Sutton hit .304 in 1887 at the age of 37. He played one more year with Boston before his career in the big leagues came to an end. Sadly, his post-baseball life would be filled with tragedy. Sutton played non-major league baseball until the mid-1890’s, but at some point he began to suffer locomotion troubles caused by some form of illness. The disease eventually rendered him essentially paralyzed.

In 1905, Sutton’s wife suffered severe burns when a lamp exploded at the dinner table. With his wife’s dress engulfed in flames, Sutton could only watch. She was so badly burned that she died 6 weeks later.

Sutton had to enter a facility, as he could no longer care for himself. It wasn’t long before he had exhausted all of his funds. During the remainder of his days he was forced to rely on the kindness of former teammates to take care of him financially. Honest John Morrill, Sutton’s former teammate and manager, spearheaded this effort and was primarily in charge of Sutton’s situation for the remainder of his life.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Ezra Sutton is on the fringe. He played 12 seasons with the franchise and was a key player on 3 championship teams. While his arm had already been injured by the time he reached the Red Stockings, he was still a very good fielder. He was one of the better hitters on the team during the 1880’s.

While Sutton’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, he was an important member of the team for over a decade, and I feel he warrants inclusion in the team HOF. However, I should add that I’d be lying if I said his tragic post-baseball life didn’t have something to do with me voting in his favor.

Ezra Sutton’s Baseball Reference Page

whitneyJim Whitney (Pitcher, Outfielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1881-1885

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Jim Whitney is one of the most unique players in franchise history. He is one of the few players in team history to excel as both a pitcher and a batter. Whitney was one of the best players on the team during his time with the club, leading the team in WAR in each of his first 3 seasons.

Grasshopper Jim played just 5 years with the franchise, but amazingly he ranks 14th in team history in WAR. During his time in Boston he went 133-121 on the mound with a 2.49 ERA, 242 complete games, 18 shutouts, and 2 saves. At the plate he was also productive, batting .270/.316/.393/.709 with 87 doubles, 29 triples, 13 homers, and 213 RBI.

Whitney was a control artist but was also one of the better strikeout pitchers of his day. He led the NL in both BB/9 and K/BB 3 years straight from 1883-1885.

In his first year, 1881, Whitney was the best player on a bad Boston team. Despite playing on a team with a losing record, Grasshopper Jim led the NL in wins. He also led the league in WAR, games pitched, innings pitched, starts, and complete games.

In 1882, Whitney had one of the more remarkable seasons in team history. It actually wasn’t his greatest season, but it was his most special. That season Whitney went 24-21 with a 2.64 ERA on the mound, and hit .323/.382/.510/.892 with 18 doubles, 7 triples, 5 homers, and 48 RBI at the plate. Incredibly, Whitney managed to finish 5th in the league in WAR for pitchers and 8th in the league in Offensive WAR.

He was 5th in batting average and 3rd in OBP, slugging, and OPS, while also finishing in the top 10 in ERA, wins, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, strikeouts, games pitched, innings pitched, starts, complete games, shutouts, and K/BB. He may be the only player ever to finish 4th in home runs hit and 1st in homers allowed per 9 innings.

Whitney’s finest season came in 1883. He went 37-21 with a 2.24 ERA, leading the Beaneaters to the championship. Whitney led the NL in K/9, saves, and strikeouts that season.

Jim Whitney’s name is ubiquitous in franchise single season leader boards. Whitney has the 2nd best WHIP season in franchise history, the 6th most wins in a season, the 8th best WAR for pitchers season, and the top 2 K/BB seasons in team history. He has 4 of the top 12 BB/9 seasons, 4 of the top 19 innings pitched seasons, 2 of the top 5 strikeout seasons, 4 of the top 16 games started seasons, 3 of the top 10 compete game seasons, and 4 of the top 19 K/BB seasons.

Whitney is probably the franchise’s greatest control artist/strike-thrower, which is fairly significant considering that Greg Maddux pitched for this same franchise. He is the all-time franchise leader in K/BB and is 2nd all-time in BB/9 and 3rd in WHIP.

But it isn’t only in rate stats that Whitney is near the top of team leader boards. Remarkably, despite playing only 5 seasons for the team, Grasshopper Jim Whitney has a large presence in career franchise leader boards for counting stats as well. He is 4th in team history in complete games, 8th in strikeouts, 9th in starts and innings pitched, 10th in WAR for pitchers, 11th in wins, and 13th in shutouts.

Boston won 1 pennant during Jim Whitney’s 5 years with the club. He finished in the top 3 on the team in WAR in all 5 years with the club, leading the team in WAR 3 times and finishing 2nd another year. He led the team in P-WAR 3 times and finished 2nd the other 2 years. Remarkably, Whitney led the 1882 team in both O-WAR and P-WAR. He is 14th in franchise history in WAR.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Jim Whitney is one of the more unique players in Braves franchise history. Though he played for the team during a period of transition, he still managed to help lead the team to a title. He played for the team for just 5 seasons, but Jim Whitney is definitely worthy of the team HOF.

Jim Whitney’s Baseball Reference Page

hornungJoe Hornung (Left Fielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1881-1888

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Joe Hornung was one of the greatest defensive players of the 19th century. Playing without a glove, Hornung played nearly flawless defense in left field, leading the NL in fielding percentage by an outfielder in 6 of 7 seasons from 1881-1887.

Hornung was an okay hitter, batting .263/.282/.367/.649 during his time in Boston. He hit .302 in 1882 and finished 3rd in the league in hits. In 1883, Hornung finished 2nd in the league in homers while helping the Beaneaters to the pennant. He accomplished a truly bizarre feat that year, managing to lead the NL in runs scored despite a .291 OBP.

Hornung also had one of the more interesting nicknames in team history. He had the odd habit of shouting “Ubbo Ubbo!” any time that he recorded a hit, made a play in the outfield, or did anything else of note. Eventually, Ubbo Ubbo became Hornung’s nickname.

Hornung had a strong arm in the outfield, collecting at least 10 outfield assists in all but one season in Boston. Along with his arm and sure hands, Ubbo Ubbo’s speed helped him to excel in the outfield. He also used his speed on the bases, stealing 41 bags in 1887.

Boston won 1 pennant during Hornung’s 8 years with the club. He finished 3rd on the team in O-WAR in 1882. Hornung finished 2nd on the team in D-WAR once and 3rd another time.

Joe Hornung shows up on some franchise top 50 leader boards for single season and career stats, but he does not have a major presence. Hornung’s value was primarily in the field, and thus he is not at the top of franchise offensive leader boards.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Joe Hornung was a tough decision for me. Though he did help the Beaneaters win the 1883 pennant, he played for the team during a fairly unsuccessful time period. Also, Hornung just wasn’t a great hitter, and it’s hard to judge his true value because defensive statistics aren’t always informative. However, the literature on the subject says that Hornung was widely regarded as the best fielding left fielder of his day. I originally recommended Hornung for team HOF and then went back and changed. However, upon a final review, after reading more about his defense, I decided to recommend him after all.

Joe Hornung’s Baseball Reference Page

buffingtonCharlie Buffington (Pitcher, Outfielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1882-1886, 1892

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Charlie Buffington was a workhorse pitcher who played for the franchise during the years in between the Harry Wright and Frank Selee reigns. He spent 6 years with the club, and really only pitched 3 full seasons, but he did help the team win titles in 1883 and upon his return in 1892. In addition, he had one of the greatest pitching seasons in team history.

Buffington went 104-70 with a 2.83 ERA, 166 complete games, 19 shutouts, and a save during his time in Boston. He was a decent hitter, batting .255/.274/.314/.588 for the Beaneaters with 43 doubles, 10 triples, 4 homers, 132 RBI, and 3 SB.

In 1883, Buffington’s second season, the right hander went 25-14 with a 3.03 ERA, 34 complete games, 4 shutouts, and a save, helping the team win its first pennant since the end of the Harry Wright era.

Buffington’s 1884 season is one of the best in franchise history. He went 48-16 with a 2.15 ERA, 63 complete games, and 8 shutouts. Buffington finished 2nd in the NL in wins and 3rd in WAR for pitchers that year.

Buffington pitched just 18 games in 1886, and the following season he moved on to Philadelphia. After spending 3 years with Philly, Buffington spent a year in the Players League and then went to the American Association before returning to the Beaneaters in the middle of the 1892 season. He pitched in 13 games down the stretch, going 4-8 as Boston won a second straight pennant.

Charlie Buffington has a major presence on franchise single season leader boards, mostly due to his 1884 season. His 417 strikeouts from that year remain a team record. That 1884 season produced the 2nd best WAR for pitchers, wins, innings pitched, starts, and complete game seasons in team history. His 8 shutouts that year are tied for 3rd best in team history.

Boston won 2 pennants during Buffington’s time with the club. He led the team in WAR twice and finished 2nd on the team another year. He also led the team in Pitching-WAR twice and finished 2nd in another season.

Despite his relatively short time with the club, Buffington shows up on many franchise career leader boards. He is 4th all-time in BB/9, 6th in K/BB, 10th in WHIP and complete games, 11th in ERA and strikeouts, 12th in shutouts, and 13th in WAR for pitchers in franchise history.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Charlie Buffington is another player who I believed was very much on the fringe. I had Buffington in the team HOF at first due to his 1884 season, his role on the 1883 pennant winning team, as well as his lesser role on the 1892 pennant winning team, and the fact that he has a major presence on Braves leader boards despite his short time with the team. Then I decided to change him to not recommended, as he really only had a positive impact for the team in 3 seasons. However, when doing a final review I looked at the fact that he won over 100 games for the team and decided that was HOF worthy. I know it was a different time and pitchers were apt to get a decision in almost every start, but it’s still a good total for 6 years.

Charlie Buffington’s Baseball Reference Page

wiseSam Wise (Shortstop, Second Baseman, Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1882-1888

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Sam Wise was a talented yet inconsistent player for Boston during the 1880’s. At the plate, Wise was unlike many players of his day in that he was a free swinger who hit for power and struck out a lot. He was equally as paradoxical in the field, displaying tremendous range and great fielding ability while having a highly erratic arm. He was a very large shortstop for his day, at times weighing over 200 lbs.

Nicknamed “Modoc,” Wise hit .267/.312/.401/.713 during his time with the Beaneaters, totaling 136 doubles, 71 triples, 33 homers, 383 RBI, and 107 SB.

As a second year player, Modoc helped Boston win the 1883 pennant.

His career year came in 1887 when he hit .334/.390/.522/.913 with 27 doubles, 17 triples, 9 homers, 92 RBI, and 43 SB. He led the Beaneaters in WAR that season and was in the top 10 in the NL in most offensive categories.

Boston won 1 pennant during Sam Wise’s 7 years with the team. He was 2nd on the team in D-WAR in 1883, as the Beaneaters won the pennant. He led the team in WAR in 1887. Sam led the team in Offensive-WAR twice and finished 2nd on the team another year.

Wise shows up on a few franchise single season and career top 50 leader boards. He is tied for 8th all-time in triples.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I had a hard time determining how good of a defensive player Wise really was. He was reported to be an amazing player as far as range and fielding, but his arm was very erratic and led to many errors. He was moved around to other positions, which seems to suggest that his glove didn’t quite make up for his arm.

Offensively he was very good. He did win a pennant but played on a number of not so good teams.

He was on the fringe. At first I decided not to recommend him, but in a final review I changed my mind. He was consistently good for the team for 7 years and won a pennant. That’s good enough for the team HOF.

Sam Wise’s Baseball Reference Page

nashBilly Nash (Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1885-1889, 1891-1895

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: “Captain” Billy Nash was considered by some to be the best defensive third baseman in the game during his day. He could also hit. He was a key run producer for Boston, helping the team win 3 straight pennants from 1891-1893. Billy Nash was unlike a lot of other 19th century players in that he understood the value of taking a walk. Nash was also a great base runner.

In 10 seasons with Boston, Nash hit .281/.368/.389/.757 with 200 doubles, 69 triples, 51 homers, 811 RBI, and 232 SB. He also brought value defensively, finishing 3rd in Defensive WAR in 1888, 9th in 1889, and 3rd again in 1890.

Billy Nash’s breakout season came in 1887, his third with the Beaneaters, when he posted an .810 OPS with 94 RBI and 43 SB. A year later he finished 5th in the NL in WAR and was top 10 in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS.

Nash was a key player on Boston’s pennant winning teams in 1891, 1892, and 1893. He drove in 95 runs in both 1891 and 1892. In 1893 he hit .291/.399/.433/.832 with 123 RBI.

Nash wasn’t at his best in the 1892 championship series, as he went just 4 for 24 with 3 runs, 4 RBI, and 2 SB.

During his time with the Beaneaters, Capt. Nash finished in the top 10 in RBI 6 times and in the top 10 in walks 6 times as well.

Billy never really had a decline during his time in Boston. From 1893-1895 he posted an OPS over .800 each year. Following the 1895 season he was traded to Philly in exchange for future Hall-of-Famer Billy Hamilton. Nash played for a few years in Philly but was not the same player he had been with the Beaneaters. He played just 20 games in his final season of 1898.

Boston won 3 pennants during Nash’s 10 years with the club. He led the team in WAR once and was 3rd on the team in 2 other seasons. He was in the top 3 on the team in O-WAR 5 times, finishing 2nd once. Nash was in the top 3 on the team in Defensive-WAR in 7 seasons, leading the team 3 times and finishing 2nd on the team twice.

Nash’s name shows up on some franchise top 25 single season leader boards. He has a bigger presence on franchise career leader boards. Nash is 7th all-time in walks for the franchise, 8th in stolen bases, 9th in RBI, 10th in runs scored, 11th in triples, 13th in hits, tied 13th in WAR for position players, 15th in Defensive WAR, and 16th in doubles. He is on a number of other franchise top 15 and top 20 career leader boards.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Nash should definitely be in the team’s HOF. He was one of the best defensive third baseman of his day and was a good hitter. He played a big role on a Beaneaters team that won 3 straight pennants.

Billy Nash’s Baseball Reference Page

tuckerTommy Tucker (First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1890-1897

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Tommy Tucker was a switch hitting first baseman. He helped the Beaneaters win 3 consecutive titles from 1891-1893. Tucker was great at getting on base and stealing bases. He was a star in the American Association for Baltimore prior to coming to Boston in 1890. He was never quite as good for the Beaneaters as he had been for Baltimore in 1889, but he was a consistent contributor for some great Frank Selee Boston teams.

During 8 years with the Beaneaters Tommy hit .287/.369/.362/.732 with over 1,000 hits, over 500 RBI, 133 doubles, 138 SB, 39 triples, and 19 homers.

Nicknamed “Foghorn” due to his voice, Tucker was a feisty player who once got into an on-field brawl with John McGraw. Unlike most first baggers of his day, Tommy picked balls one handed rather than scooping with two hands. He was a good defensive player. Foghorn’s greatest talent was his ability to get hit by pitches. While with the Beaneaters, Tucker led the NL in HBP 3 straight years.

Tucker stole at least 22 bases in each of his first 3 years with the team, as the Beaneaters won the pennant in 1891 and 1892. In the 1892 championship series Tommy went 6 for 23 with a homer, 2 RBI, and 2 runs scored. In 1893 Tucker drove in 91 runs as the Beaneaters won a 3rd straight title.

Foghorn’s greatest season with Boston came in 1894 when he hit .330/.412/.420/.832, scored 112 runs, and drove home 100.

Tucker’s days in Boston came to an end in June of 1897 when he was purchased by Washington.

Boston won 3 pennants during Tucker’s time with the club (he was sold to Washington during the middle of the 1897 season). He led the team in O-WAR once and finished 3rd on the team in another season.

Tommy Tucker dominates the franchise HBP leader boards. He holds the top 2 single season HBP years and 7 of the top 14 in franchise history. He is the all-time franchise leader in HBP by a mile, with 67 more than Andruw Jones. Other than HBP’s, Foghorn’s presence on the franchise leader boards is pretty light. He’s in a number of top 50’s for both single season and career stats but he’s not high up the lists.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Tommy Tucker was a good hitter and a good defensive first baseman. He helped the team win 3 straight pennants from 1891-1893. He played for the team for quite a while. However, Tucker was never the best player on the team.

At some point you have to draw a line or else you end up putting anyone who played 8 to 10 years on the team in the franchise HOF.

However, I’ve decided not to draw the line with Tucker. He was a good player for more than half a decade and he helped the team win 3 straight pennants. That’s good enough for a HOF recommendation.

Tommy Tucker’s Baseball Reference Page

longHerman Long (Shortstop)

Years with Braves: 1890-1902

Hall of Fame: NA

Braves Hall of Fame: 2005

The Case: Herman Long may not be one of the very best players ever to play for the franchise, but he had one of the best careers in team history. After playing a year in the American Association, “The Flying Dutchman” joined the Beaneaters in 1890. He would man the shortstop position for the next 13 years, helping the team win 5 pennants over that time (3 straight from 1891-1893, back-to-back in 1897 and 1898).

Sometimes called “Germany,” Long was a good hitter and a terrific base runner. His quickness was an asset both on the bases and at shortstop. In the field he had tremendous range and a strong and accurate arm.

What’s most interesting about the Dutchman’s defense is that he holds several records for most errors, including the dubious record for most errors committed overall regardless of position. However, Long’s case is a textbook example of the primary reason that the error statistic is so limited. Herman Long’s error total reflected the fact that he reached more balls than anybody else.

From 1891 through 1902, the Dutchman was in the top 5 in the league in putouts by a shortstop 10 of 12 seasons. Over that same period he was in the top 5 in assists by a shortstop 7 times. He was a force on defense, leading the NL in Defensive War in 1898 and finishing in the top 10 in D-WAR 8 times while with the franchise. And Long didn’t just have the range, the arm, and the accuracy; he was actually sure handed. He led NL shortstops in fielding percentage in 1901 and 1902.

Herman Long was a consistent producer at the plate as well. In his second year with the team, 1891, Herm finished 4th in the NL in Offensive WAR, swiping 60 bases, as the team won its first pennant under Frank Selee. A year later the Dutchman clubbed 32 doubles and stole 57 more bags while the Beaneaters repeated as champs. He went 6 for 27 in the championship series, scoring 4 runs, driving home a run, and stealing 2 bases. In 1893, as the Beaneaters won their 3rd consecutive pennant, Long scored a league best 149 runs.

Long’s breakthrough offensive season came in 1894, as he posted an OPS of .881. That was the first of four consecutive seasons in which he put up an over .800 OPS. The Beaneaters would win back-to-back pennants in the 3rd and 4th seasons of that streak. He scored over 100 runs 6 straight years from 1891-1896. Long was still getting it done at the turn of the century, leading the National League in homers in 1900.

During his time with the franchise the Dutchman hit .280/.337/.390/.727 with nearly 1300 runs scored, over 1900 hits, 964 RBI, and 434 stolen bases. He collected 295 doubles, 91 triples, and 88 homers.

Long’s consistency and longevity made his career in Boston so special. He shows up on a number of single season franchise leader boards but he’s towards the bottom of most of those lists. He does have 3 of the top 14 run scoring seasons in team history and 3 of the top 16 stolen base seasons in team history.

It is in the all-time career franchise record books that the Dutchman’s importance can really be seen. He can be found on virtually every leader board. He is 3rd in franchise history in Defensive WAR and triples, 4th in runs and sacrifice hits, 5th in at bats and hits, 6th in total bases, doubles, RBI, and times on base; 7th in plate appearances, EXBH, and HBP; 8th in WAR for position players and games played, 10th in Offensive WAR, and 11th in walks in franchise history.

Herman Long is the all-time stolen base leader in franchise history with 434, some 113 more than the second best base stealer, Hugh Duffy.

The Beaneaters won 5 pennants during Long’s 13 years with the club. He was in the top 3 on the team in Offensive-WAR 5 times, leading the team twice and finishing 2nd another time. Herman Long was in the top 3 on the team in Defensive-WAR in all 13 years with the club, leading the team 5 times and finishing 2nd 4 times. He is 18th in WAR in franchise history.

Herman Long was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2005.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor.

Explanation: Herman Long is already in the team HOF. He played 13 seasons with the franchise, won 5 pennants, and was a consistently good player throughout his time with the team.

At first I did not have Long recommend for the Ring of Honor but I eventually changed my mind. He was so good for so long that he deserves to be recognized.

Herman Long’s Baseball Reference Page

staleyHarry Staley (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1891-1894

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Harry Staley played less than 4 full seasons with the franchise, but during that time he won at least 18 games 3 times and the Beaneaters won 3 pennants.

During his time with the club Staley went 72-38 with a 4.21 ERA, 98 CG, 4 shutouts, and a save. He was a decent batter, hitting .197/.269/.275/.544 with Boston, tallying 13 doubles, a triple, 6 homers, 71 RBI, and 3 stolen bases.

In May of 1891, Staley was released by the Pirates and scooped up by the Beaneaters. He went 20-8 with a 2.50 ERA the rest of the way, recording 26 complete games and a shutout, as Boston won their first pennant under Frank Selee. Staley wound up leading the league in WHIP and finishing 2nd in BB/9 and K/BB. He was also in the top 10 in WAR, WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, K/9, H/9, and strikeouts

The next season Staley went 22-10 with a 3.03 ERA, 31 complete games, and 3 shutouts, as the Beaneaters repeated as champs. In the championship series Staley threw a complete game win, allowing 3 runs on 10 hits and a walk without recording a strikeout. He went 0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts at the plate.

In 1893, Harry went 18-10 but his ERA ballooned to 5.13. In June of that season he drove in 9 runs in 1 game, matching his RBI total from all of the previous season. 73 years later that feat would be matched, ironically by Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger.

Staley’s struggles continued in 1894 as he went just 12-10 with a 6.81 ERA and a save. The Beaneaters were unable to make it 4 titles in a row, and the next year Staley moved on to St. Louis for one final season.

The Beaneaters won 3 pennants in the 4 seasons that Staley was on the club. He was 3rd on the team in WAR in 2 of those seasons. He was 2nd on the team in P-WAR once and 3rd in another season.

Harry Staley’s name shows up on a number of franchise career and single season top 50 leader boards, but he’s almost always way down the list towards the bottom. The lone exception is that he has the 5th best winning percentage in team history, though it should be noted that Russ Ortiz is #1 on that list so its importance must come into question.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I struggled with Staley for a long time. I felt that putting in a player who was only with the club for 4 years might be a dangerous precedent to set. However, Staley was a good pitcher on a team that won 3 pennants, and for me that supersedes the short tenure.

Harry Staley’s Baseball Reference Page

stivettsJack Stivetts (Pitcher, Outfielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1892-1898

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Jack Stivetts had one of the more interesting careers in team history. The Beaneaters won pennants in Jack Stivetts’ first 2 seasons with the team and in his last 2 seasons with the team. He contributed both as an inning eating pitcher and a power hitting position player.

Called “Happy Jack,” due to his jovial manner, Stivetts was a big man. He was a solid pitcher and a natural hitter. During 7 years with Boston Stivetts went 131-78 on the mound with a 4.12 ERA, 176 complete games, 6 shutouts, and 2 saves. As a batter he hit .305/.354/.445/.799 with 56 doubles, 35 triples, 21 homers, 251 RBI, and 25 SB.

After a few seasons excelling in the AA, Boston signed Jack in 1892. Stivetts had a brilliant season as a pitcher, going 35-16 with a 3.03 ERA, 45 complete games, 3 shutouts, and a save. He played 18 games in the outfield and had a good year at the plate, batting .296 with a .369 OBP. Stivetts finished 6th in the league in WAR and the Beaneaters won the pennant.

In the championship series of 1892 Jack made 3 starts and went the distance in all 3, going 2-0 with a shutout. He gave up 9 runs in 29 innings but only 3 runs were earned. Happy Jack went 3 for 12 at the plate with a double, a triple, 3 runs scored and an RBI.

Happy Jack wasn’t as good on the mound in 1893. He went 20-12 with a 4.41 ERA. He didn’t play the field as much but he hit .297 with a .342 OBP, and Boston repeated as champions.

Stivetts had a better 1894 season at the plate than he did on the mound. He hit .328/.369/.533/.902 with 8 homers and 64 RBI, while going 26-14 with a 4.90 ERA as a pitcher.

1895 was Jack’s worst season as a batter and he went just 17-17 on the mound with a 4.64 ERA. Stivetts rebounded on the mound and at the plate in 1896, going 22-14 with a 4.10 ERA, while hitting .347/.383/.482/.865.

During his first 5 years with Boston Stivetts was a full time starting pitcher and a part time position player. In 1897 Stivetts played more games as a position player than as a pitcher. He had an outstanding season, helping the Beaneaters win another pennant. He hit .367/.417/.533/.949, and went 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA in 15 starts.

Stivetts really didn’t have much at all to do with the team repeating as champs in 1898. He played in 41 games but only pitched in 2 games, going 0-1. He hit just .252 with a .647 OPS. He was sold to the Cleveland Spiders in August.

Happy Jack Stivetts began the 1899 season with Cleveland but was let go midway through. His career was over.

Stivetts can be found in many of the franchise’s top 25 and top 50 leader boards, both for single season and career, but usually towards the bottom half. He is actually high on a few leader boards that you don’t necessarily want to be on (such as walks allowed, hits allowed, runs allowed, etc).

Happy Jack’s only real notable single season mark is his 35-win year from 1892, which is tied for 7th best in team history. He does have a few notable career marks. Stivetts is 8th in complete games, 12th in wins, 14th in innings pitched, and 15th in WAR for pitchers.

Boston won 4 pennants during Stivetts’ 7 years with the club (though he was only on the team until August in 1898). He finished 2nd on the team in WAR twice and 3rd in 2 other seasons. Stivetts was 2nd on the team in P-WAR 4 times and 3rd another time. He was 3rd on the team in O-WAR in 1896.

Interestingly enough, despite being a great hitting pitcher who usually went 9 innings, as well as playing a good number of games as a position player each year, Jack Stivetts is virtually invisible on franchise hitting leader boards. His only appearance on a top 50 is in triples, as he ranks tied for 30th with 35.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Happy Jack was on the fringe for a while but I eventually decided he had to get the recommendation. He helped the team win 3 pennants and contributed both as a pitcher and a hitter.

Jack Stivetts’ Baseball Reference Page

loweBobby Lowe (Second Baseman, Left Fielder, Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1890-1901

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Bobby Lowe was once called the “greatest utility player of all-time.” However that wasn’t because he was a bench player. Lowe was a good hitter and a very versatile player. He was an excellent defensive player, with his main position being second base. While with Boston he also played sparingly in the outfield and at third base and shortstop.

Lowe had the nickname of “Link.” When I first heard this my initial reaction was that he must’ve been diminutive and elfish. But he was actually 5-10 and 150, which couldn’t’ have been exceptionally small back in the late 1800’s. More importantly, Lowe played roughly a century before the Legend of Zelda, so my initial reaction was erroneous to begin with. Link was short for “Lincoln” which was his middle name.

Link played 12 years in Boston, winning 5 pennants. He hit .286/.342/.382/.723 with the Beaneaters, scoring 1000 runs, driving in 872, recording 1608 hits, and stealing 260 bases. He had 186 doubles, 71 triples, and 70 homers. Lowe totaled 57 HBP and 100 sac hits. He had 420 walks against only 322 K.

Early on in his career Lowe played all over the place. Initially he played at short, but he ended up playing mostly in the outfield during his first few years. Eventually second base became his main spot. Playing primarily at second base, Link was in the top 10 in Defensive WAR 4 years in a row from 1896-1899.

Lowe started his career as a rookie in Boston in 1890, playing mostly shortstop. He was mainly an outfielder in 1891, his first full season, during which Lowe drove in 74 runs and the Beaneaters won the pennant. Boston repeated in 1892 and played Cleveland in a championship series. Lowe went just 3 for 23 with 2 runs scored, a stolen base, and a walk, but the Beaneaters won the series 5-0.

Boston went for a 3-peat in 1893. That was Link’s first season playing primarily second base, and he posted an .803 OPS as the Beaneaters won their 3rd straight pennant.

Boston was unable to win a 4th consecutive title in 1894, but that turned out to be Link’s greatest offensive season. He hit .346/.401/.520/.921 with 212 hits, 158 runs, 115 RBI, 23 stolen bases, 34 doubles, 11 triples, 17 homers, and 50 BB against just 25 K. In May of that year Lowe hit 4 homeruns in 1 game, becoming the first player ever to accomplish the feat.

In 1897 Link hit .309 with 24 doubles and 106 RBI, helping to lead Boston to another pennant. The Beaneaters repeated in 1898, as Lowe drove home 94 runs. It was the 5th pennant Boston had won during Lowe’s time with the club. Lowe played 3 more years for Boston. He was sold to Chicago following the 1901 season and would go on to play into his 40’s.

The Beaneaters won 5 pennants during Lowe’s 12 years with the club. Lowe was in the top 3 on the team in Defensive-WAR 6 times, leading the team twice and finishing 2nd twice. He was 2nd on the team in O-WAR in 1894.

Bobby Lowe really doesn’t show up that often in Braves franchise record books and that surprised me. Two of his totals from the 1884 season are still prominent in franchise history. His 158 runs from that season is the 2nd highest single season total in team history, and his 212 hits are the 7th most.

Link fares better on career franchise leader boards, but still not as well as I expected. Lowe is 4th in HBP and tied 4th in SB in team history. He’s also in the top 12 in franchise history in Defensive WAR, games played, at bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, total bases, triples, RBI, times on base, and sac hits.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Lowe was a good player on the team for over a decade and was a key part of 5 pennant winning seasons. He’s absolutely worthy of the team HOF.

Bobby Lowe’s Baseball Reference Page

bannonJimmy Bannon (Right Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1894-1896

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Jimmy Bannon had one of the more curious careers of anyone we’ve looked at in this era. While Bannon’s 2 great seasons qualify him for consideration, I may have forced him into this entry even if he had only played 1 game for the franchise. The reason for this is that Bannon’s nickname was “Foxy Grandpa.”

Boston won the pennant in each of the 3 seasons before Jimmy Bannon got to the Beaneaters and in each of the 2 seasons after he left.

Bannon’s career truly is bizarre. He played in only 4 seasons, and had only 2 full seasons. His 2 full seasons were excellent offensive years and they remain 2 of the best offensive seasons in franchise history. He stood 5-5 and was reported to weigh 160 lbs. He had speed, power, and the ability to hit for average at the plate. In the field he made a lot of errors but had a great arm.

He began his career as a rookie in St. Louis in 1893. He played in just 26 games that year, hitting .336 with an .805 OPS.

For whatever reason, the Beaneaters were able to obtain Bannon for the next year. In 1894, Bannon was given a chance to play every day and he took advantage, batting .336/.414/.514/.928 with 130 runs, 29 doubles, 10 triples, 13 homers, 114 RBI, and 47 SB.

In the field that season Bannon committed the 2nd most errors of any NL outfielder, but he also led the league in OF assists and DP’s by an outfielder.

Bannon followed up his brilliant 1884 season with a solid year at the plate in 1885. He hit .347/.417/.475/.891 with 101 runs, 35 doubles, 5 triples, 6 homers, 74 RBI, and 28 steals. He made the 4th most errors that year and finished 2nd in assists.

Foxy Grandpa played exclusively in the outfield in his first 2 seasons with Boston (apart from 1 pitching appearance each year). In 1886 Bannon played 6 games at second base, 5 at short, and 3 at first, while playing the OF the rest of the time. He did not have the same kind of success at the plate, hitting .253/.318/.308/.626. After playing in 89 games, the Beaneaters released Foxy in August. Just like that, Grandpa’s career was over.

Jimmy Bannon was 3rd on the team in WAR in 1895. He was 3rd on the team in O-WAR in 1894 and 2nd on the team in 1895.

Despite the nickname, Bannon was just 25 in his last season in the majors. What makes his career even more curious is the fact that Jimmy continued to play in the minors until 1910. So this wasn’t a case of an injury or something like that. It would appear that he just never got another chance.

If you’ve been paying attention you’ve probably realized by now that there was something different about the 1884 season. For some reason the offensive numbers were off the charts that year. That could help explain why a player like Bannon could have a monster season at age 23 and then be out of the league for good less than 2 full seasons later.

In any event, despite playing with Boston for less than 3 full seasons, Foxy Grandpa Jimmy Bannon still has a notable presence in team record books. His 130 runs scored in 1894 are still tied for the 10th highest mark in team history. What’s more impressive is that Jimmy Bannon holds the 5th highest career average and the 5th highest OBP in team history. Obviously he has far fewer PA’s than most of the other players on the list but he has enough to qualify. He is one of the stranger footnotes in Braves franchise history.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Bannon has an interesting story and a great nickname, but clearly he is not someone who should be in the team HOF.

Jimmy Bannon’s Baseball Reference Page

stahlChick Stahl (Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1897-1900

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Chick Stahl was a fantastic hitter and was considered one of the best defensive outfielders of his time. He excelled in the field and at the plate for the Beaneaters during his time with the team. He had 4 great years with Boston, during which time the Beaneaters won back-to-back pennants. In 4 years with the franchise Stahl hit .327/.387/.456/.842 with 97 doubles, 56 triples, 19 homers, 283 RBI, and 84 steals.

Stahl’s first year in the majors came in 1897. He had one of the great rookie season’s in franchise history, batting .354/.406/.499/.905 with 112 runs, 97 RBI, 30 doubles, 13 triples, 4 homers, and 18 SB. He finished in the top 10 in the NL in average, slugging, OPS, doubles, and EXBH. Stahl was a big part of the Beaneaters winning the pennant. In 1898 Stahl hit .308 with a .375 OBP and the Beaneaters won the pennant again.

Boston was unable to make it 3 in a row, but Stahl had his best season in 1889. He batted .351/.426/.493/.919 with 122 runs, 202 hits, 23 doubles, 19 triples, 7 homers, 33 stolen bases, and 72 walks against only 10 strikeouts. Chick finished in the top 10 in the NL in WAR for position players, Offensive WAR, average, OBP, slugging, OPS, runs, hits, total bases, triples, homers, walks, extra base hits, and times on base.

Stahl had another solid season in 1900, batting .295 with 23 doubles, 16 triples, 5 homers, 82 RBI, and 27 SB. He led all outfielders in fielding percentage and was 5th in outfield assists.

In 1901 Stahl jumped to Boston’s American League team, joining teammate Jimmy Collins. Chick would play the remainder of his career for the franchise that would eventually become the Red Sox. Stahl’s career would not end happily, however. In the spring of 1907, after becoming player-manager of the Americans late in the previous season, Stahl committed suicide at the age of 34.

Boston won 2 pennants during Stahl’s time with the club. He finished 3rd on the team in WAR in 1889 and led the team in O-WAR that same year.

Chick Stahl’s .354 batting average in 1897 is still the highest in team history by a rookie. Stahl’s only other notable single season mark is his 19 triples in 1899 which ranks 3rd best in franchise history. Stahl has the 3rd highest career batting average in team history and the 7th best OBP. He is 15th all-time in triples for the franchise.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I had Stahl on my list of non-recommended players for most of the time while I was working on this entry. The reason for this was that he played just 4 years with the team. However, he was a good player all 4 of those years and he was a key player on 2 pennant winning teams. In the end I flipped, and decided to recommend him.

Chick Stahl’s Baseball Reference Page

tenneyFred Tenney (First Baseman, Outfielder, Catcher)

Years with Braves: 1894-1907, 1911

As Manager: 1905-1907, 1911

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Fred Tenney had one of the longest careers with the team in franchise history, spending 15 seasons with the club. He was an outstanding defensive first baseman and a good hitter. Tenney hit for average, knew how to get on base, and had speed. The only tool he was missing was power.

Tenney came up as a catcher but the team soon began trying to transition him into another position, as it became clear right away that they needed his bat in the lineup every day. From 1897-on he was a fulltime first baseman. That same year he and Herman Long were credited with performing the first ever 3-6-3 double play.

During 15 years with Boston Tenney hit .300/.376/.367/.743 with 1134 runs, 1994 hits, 242 doubles, 74 triples, 17 homers, 609 RBI, 260 SB, 750 BB, 53 HBP, and 244 SH. During his career, Tenney was consistently one of the leaders in defensive categories among first baggers.

Tenney played in just 27 games in his first season, getting 100 PA, but it was clear he had something going, as he posted a 1.039 OPS. The next year he played in 88 games and hit .336. 1897 was his first full season and that year he hit .318 with a .376 OBP, helping to lead Boston to the pennant. Tenney scored 125 runs and had 34 steals that year. Boston repeated as champs in 1898, as Tenney hit .328 with a .370 OBP.

1899 was Fred’s best season. He hit .347/.411/.439/.851 with 209 hits and 17 triples. The Beaneaters never got back to the top of the league during the rest of Tenney’s career, but he continued to put together good seasons well into the 1900’s.

In 1905, Fred Tenney took over as player-manager. Boston had very little success during Tenney’s years as manager from 1905-1907, finishing 7th or worse in all 3 seasons. Following the 1907 season he was dealt to the New York Giants, with whom he played the next 2 years. Tenney missed all of the 1910 season and then signed back with Boston for one final year.

In 1911, at the age of 39, Tenney played in 102 games and hit .263 with a .353 OBP in his final season. He still knew how to get on base. Tenney was player-manager again, but unfortunately the team didn’t have any more success than before, going 44-107 and finishing last in the NL.

Boston won 2 pennants during Tenney’s time with the club. He was in the top 3 on the team in WAR 6 times, finishing 2nd 3 times. He led the team in D-WAR in 1905. Tenney was in the top 3 on the team in Offensive-WAR 8 times, leading the team 3 times and finishing 2nd twice. He is 16th in WAR in franchise history.

Fred Tenney isn’t high on too many single season franchise leader boards. His 17 triples in 1899 are tied for 6th best ever. Where Tenney really has a major presence is on career franchise leader boards. He holds the all-time franchise record for sacrifice hits. He is 4th all-time in hits and tied for 4th in stolen bases. Tenney is 5th in team history in plate appearances, runs, walks, times on base, and HBP; 6th in WAR for position players and triples; 7th in Offensive WAR, games played, at bats, and total bases; 10th in doubles; and 15th in OBP.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor

Explanation: Tenney played for the team forever and was a consistently good player. He’s a no-doubt Braves hall-of-famer. But should he be in the Ring of Honor? It might be said that Tenney was never elite, but he was a great player for a long time and was on 2 pennant winning teams. I’m recommending that he have a sign go up alongside the retired numbers.

Fred Tenney’s Baseball Reference Page

bennettCharlie Bennett (Catcher, Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1889-1893

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Charlie Bennett was one of the better catchers of the 1880’s. He was a great fielding catcher and had good power at the plate. Bennett had a long career, playing until age 38 when his playing days came to a tragic end.

Bennett was exclusively a catcher for the Beaneaters, helping the team win 3 straight pennants form 1891-1893. In the 1892 championship series Bennett went 2 for 7, homered, scored twice, and stole a base.

Bennett’s best offensive days were behind him by the time he got to Boston, but he still knew how to get on base and he still had power. During his 5 years with the club he hit .216/.343/.316/659 with 44 doubles, 7 triples, 17 homers, 150 RBI, and 27 SB. He managed to post a positive Offensive WAR number in all 5 years with the club.

Though Bennett’s defense declined in his final 2 years with the team, he produced 5.1 D-WAR during his 5 seasons in Boston. He finished in the top 8 in the NL in Defensive WAR in his first 3 seasons with the Beaneaters. During those same 3 seasons he led NL catchers in fielding percentage each year.

Charlie Bennett shows up in Braves record books as tied for 23rd all-time in Defensive WAR. The Beaneaters won 3 pennants during his time with the club. He led the team in D-WAR 3 times.

Bennett’s career with Boston may have continued, but in 1894 he was run over by a train and lost both of his legs. Despite this awful accident, Bennett was apparently successful in his post-playing days and lived until 1927. Detroit’s Bennett Stadium was named for the catcher and he threw out the first pitch on opening day for the Tigers every year until his death.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Bennett was a good catcher and a key part of the early 1890’s teams that won 3 straight pennants. He doesn’t merit an induction into the team HOF, although he was obviously a good player for the franchise. Apparently he was also an amazing individual, as he did not let the loss of both legs destroy his life.

Charlie Bennett’s Baseball Reference Page

tlewisTed Lewis (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1896-1900

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Ted Lewis was a part of a great Beaneaters pitching staff that led the team to the final 2 pennants under Frank Selee. Lewis came from Wales and was devoutly religious, leading to his being nicknamed “Parson.” He had a solid 5 year stretch with Boston, going 78-47 with a 3.53 ERA, 105 complete games, 6 shutouts, and 3 saves. At the plate he hit .237/.282/.265/.546 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 42 RBI, and 4 steals.

Parson’s first full season was in 1897, and he went 21-12 that year with a 3.85 ERA, 30 CG, 2 SHO, and 1 save, as the Beaneaters won the pennant. A year later the Beaneaters repeated as champs, and Lewis was even better, going 26-8 with a 2.90 ERA, 29 complete games, 1 shutout, and 2 saves. Lewis led the NL in win percentage that season, finished 2nd in saves, 3rd in H/9, and was in the top 8 in WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, and WHIP.

Ted Lewis pitched 2 more solid seasons for the Beaneaters, going 17-11 with a 3.49 ERA, 23 CG, and 2 SHO in 1899, and 13-12 with a 4.13 ERA, 19 CG, and 1 shutout in 1900. He jumped to the Boston Americans after the season and 1901 ended up being his final season in baseball.

Boston won 2 pennants during Lewis’ time with the club. He was in the top 3 on the team in P-WAR in 4 of his 5 seasons with the club, finishing 2nd on the team 3 times. He was 3rd on the team in WAR in 1898.

Ted Lewis appears on a number of franchise top-50 lists but is usually in the lower half.

After baseball, Lewis ran for congress twice as a democrat in 1910 and 1914, losing both times.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: The Parson pitched only 4 years with the club but they were 4 good years. He helped the team win their final 2 pennants of the 1800’s. Lewis was the last player I decided to recommend. It took me a while to decide because of his short tenure but in the end I decided he was worthy.

Ted Lewis’ Baseball Reference Page

dinneenBill Dinneen (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1900-1901

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Big Bill Dinneen was a workhorse starter who pitched 2 great seasons for the Beaneaters during the final stages of the Frank Selee era. In 2 years with Boston he went 35-32 with a 3.03 ERA, 64 CG, and a shutout.

Dinneen’s first year with the team came in 1900, as the Beaneaters suffered through their first losing season since 1886. He went 20-14 that year with a 3.12 ERA, 33 complete games, and 1 shutout. Big Bill finished 2nd that year in WAR, WAR for pitchers, wins, and complete games. He was also in the top 7 in H/9, K/9, games pitched, innings pitched, strikeouts, and starts. He was 10th in WHIP

The next season the Beaneaters again struggled, ending the year with a .500 record. Dinneen’s win-loss record was just 15-18, but he posted a 2.94 ERA and had 31 complete games. He still finished in the top 10 in the NL in WAR for pitchers, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, starts, and complete games.

Boston was not close to winning a pennant while Dinneen was with the club. Dinneen led the team in WAR and P-WAR in 1900. In 1901 he was 3rd on the team in WAR and 2nd in Pitching-WAR.

Bill Dinneen has the 15th best ERA in team history. He’s on a few other leader boards but nothing notable.

Dinneen jumped to the Boston American in 1902 and played in the majors through 1909. After his career as a player Dinneen was a long time umpire, considered one of the best in the game.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Bill Dinneen had the misfortune of playing for Boston at the very start of its long period of frustration. He lost 32 games in 2 seasons despite finishing 2nd and 6th respectively in WAR for pitchers. Dinneen only pitched 2 years for the club so he is not a strong candidate for the team HOF, but his case is interesting none the less.

Bill Dinneen’s Baseball Reference Page

pittTogie Pittinger (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1900-1904

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Togie Pittinger was another workhorse starter who pitched on some bad Boston teams in the early 1900’s. During his 5 seasons with the club the Beaneaters had only 1 winning season and never finished closer than 17 games out of 1st place. His final year with the team, 1904, was the worst season in franchise history at the time (it would be “topped” the next season and “bested” again the year after that, as the team settled into its new position as worst in baseball).

The team’s awful play obscures Pittinger’s good work with the club during his 5 seasons. He ended up with a poor won-loss record of 75-84 during his stay in Boston, but he posted a 3.08 ERA, and had 141 complete games and 16 shutouts in 5 seasons. He notched 1 save for the team. He was a terrible hitter.

In his first full season of 1901, Pittinger had a 3.01 ERA, 27 CG, and 1 shutout, but finished just 13-16.

His most successful season came in 1902, the only year that the team had a winning record while he was with the team. Togie went 27-16 with a 2.52 ERA, 36 complete games, and 7 shutouts. He finished 2nd in the National League that year in wins, games pitched, innings, starts, and complete games. He was also in the top 6 in the NL in WAR, WAR for pitchers, strikeouts, and shutouts. He finished 10th in K/9.

1903 was a bizarre season for Pittinger. He had a 3.48 ERA, tossed 35 complete games and 3 shutouts, and had 1 save, while ending up with a win-loss record of 18-22. He wound up leading the NL in several categories that you don’t ever want to be at the top of the list in, including losses, hits allowed, earned runs allowed, homers allowed, and walks allowed.

The large walk total was not aberration. Tugie managed to do fairly well at preventing runs during his career, despite being one of the more wild pitchers in the game at the time. He led the NL in walks 3 straight years from 1902-1904.

Pittinger rebounded in 1904, posting a 2.66 ERA, 35 CG, and 5 SHO. Still, his win-loss record was poor at 15-21. He was in the top 7 in the NL that season in WAR for pitchers, games pitched, innings, K’s, starts, complete games, and shutouts. He finished 10th in K/9.

Togie Pittinger was traded to Philly after the 04 season. He played 3 more seasons before retiring. Sadly, he did not live long after his career came to a close, dying of Bright’s disease less than 2 years later.

Boston was never close to winning a pennant during Togie’s time with the club. He led the team in WAR in 1904 and was 2nd in 1902. He led the team in P-WAR in 1904 and was 2nd on the team in 1902 and 1903.

He is 13th in Braves history in complete games and tied 14th in shutouts. His 7 shutouts in 1902 ranks tied for 5th in team history. He appears on a number of other top-25 and top-50 leader boards in franchise record books but nothing else notable.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Togie’s stats are hard to read in 2 ways. The teams he played for were not very good, and thus his win-loss records seem incongruous with other numbers like his WAR. On the other hand, he played at the beginning of the dead ball era, thus his ERA numbers can be misleading. Consider, Pittinger had a career ERA of 3.10, yet didn’t finish in the top 10 in ERA once. Either way, he’s not someone we should recommend for the team HOF.

Togie Pittinger’s Baseball Reference Page

maddenKid Madden (Pitcher, Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1887-1889

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: The story of Kid Madden is a curious and ultimately tragic one. The first of two pitchers named “Kid” to play for the Beaneaters in the 1800’s, while Kid Nichols was destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Kid Madden was destined for obscurity.

Standing 5-7 and weighing only 130 lbs, it’s easy to see why the 19-year old was called “Kid” when he signed with the Beaneaters as a left handed pitcher. Boston had discovered Madden when he pitched against them in an exhibition game while with a team from his hometown of Portland, Maine.

Despite his wispy stature, the kid was nasty on the mound. He was a trickster; someone who was almost certainly referred to at times as a “crafty left-hander.” Madden relied on curves and “drops” to puzzle hitters.

Kid Madden’s first and best year in baseball came in 1887 when he went 21-14 for Boston with a 3.79 ERA, 36 complete games, and 3 shutouts. He was 2nd in the NL in shutouts that year and finished in the top 10 in wins and H/9.

In 1888 Madden was just 7-11 with a 2.95 ERA, 17 complete games, and 1 shutout. Despite the poor W-L record he finished in the top 10 in WHIP, H/9, BB/9, and K/BB.

In 1889, a year that saw the Beaneaters come up just short of winning the pennant, Madden was 10-10 with 18 complete games, 1 shutout, and 1 save. His ERA that year bumped up to 4.40. He did finish 4th in saves that year, despite recording only 1.

In his 3 seasons with Boston Kid Madden went 38-35 with a 3.74 ERA, 71 complete games, 5 shutouts, and 1 save. He hit .239/.289/.281/.569 with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 1 homer, 29 RBI, and 14 SB.

Madden still shows up on several franchise single season and career leader boards, though usually toward the lower end of top-50’s. In point of fact, the most notable aspect of Madden’s presence in Braves record books is his appearance on leader boards signifying both great control and extreme wildness.

During his 3 seasons with the club, Boston did not win a pennant, though they came close in 1889, finishing just 1 game back. He was 2nd on the team in WAR in 1887. Madden led the team in P-WAR once and finished 3rd another year.

In 1890 Madden jumped from the Beaneaters of the NL to the Boston Reds of the Players League. When that team joined the American Association in 1891, Madden came along, but was soon sold to the Baltimore Orioles of the AA. He pitched in 32 games for the O’s, finishing with a 4.10 ERA.

Remarkably, at the age of just 23, his career was over. Sadly, the Kid’s life outside of baseball would be cut short as well. Destitute, Madden died of consumption in 1896, 7 months shy of his 30th birthday. He left behind a wife and 2 children.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Obviously Kid Madden is not someone who should be in the team HOF. I included him in this entry in part because he did have a few good years with the team, but mostly because his career was so strange and his post-baseball life so sad.

Kid Madden’s Baseball Reference Page

Recap

 

Not Recommended

Old Hoss Radbourn

Dan Brouthers

Joe Kelley

Charley Jones

John O’Rourke

Jimmy Bannon

Charlie Bennett

Bill Dinneen

Togie Pittinger

Kid Madden

Braves Hall of Fame

Arthur Soden (Owner)

Frank Selee (Manager)

John Clarkson

Jimmy Collins

Hugh Duffy

Billy Hamilton

King Kelly

Tommy McCarthy

Kid Nichols

Vic Willis

Tommy Bond

Jack Burdock

John Morrill

Ezra Sutton

Jim Whitney

Joe Hornung

Charlie Buffington

Sam Wise

Billy Nash

Tommy Tucker

Herman Long

Harry Staley

Jack Stivetts

Bobby Lowe

Chick Stahl

Fred Tenney

Ted Lewis

Braves Ring of Honor (Retired Number for Player with No Number)

Frank Selee (Manager)

Kid Nichols

Herman Long

Fred Tenney

Statue

Kid Nichols

Final Word

 

This era was much harder to deal with, as it covered more than 5 times as many seasons as the previous era (when you add in players whose careers with the team carried on into the 1900’s). It was also a very successful era, with the team winning 8 pennants during the 25 years from 1876-1900. The Red Stockings/Red Caps/Beaneaters were one of the premier franchises during this era, and so naturally they had many great players. It was going to take a while to sort through them all.

I am recommending a lot of players for the team HOF, and at times I did worry that I wasn’t perhaps being strict enough. However, the Braves themselves, while very strict about who gets a retired number, have not been all that strict about who goes into the HOF.

While I’m recommending 25 players, 1 manager, and 1 owner for the team HOF, I’m calling for only 4 of those individuals to go into the Ring of Honor and have a sign up alongside the retired numbers. Kid Nichols is the only player I feel is worthy of having a statue.

It took me a very long time to complete this entry. I went back and forth on certain players 4 and 5 times. The players that I had the most difficult time with were ones who only played a few years with the team, weren’t necessarily the best players on the team, but played important roles on teams that won titles.

At one point I went back through all the players and changed a number of players of that type from recommended to not recommended. I thought I was finished. Where upon the thought occurred to me that I would have no problem recommending players who had similar careers with the Braves during the 1990’s.

If I would recommend an Otis Nixon or a Terry Pendleton, then I really shouldn’t be shutting the door on the Hank Staley/Chick Stahl type players simply because I have no sentimental feeling for them. That’s when I realized that guys who contributed to championship teams were just automatically going to be good candidates for the team HOF.

Now that I’m finally finished with this entry I feel like I got it right. I just hope I don’t have to edit this thing 30 times like I did with the Pre-ML entry.

Boston_Beaneaterslogo2

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Braves Hall of Fame Candidates: Pre-Modern Major League History (1876-1900) Part I

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Author’s Note: This entry covers players who began playing with the Braves during the 1876-1900 period. Obviously some of the players continued to play for the team after this era. Their contributions to the franchise in the years after will be taken into account as well.

 

Of course some players were with the Braves during this era but began playing for the team earlier. Those players were covered in the previous post.

 

I relied heavily (as always) on Baseball Reference while doing this entry. I also got a good deal of information from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website, as well as SABR. Links to player pages at BBR will be included for each player, and Baseball Hall page links will be included when applicable.

 

As detailed in the previous post, the original Cincinnati Red Stockings disbanded in 1870, and the Wright boys formed a new Red Stockings team based out of Boston in 1871, which played in the National Association. When the Red Stockings joined the National League in 1876, one of the two new teams to join the league along with the six holdovers from the NA was a new team calling themselves the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Consequently, the Boston Red Stockings were sometimes referred to as the Red Caps to distinguish them from the Cincinnati team.

 

However, Baseball Reference refers to the Boston team as the Red Stockings from 1871-1882, not as the Red Stockings from 1871-1875 and as the Red Caps from 1876-1882. They refer to the Cincinnati team as the Reds, thus removing any need to change the Boston name.

 

That Cincinnati Reds team lasted only through the 1880 season. However, in 1882 a new Cincinnati Red Stockings team sprang up in the American Association, and that team would eventually become the Cincinnati Reds that we know today. In 1883, attempting to avoid being confused for the Red Stockings of the AA, the Boston Red Stockings/Red Caps switched their name to the Boston Beaneaters. They would keep that moniker into the 1900’s.

 

To avoid confusion, I will refer to the team as the Red Stockings for years 1871-1882, rather than calling the team Red Caps for any of that time period. For 1883 on, I will refer to the team as the Beaneaters. But of course, Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters are all the same franchise, and the Braves are the current name of that same franchise.

 

I ended up having to split this era up into 2 entries, as it just became too lengthy. The first entry contains the players/managers who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Part II contains players not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

 

For any questions or clarifications on the process I’m following for these blogs, see the intro to this series at the link below.

 

Braves Hall of Fame Introduction

bos1888
1888 Beaneaters at South End Grounds.

 

 

Explanation of the Era

 

This entry covers the period of time from the creation of the National League in 1876 (the beginning of MLB history) to 1900, the year before the American League attained major league status. Today, historians usually consider the start of the National League in 1876 to be the beginning of major league history. Historians generally consider the American League obtaining major league status in 1901 to be the beginning of modern major league history.

Though the NL was certainly a step up from the National Association in terms of enforcing order and not allowing players to jump ship whenever they wanted, the early years of major league baseball were still tumultuous. Many rival leagues sprang up and bid against the National League for the best players. Players rebelled against the “reserve clause” which restricted the free movement of players between clubs. It was common for players to “jump” from one league to another, regardless of any contracts.

The most successful of the other pro baseball leagues was the American Association. From 1884-1890 the champions of the National League played the champions of the American Association in a series in order to determine an overall champion. This was the first attempt at a “World Series.” However, it’s important to understand that these were always considered exhibitions. For what it’s worth, the NL teams won in 1884, 1887, 1888, 1889; the AA team won in 1886; and the series ended in 3-3-1 draws in 1885 and 1890. The 1886 St. Louis Browns were the only AA team to win one of these series, beating the White Stockings. The American Association ended up folding in 1891, and for the rest of the century the NL had no other rival major league.

In 1892 the NL experimented with splitting the season up into halves and having the winners of each half play each other in a series at the end of the year. The Boston Beaneaters beat the Cleveland Spiders, 5-0-1.

From 1894-1897, the team with the best record in the league played the next best team in a series at the end of the year. That format was attempted again in 1900. I have been unable to find results for any of these series, which leads me to believe that these series were almost like an All-Star Game in terms of being just exhibitions. It would appear that champion of the league was determined by whoever had the best record at the end of the regular season during these years, just as it was in all other years.

 

root
1897 Beaneaters Rooters pin.

From 1876-1891, the NL played all but 2 seasons with 8 teams, playing with just 6 teams in 1877 and 1878. In 1892 following the collapse of the AA, the NL expanded to 12 teams, and it remained a 12-team league until dropping back to 8 teams in 1900.

The number of games played each year fluctuated as well. In 1876, no team played more than 70 games. From the mid-1880’s-on teams played over 100 games a year. During the 1890’s the season was usually 132 games but rose as high as 154 in 1899.

Considering that the National League played with an average of about 9 teams per year during the 25-year period from 1876-1900 it is perhaps not surprising that only 7 teams won pennants during that stretch. Still, it’s fair to say that the 25 years of pre-modern ML history was an era of mini-dynasties and true dynasties. Of the 9 teams who won pennants during the era, all but the Detroit Wolverines won multiple pennants.

Side note: the Wolverines began in 1881 and ended after the 1888 season, just 1 year after winning the title pennant in 1887. Most of their best players were sold off to the Boston Beaneaters, eventually helping the team return to the top of baseball.

The Providence Grays were the only team who won multiple pennants during the era that did not repeat, winning in 1879 (under Harry Wright and with many former Red Stockings on the team) and again in 1884 (by that time Wright and all other former Red Stockings were gone.

Side note: Like the Wolverines, the Grays were a short-lived team, despite some success. Their first year was 1878 and their final year was 1885. Just like the Wolverines, the Grays’ final season the year after their 2nd pennant. In yet another similarity, Providence’s best player was obtained by the Red Stockings.

The New York Giants were the other team that won 2 pennants during the era, going back to back in 1888 and 1889, besting the Red Stockings by a game to win the 2nd pennant. The Giants began as the Gothams in 1883 and play today as the San Francisco Giants, the current defending World Series champs.

Brooklyn and Baltimore each won 3 titles during the period. Brooklyn won in 1890 as the Bridegrooms, and won back to back in 1899-1900 as the Superbas. They beat out the Red Stockings to win the 1899 pennant by 8 games, ending Boston’s attempt at another 3-peat and essentially ending Boston’s dynasty. Brooklyn began as the Atlantics in the American Association in 1884, joined the NL in 1890, and continue today as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Baltimore Orioles were a dominant team during the mid-1890’s, winning 3 consecutive pennants from 1894-1896. That version of the O’s began as an AA team in 1882, moved to the NL in 1892 following the collapse of the American Association, and their final season came in 1899. They shutdown after that as the NL shrank back down to an 8-team league.

The 2 true dynasties of the era were the Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings. Chicago was the only team other than Boston to win more than 3 pennants, taking a total of 6 during the era. The White Stockings began as a National Association team in 1871, the same year as the Red Stockings, but they did not play in 1872 or 1873 due to the Chicago Fire. They played the final 2 seasons of the NA, and it was their owner, William Hulbert, who put together the National League.

Led by a number of former Red Stockings, the White Stockings won the pennant in the inaugural NL season of 1876. Led by perhaps the greatest player of the era, Cap Anson, Chicago won 3 straight pennants from 1880-1882. Boston ended Chicago’s run in 1883, but it didn’t take long for the White Stockings to get back on top.

The White Stockings went back-to-back again in 1885 and 1886. At that point Boston owner Arthur Soden had apparently had enough, as he paid outrageous amounts of money to purchase Chicago’s best pitcher in John Clarkson and their most popular player in King Kelly. That caused an uproar in Chicago and didn’t immediately led to a pennant in Boston, but it ended Chicago’s dynasty. That White Stockings team plays today as the Chicago Cubs.

The Boston Red Stockings (Red Caps)/Beaneaters were the only team to have success more or less throughout the era, and they were the dominant team of the pre-modern MLB era, winning 8 titles. They won back-to-back in 1877-1878 as the Red Stockings (Red Caps) and then won in 1883 as the Beaneaters. The Beaneaters won 5 pennants in the 1890’s, winning 3 straight from 1891 through 1893, and going back to back in 1897 and 1898).

Braves History of the Era

 

In the first entry in this series I stated that if you included the Braves’ pre-MLB history in the discussion, you would have to consider that the years from 1871-1875 (when the team won 4 straight championships in the NA) was perhaps the most successful era in team history. Some, however, may not include the National Association years since they came prior to the start of MLB.

If you say that the NA era is not valid, then the most successful era in Braves history may just be the one from 1876-1900, the pre-modern MLB seasons. During those 25 years, the team finished with a winning record in all but 5 seasons, with the 5th losing season coming in 1900. They won 8 championships during that time, including back-to-back in 1877 and 1878, 3 straight from 1891-1893, and back-to-back again in 1897 and 1898.

Boston_Beaneaterslogo2Actually, from a Braves perspective, it really would have worked better to have this era defined as 1876-1899 or 1876-1901. However, unlike with later eras, I felt that what was going on in the league was more important in early baseball history than what was going on with the team. Historians refer to 1876-1900 as pre-modern MLB history, and I’ve used those parameters here. It just makes things a bit awkward in terms of team history, as the 1899 season would have made sense since it was the last good season for a long time, and the 1901 season would have made sense since it was Frank Selee’s last season as manager.

 

Following their phenomenal success in the National Association, the Boston Red Stockings moved to the National League and continued to win. With Harry Wright still managing the team and George Wright leading the team on the field, it didn’t take long for the Red Stockings to start winning in the new league. However once again there would be a year of reprieve before the Wright boys got back to the top.

When William Hulbert created the National League, he also managed to lure a number of Red Stockings players to his Chicago White Stockings team. Catcher Deacon White, 1B Cal McVey, 2B Ross Barnes, and pitcher Al Spalding (now player-manager) left Boston and played for Chicago in the NL’s inaugural season, leading the White Stockings to the pennant.

boston-1876-with-borden_ball
1876 Red Stockings.

Harry Schafer, Jack Manning, Jim O’Rourke, and Andy Leonard stuck with the Wright Boys as the Red Stockings moved into the National League. They would be joined by future player-manager John Morrill in that first NL season of 1876. The team would finish in 4th place that year.

Following the 1876 season, Red Stockings owner Nicholas Apollonio sold the team to Arthur Soden. After being run by 4 different owners during their first 6 seasons, the Red Stockings would be under Soden’s ownership for the next 30 years. Soden was a big time player in the National League, and would go on to serve for a time as league president. He would create the hated “Reserve Clause” which gave teams complete control over players.

During the wars with the American Association, the Players Leauge, and the American League Soden at times financially backed teams which were failing, in order to help the league. The Red Stockings would be hit hard by player revolts at times, and would be hit harder than any other team by players jumping to the American League at the turn of the century.

1876
1876 Red Stockings.

For the 2nd National League season of 1877 Deacon White returned to the Red Stockings from Chicago, and Boston added shortstop Ezra Sutton and pitcher Tommy Bond from Philadelphia and Hartford respectively. Once again Harry and George Wright’s Red Stockings were on top of baseball, as the team went 42-18 to win the pennant by 7 games. They went 20-1 down the stretch to pull away from the rest of the league.

1877 Boston Red Stockings 4
1877 Red Stockings.

White left again after the season to join Cincinnati, but Boston added Jack Burdock for the 1878 season. The Red Stockings went 41-19 and took the pennant by 4 games. That gave the Red Stockings back-to-back National League titles and gave them championships in 6 of the last 7 seasons.

Though no one could know it at the time, the 1878 title would be the last championship won under the name “Red Stockings” (or “Red Caps” as the team was sometimes referred to as) as well as the last one under Harry Wright. George Wright left Boston after the season to take over the Providence Grays as player-manager, taking Jim O’Rourke with him. The Red Stockings added Jim’s brother John O’Rourke, and Charley Jones came over from Cincinnati.

The Red Stockings stayed in the race all season in 1879, getting within a game of 1st in late August, but came up short of a 3rd straight title, finishing 54-30, in 2nd place, 5 games behind George Wright’s Providence team.

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1879 Red Stockings.

Then for the first time Boston went into a brief period of struggle. George Wright and Jim O’Rourke returned in 1880 but the Red Stockings finished with a losing record for the first time as a team that year. They wound up 40-44, finishing 6th of 8, miles back of 1st place Chicago.

The next season Ross Barnes returned to the club for the first time since the National Association days. Joe Hornung also joined the team from Buffalo, and Jim Whitney debuted for the club. However, Jim O’Rourke left for good, along with his brother, and the Red Stockings were under .500 again in 1881, this time going 38-45, once again finishing 6th of 8, well back of 1st place Chicago.

That turned out to be Harry Wright’s last year as manager of the club. Both George and Harry left the team for Providence after that season. The era of the Wright Brothers was over.

John Morrill took over as player-manager in 1882, Sam Wise joined the team from Detroit, and the team finished with a winning record of 45-39, stopping the streak of losing seasons at 2. However, the Red Stockings finished 3rd of 8, once again well, well back of the Chicago White Stockings, who won their 3rd straight pennant (Providence finished 2nd, 14 games ahead of Boston, but 3 games back of Chicago).

There were more changes to come. The American Association had sprung up in 1882 as a rival league to the NL, advertising more freedom and control for players. One of the teams competing in the AA in 1882 was a new Cincinnati Red Stockings ball club. In order to avoid confusion with that squad, Boston decided to take on a new moniker in 1883, going from Red Stockings to Beaneaters, keeping their colors.

beaneaterslogoThat year the team began the season with Jack Burdock as player-manager of the club, but when the team stagnated later in the year Morrill took over again and the team got hot. Led by Jim Whitney and second year player Charlie Buffington, the Beaneaters went 31-7 down the stretch to go from 8.5 games back to pennant winners. They finished 63-35, 4 games ahead of Chicago, who came up short in their attempt for a 4th straight title (Harry Wright’s Providence squad finished 5 games back).

It may have been the name change that gave Boston the boost it needed to stop the Chicago White Stockings’ run of dominance. Or maybe it was the switch to Morrill late in the year. Whatever the reason, it was the team’s 3rd title in 8 years of National League play and their first without the Wright brothers. But it would be their last for quite a while as well.

Despite being in 1st place for most of the season (as late as August 6th) the Beaneaters were unable to repeat in 1884, finishing 2nd in the league. At 73-38 it was their best regular season record since 1878, but they finished an astonishing 10.5 games behind Providence (no longer managed by Harry Wright).

The Red Stockings then entered their second brief period of struggle, as they finished under .500 in each of the next 2 seasons. In 1885 the Beaneaters were mostly the same team, yet they finished 20 games under .500 at 46-66, in 5th place out of 8, an absurd 41 games behind the pennant winning White Stockings.

A year later the team obtained Old Hoss Radbourn from Providence, and Billy Nash emerged as a force at 3rd base, but the Beaneaters finished 55-61, in 5th place, 30.5 games behind the White Stockings, who won yet another pennant.

After 2 consecutive losing seasons, the club again went away from John Morrill. Boston caused a stir by purchasing White Stockings’ superstar King Kelly for $10,000, and Kelly was made player-manager. The Red Stockings had played an exhibition against a team from Portland, Maine the year before and they signed that team’s ace, young Kid Madden.

None of it seemed to matter. The team played well under Kelly for most of 1887, but after a late season slump the franchise again went back to Morrill. Morrill was unable to turn things around this time, as the team went 12-19 the rest of the way, barely snapping the string of losing seasons with a 61-60 record. They wound up in 5th place out of 8 teams, 16.5 behind 1st place Detroit.

1888_Boston_Beaneaters
1888 Beaneaters.

The next year the Beaneaters again bought one of Chicago’s star players for $10,000, this time brining on pitcher John Clarkson. Morrill was at the helm again in 1888 and the team finished with a winning record, but ended up in 4th place out of 8 with a record of 70-64, 15.5 games behind the New York Giants.

1889 Beaneaters.
1889 Beaneaters.

The next year the Beaneaters paid $30,000 to Detroit for a few of their best players (including Dan Brouthers, Charlie Bennett, and Dick Johnston). Jim Hart took over as manager for the final season of the 1880’s and it looked like the Beaneaters would return to the top of the league. They led the league for most of 1889 and were tied for 1st going into the season’s final day . Unfortunately they ended up losing their final game against Pittsburgh to finish 83-45, 1 game back of the New York Giants, in 2nd place.

1890 would be a crucial season for the franchise. After the team blew the pennant in 1889, Frank Selee took over as manager in 1890. The team had a winning record that year but finished in 5th place out of 8 teams. Boston had been just a game out of 1st in late August, but they went just 8-19 down the stretch, and wound up in 5th place at 76-57, 12.5 games behind the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Thus, the team had faded late for a second straight year, in spite of the managerial change.

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1890 Beaneaters.

But the team’s record and late season slump in 1890 would end up being merely footnotes, as 5 crucial moves in 1890 set the team up for their 2nd run of dominance. The first key move was to bring Selee in as manager, who would end up being one of the best in franchise history. In addition, Boston made 4 key purchases for various amounts of money from different teams that year to bring in Kid Nichols, Tommy Tucker, Herman Long, and Bobby Lowe. Those 4 players would help form the backbone of a team that would win 5 pennants over the next 8 years.

In 1891 the Beaneaters were once again in the race. They made a key pickup in late May, bringing on pitcher Harry Staley. Boston got within a half game of 1st place several times in August. They entered September 3 games out, but they had 6 games with 1st place Chicago remaining. However, they lost 4 of the first 5 of those games to fall 6.5 games back on September 15th. It didn’t look like this would be the year that Boston got back on top.

The season was not over yet, however. The Beaneaters were about to get as hot as a team can possibly get. Beginning with a win over Chicago on September 16th, Boston went on an 18-game win streak (with 1 tie along the way). While the Beaneaters were scorching hot, Chicago stumbled. Boston won their 18th straight on October 2nd to clinch the championship. They finished 87-51, winning the pennant by 3.5 games. It was their first title since 1883.

Stealing the title in 1891 started Boston on another dominant run. Following the 1891 season, with the American Association having collapsed, Boston snagged 3 key players from the defunct league: Jack Stivetts, Hugh Duffy, and Tommy McCarthy. Stivetts would help the team as both pitcher and hitter over the next few years, while Duffy and McCarthy would form the famous “Heavenly Twins” outfield tandem.

In 1892 the Beaneaters won 100 games for the first time, finishing with the best record in the league for the second year in a row. Following the 1892 regular season, the Beaneaters played a series against the team with the best record in the “other half” of the year, which turned out to be the Cleveland Spiders. In the series, Boston looked as dominant as their record suggested, taking all 5 games from the Spiders. During the series they beat legendary pitcher Cy Young twice. Bizarrely, Boston also beat Hall-of-Famer John Clarkson—who the Beaneaters had released on June 30th–twice during the series.

Boston was clearly the best team in baseball in 1892, but they came close to being robbed of the title. Having won the first half of the season, the Beaneaters knew they were guaranteed a spot in the championship series, but looking back over 120 years later it’s amazing how easily the Beaneaters could have ended up shutout of that championship series.

They finished just 1.5 games better than Brooklyn in the first 76 games, and finished 3 games behind Cleveland in the second 76 games. So despite finishing 8.5 games better than the next best team in the NL overall, they were less than 2 games away from not winning either half, and thus not being involved in the final series. Nearly 90 years later, the Cincinnati Reds would end up the victim of just such a scenario, as they had the best record in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but didn’t win either “half” of the year, and missed out on the playoffs.

south_end_grounds
The South End Grounds, Boston’s home from the National Association days through the Miracle Season of 1914.

 

Important note: had the Beaneaters actually missed the 1892 championship series it doesn’t appear that it would have been as big of a deal as the Reds missing out in 1981. By all accounts, the 1892 championship series was an exhibition, and the Beaneaters had already won the “championship” by winning the pennant.

The Beaneaters ran away from the league again in 1893, winning their third consecutive championship (this time there was no final series). They went 86-43 and won the pennant by 5 games. That gave Boston 6 titles in 18 years of the National League.

The Beaneaters were nearly as good in 1894, but they weren’t the best team, ending up in 3rd place, 8 games out, and their reign over. The Beaneaters were in 1st place as late as August 30th, but they went 14-13 down the stretch and wound up well back of Baltimore.

Boston was a winning team the next 2 seasons but never challenged for the title. In 1895 they were in 1st place at the start of July but went into a slump and ended up 71-60, tied for 5th out of 12 in the NL, 16.5 games behind Baltimore.

The next season Boston traded longtime star Billy Nash to Philly for Sliding Billy Hamilton. By this time 2 players signed in 1894—Fred Tenney and Jimmy Collins—were becoming key regulars. In 1896 the team went 74-57 and finished in 4th place in the 12-team NL, 17 games out of 1st, as Baltimore won a 3rd consecutive pennant.

In 1897 the Beaneaters came out of the gate struggling, going 1-6-2 in their first 9 games. They turned it on after that and by mid-June they were in 1st place. They remained atop the NL for most of the rest of the season, but they had a back-and-forth battle with Baltimore in September. With the Orioles trying for a 4th straight title, Boston took 2 of 3 at Baltimore in the penultimate series of the year to go 1.5 games up. The Beaneaters finally clinched the pennant on September 30th, the second-to-last day of the season, with their 93rd victory. The Beaneaters finished 93-39, 2 games ahead of the O’s. It was the greatest season in Boston’s NL history in terms of winning percentage.

With a pitching rotation of Kid Nichols, Ted Lewis, and Vic Willis, Boston was primed to repeat as champions the next year. The Beaneaters spent most of 1898 in 2nd or 3rd place in the National League. They did not take over the top spot in the league until August 16th, and they were back in 2nd place on September 3rd. In the end, however, Boston pulled away from the rest of the NL, at one point going 30-3. They finished 6 games better than Baltimore with a record of 102-47 for their 2nd straight pennant. Their 102 wins tied the franchise record set in 1892.

Boston had a great season in the final year of the century, going 93-57, but they never really challenged for the pennant, finishing 8 games out of 1st behind the Brooklyn Superbas. The end of the 19th century would also mark the end of Boston’s success. After just about 30 years of consistently winning, Boston was about to enter the first prolonged slump in team history.

One key reason for this was that many of Boston’s best players were getting older. However, by far the biggest reason was the emergence of the American League, and its Boston constituent, the Americans (who would eventually become the Red Sox). Under Arthur Soden the Beaneaters had held control of their players. When the AL emerged as a viable option for players, Boston was hit harder than any other team by defections (this will of course be discussed further in the next era’s entry).

Boston_Beaneaters-1900
1900 Beaneaters.

The slump began in 1900, as the Beaneaters finished with a losing record for the first time since 1886. Despite having a roster very similar to the teams of the previous few years, the 1900 Beaneaters went just 66-72 and finished in 4th place in the 8-team National League, 17 games behind pennant-winning Brooklyn.

Though no one knew it at the time, Boston would not be returning to the top anytime soon. This was only the start of hard times for the Beaneaters. Frank Selee’s tenure as manager would last just one year longer. Soden would sell the team a few years into the first decade of the 20th century. And the next team to win a pennant for the franchise would be known as the Miracle Braves of 1914.

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General Facts

 

11 players and 1 manager who began their time with the Braves franchise during this era have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame: John Clarkson; Jimmy Collins; Hugh Duffy; Billy Hamilton; King Kelly; Tommy McCarthy; Kid Nichols; Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn; Vic Willis; Dan Brouthers; Joe Kelley; and manager Frank Selee.

2 players who began their time with the Braves franchise during this era have been inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame: Herman Long and Kid Nichols.

Of the players included in this entry, the last to retire was Fred Tenney, who played his final season in 1911.

 

The Candidates

 

 

seleeFrank Selee (Manager)

Years with Braves as Manager: 1890-1901

Hall of Fame: 1999

The Case: It would be hard to argue that Frank Selee is the greatest manager in franchise history, as Bobby Cox’s longevity is just unmatched, but Selee is perhaps the 2nd greatest manager in team history.

Selee led the rebirth of the Boston franchise which had declined since the end of the Harry Wright era. He led the team through one of its most successful periods, managing Boston to 5 pennants in 8 years from 1891-1898. With Selee at the helm, the Beaneaters won 3 straight titles from 1891-1893, and then won consecutive titles in 1897 and 1898. In the championship series of 1892, the Beaneaters swept the 5-game series over the Spiders.

During his 12 years as manager, Selee’s Beaneaters had 10 winning seasons, 1 season at .500, and just 1 losing season. Boston had a winning record in each of his first 10 years at the helm. The team was 1004-649 (.607) under Selee. He is 2nd only to Bobby Cox in franchise history in both games managed and wins. He has 425 more wins than anyone other than Cox. His winning percentage is the highest in franchise history of anyone who managed more than 1 season.

Frank Selee never played major league baseball. He was known as a master talent evaluator. He was not only adept at identifying players with which to build a team; he also had a knack for developing them. He had an ability to mold and shape a team into a champion.

Selee’s Beaneaters were known for playing the game in a gentlemanly manner. In an age when many teams played a rough style of hardball, Selee’s teams were more finesse, utilizing the hit-and-run, double steals, and the bunt. That’s not to say that Boston played small ball under Selee. On the contrary, the Beaneaters were one of the most prolific homerun hitting teams in early baseball history.

Frank Selee was inducted into the HOF as a manager in 1999, voted in by the Veterans Committee.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor.

Explanation: Selee is the 2nd best manager in team history. The team won 5 pennants during his tenure. Obviously he needs to be in the team HOF, but I think he also deserves to have a sign up alongside the retired numbers. He had a huge influence on the franchise and led the team during perhaps its most successful time period. There just aren’t too many people more important to the franchise than Frank Selee.

Frank Selee’s Baseball Reference Page

Frank Selee’s Baseball Hall Page

 

clarksonJohn Clarkson (Pitcher, Right Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1888-1892

Hall of Fame: 1963

The Case: In 1888 Boston purchased pitcher John Clarkson for $10,000. At the time, this was considered an outrageous amount of money. Over the next 4+ seasons Clarkson lived up to the price tag.

Clarkson’s stats don’t compute with the modern game, but they are none-the-less impressive. During his time with the franchise, Clarkson went 149-82 with a 2.82 ERA, 226 complete games, 20 shutouts, and 4 saves.

In his first season with Boston in 1888, Clarkson went 33-20 with a 2.76 ERA. That year he finished 2nd in the NL in wins, strikeouts, starts, and complete games.

In 1889 Clarkson had an historically special season. He went 49-19 with a 2.73 ERA, accomplishing the pitching triple crown by leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In addition, Clarkson led the NL in WAR, WAR for pitchers, win pct, WHIP, games pitched, innings pitched, starts, complete games, and shutouts. He was also in the top 5 in H/9, K/9, saves, and K/BB. Just for good measure, he also led all NL pitchers in putouts, assists, and range factor.

Unfortunately, Clarkson couldn’t keep the Beaneaters from blowing the pennant in 1889, but his amazing season has a big presence in franchise records. His 1889 marks are still single season franchise bests in WAR for pitchers, wins (49), games started, and complete games (89). His 8 shutouts that year are still tied 3rd best in team history. His strikeout total from1889 remains 3rd best in team history. His WAR from that season is tied with Charlie Buffington’s mark from 1884 for the best in franchise history and the 6th best in baseball history. His 49 pitching wins from that season are the 4th most in baseball history.

While Clarkson’s 1889 numbers are remarkable on their own, you really have to compare them to the rest of the league to understand how incredible a year he had. Something that can cause people not to fully grasp the craziness of Clarkson’s 1889 year is the fact that his 1889 numbers are fairly similar to the numbers he put up in 1885 when with Chicago in the National Association. Some might assume that Clarkson pitched during a time when all pitchers put up similar numbers. However, the game had changed much during the years between 1885 and 1889, including new rules that made pitching quite different. By 1889, Clarkson was the only pitcher throwing as many games and innings as he had back in the earlier days.

You will not find many seasons more dominant than Clarkson’s 1889 year. He had a Ruthian season as a pitcher. Clarkson won 21 more games than any other pitcher; made 25 more starts and pitched in 24 more games than any other pitcher; threw 200 more innings than any other pitcher; and had 22 more complete games and 4 more shutouts than any other pitcher.

Clarkson followed up his incredible 1889 season by going 26-18 in 1890. In 1891 he helped the Beaneaters to their first championship since 1883, going 33-19 with a 2.79 ERA. Clarkson led the NL in saves that year and finished 2nd in WAR, WAR for pitchers, and wins.

Clarkson’s time with Boston came to a strange end during the middle of the 1892 season. He had a 2.35 ERA in 16 starts on June 30th when the team released him. He signed on with Cleveland and actually wound up pitching against the Beaneaters (and losing twice) in the championship series played at the end of the year.

Clarkson has 4 of the top 23 seasons in win totals for the Braves franchise. He ranks in the top 11 all-time for the franchise in WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and win percentage. He is in the top 14 in games started and strikeouts.

As a hitter, Clarkson hit .217 with 34 doubles, 11 triples, 6 homers, 105 RBI, and 18 SB for the club.

John Clarkson won 1 pennant with Boston (he was let go by the team during the 1892 season). In his 4 full seasons with the team he led the club in WAR twice and was 2nd another season. He led the team in Pitching-WAR 3 times and was 2nd another season. Clarkson is 13th in WAR in franchise history.

Clarkson was inducted into the Baseball HOF as a player by the Veteran’s Committee in 1963.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Clarkson is a strange case in my opinion. He pitched only 4 full seasons for the franchise and was dumped in the middle of his 5th year. The Beaneaters were successful during his time, but they won only 1 title with Clarkson on the roster at the end of the season.

However, even if he pitched for the franchise only in 1889, you would still have to consider him for the team’s HOF. His 1889 season is perhaps the best in team history and is one of the best in baseball history. He is still all over the franchise’s leader boards for his 1889 season. What’s more, he is still all over the team record books for his career, despite only playing 4 full seasons with the team. There’s no argument for Clarkson going into the ring of honor, but he certainly belongs in the Braves HOF.

John Clarkson’s Baseball Reference Page

John Clarkson’s Baseball Hall Page

collinsJimmy Collins (Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1895-1900

Hall of Fame: 1945

The Case: Jimmy Collins, called by many “the king of third basemen,” was a very good offensive player, but he was one of the best defensive players of all-time. He was considered the best fielding third baseman of his time, and perhaps the best until Brooks Robinson.

Collins wasn’t just great at his position; he revolutionized it. He was the first to play away from the bag at third. Collins also mastered the art of defending against the bunt, which was a major offensive weapon for some players at the time. Collins led the NL in putouts and assists 3 times with the franchise, and led the NL in Defensive WAR in 1899.

During his time with the Beaneaters Collins hit .309/.365/.429/.794 with 129 doubles, 43 triples, 34 homers, 484 RBI, and 71 SB. In addition, Collins had 45 HBP (still 8th best in team history) and 48 sac hits while with the team. In 1898 Jimmy Collins led the league in total bases and homers. He finished 2nd in RBI in 1897 and 1898. Collins’ 132 RBI in 1897 is tied for 3rd best in franchise history.

The beginning of Collins’ career is an interesting example of how different baseball was at the time. He began his MLB career with the Braves in 1895, but after playing in just 11 games he was “loaned” to the Louisville Colonels for the remainder of the season. He was returned to the Braves after the season and would be Boston’s third bagger for the next 5 years.

Collins helped lead the Beaneaters to back-to-back titles in 1897 and 1898. He is 8th all-time in Defensive WAR for the franchise. During his 6 years with the team Collins was 2nd on the team in WAR twice. He was in the top 3 on the team in O-WAR 4 times, finishing 2nd twice, and leading the team in O-WAR once. He was in the top 3 on the team in D-WAR 5 times, finishing 2nd twice and leading the team twice.

In 1901 Collins left the Beaneaters and joined Boston’s AL team, the Americans (who would become the Red Sox), with whom he spent most of the rest of his career.

Collins was inducted into the Baseball HOF by the Old Timers Committee as a player in 1945.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I think Collins is a pretty clear cut case. He revolutionized the third base position and was one of the greatest defensive third basemen of all-time. He was one of the key players on the Beaneaters when they won back-to-back titles. He’s definitely a player who should be in the team HOF.

Jimmy Collins’ Baseball Reference Page

Jimmy Collins’ Page at Baseball Hall

duffyHugh Duffy (Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1892-1900

Hall of Fame: 1945

The Case: Hugh Duffy was one of the Beaneaters’ top hitters during the 1890’s, helping lead the team to 4 pennants during his time with the club. Boston won their 2nd straight title in 1892, Duffy’s first year with the team, and won again in 1893. They would win back-to-back titles again in 1897 and 1898.

“Sir Hugh” teamed with fellow Hall-of-Famer Tommy McCarthy to form the “Heavenly Twins” outfield tandem that led the Beaneaters through the 1890’s. Duffy had great range in the outfield. Despite a diminutive stature and being a choke hitter at the plate, he had excellent power.

Sir Hugh spent 9 years with the club, hitting a remarkable .332/.394/.455/.849 with over 1500 hits, nearly 1000 runs, and over 900 RBI. He also compiled 331 SB; 220 doubles; 73 triples; and 69 homers with Boston.

Duffy won back-to-back NL batting titles in 1893 and 1894. He led the NL in homers twice with the Beaneaters (1894 and 1897). But while Duffy was an excellent player throughout his time with the Beaneaters, he is primarily remembered for one historic season.

In 1894, Hugh Duffy had one of the greatest seasons at the plate in major league history. He hit .440/.502/.694/1.196 with 160 runs scored, 237 hits, 51 doubles, 16 triples, 18 homers, 145 RBI, 48 SB, and 66 BB against only 15 strikeouts. His .440 average remains the highest single season batting average in MLB history and will almost certainly never be matched.

In that 1894 season, Duffy led the NL in average, OPS, hits, total bases, doubles, homers, and EXBH. He was 2nd in WAR for position players, Offensive WAR, slugging, and RBI. He was 3rd in the NL in OBP and TOB. Duffy was 4th in runs. He also finished in the top 10 in the league in WAR and SB.

It goes without saying that Duffy’s 1894 season holds a number of single season franchise records. It was perhaps the finest offensive season in team history. From 1894, Duffy holds franchise single season records in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, runs, hits, doubles, and RBI. His 374 total bases from 1894 is 2nd best in team history; his 16 triples are tied-9th; his 85 EXBH are tied 4th; and his 304 TOB are tied 2nd best in franchise history.

Of course as amazing as Duffy’s 1894 season was, it was far from his only great season. Sir Hugh has 3 of the top 11 single season batting averages in team history; 3 of the top 10 runs scored seasons; and 2 of the top 10 RBI seasons in team history.

Duffy has a huge presence on the franchise’s all-time leader board as well. He is 2nd all-time in team history in batting average and stolen bases; 4th in OBP; 7th in triples and RBI; 9th in runs; 10th in hits and TOB; 12th in SH; 13th in TB and doubles; tied for 13th in WAR for position players; 14th in EXBH; tied 14th in OPS; 16th in BB; and 19th in Offensive WAR.

During Hugh Duffy’s 9 years with Boston the team won 4 pennants. He was 2nd on the team in WAR twice. Duffy was in the top 3 on the team in O-WAR 5 times, finishing 2nd twice and leading the team twice.

Sir Hugh Duffy was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 as a player, voted in by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Duffy is a slam dunk for the franchise HOF. He was one of the best players on the team during one of the most successful periods in team history. His 1894 season is perhaps the greatest offensive season in franchise history and dominates the team record books. He ranks high on a number of career records in team history as well.

I don’t think it would be a big mistake to put Duffy in the ring of honor, but I’m not recommending it. In my mind he’s just shy of that threshold.

Hugh Duffy’s Baseball Reference Page

Hugh Duffy’s Baseball Hall Page

hamiltonBilly Hamilton (Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1896-1901

Hall of Fame: 1961

The Case: A few years ago, a player named Billy Hamilton became famous before he ever reached the majors by racking up stolen base numbers in the minors that hadn’t been seen in decades. For baseball historians this was somewhat ironic, as over a century earlier there had been a player named Billy Hamilton who was the best base stealer of his day.

“Sliding Billy” Hamilton played during a time when stolen bases were awarded for things that would not be considered a stolen base today, but his SB total of 937 is none-the-less impressive. He was known for aggressively sliding head first into the bag.

Apart from being the best base stealer of his day, Hamilton was also a great hitter. Actually, by the time Hamilton got to Boston in 1896, his best base stealing days were behind him. In 6 seasons with the Beaneaters, Hamilton did steal 274 bases, but his slash line is more impressive than that: .339/.456/.413/.868. Hamilton helped lead the Beaneaters to back-to-back championships in 1897 and 1898.

Hamilton clearly understood that in order to use his speed and base running skills he needed to be able to get on base. He was the best at taking walks during his day. With the Beaneaters Hamilton led the NL in walks in back-to-back years (1896-1897) and in OBP in 1896 and 1898. He led the NL in runs in 1897 and in OPS in 1898.

Sliding Billy is quite simply one of the greatest hitters in franchise history. He has the highest batting average and the highest OBP in team history. He is 3rd in SB, 10th in BB, 11th in OPS, and 15th in runs scored in team history.

He has 2 of the top 5 single season batting averages in team history, 5 of the top 11 OBP seasons in team history, 2 of the top 4 run scoring seasons in team history, 3 of the top 12 SB seasons in team history, and 3 of the top 15 TOB seasons in team history.

Hamilton’s 83 stolen bases in 1896 is 2nd best in team history. His TOB total in 1896 is tied for 2nd best in team history.

Boston won 2 pennants during Billy Hamilton’s 6 years with the club. He finished in the top 3 on the team in WAR 3 times, finishing 2nd once. He led the team in O-WAR 4 times and was 2nd another season.

Hamilton was voted into the HOF by the Veterans Committee as a player in 1961.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Hamilton led the Braves to back-to-back pennants and is one of the best hitters and base stealers in team history. He’s an obvious choice for the team HOF. In my opinion, he did not play quite long enough with the team to merit induction into the ring of honor.

Billy Hamilton’s Baseball Reference Page

Billy Hamilton’s Baseball Hall Page

kellyKing Kelly (Right Fielder, Catcher, Third Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1887-1889, 1891-1892

As Manager: 1887

Hall of Fame: 1945

The Case: Early on in his career, Michael Kelly gained the moniker “The King of Baseball” and the name stuck. It was very fitting, as King Kelly was not only one of the best players of his time but was also its most popular. He was one of the superstars of early baseball and was the biggest draw during his day.

When Kelly was sold by Chicago to the Beaneaters in 1897 the fans in Chicago were so mad they boycotted opening day (at a time when they were the dominant team in baseball). Along with Cap Anson, Kelly is credited with developing the different positions in the field and many of the strategies that are still used today. Kelly was among the first players to regularly steal 3rd base and home. During his career he played every position in the field.

By the time Kelly got to Boston his best years were behind him. He was player-manager for the first 92 games of the 1897 season. With the team at 49-43, John Morrill took over managing duties for the final 29 games. Kelly hit .322 that season and stole 84 bases. In 1888 he hit .318 with 56 stolen bases. The next year, 1889, Kelly hit .294 and led the NL in doubles.

King Kelly was involved in the player revolt of the early 1890’s. He spent time in two of the other major leagues over the next couple of seasons. He returned to Boston in August of 1891, in time to help the team win its first pennant since 1883. By this time Kelly was on his last leg. He played for Boston again in 1892, helping the team win a 2nd straight pennant, but he was a ghost of his former self (in the championship series he went 0 for 8 with 2 strikeouts and 1 stolen base) and was released after the season.

In 5 seasons with the team, Kelly hit .289/.363/.427/.790 with 238 stolen bases. His 84 stolen bases in 1887 remain a franchise record and he has 3 of the top 11 single season stolen base totals in team history. Kelly ranks 7th in franchise history in stolen bases.

Boston won 2 pennants during King’s time with the club. He was 2nd on the team in WAR once. He was in the top 2 on the team in O-WAR 3 times and led the team once.

King Kelly was voted into the HOF by the Old Timers Committee in 1945 as a player.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: By the time Kelly got to the Beaneaters his best years were behind him. He was still able to hit for a high average and steal bases, but he wasn’t playing at the level he had in Chicago. Nor were the Beaneaters very successful during his first 3 full season in Boston.

Kelly returned to play on Boston teams that won the pennant in 1891 and 1892, but King wasn’t a major part of either of those squads. He didn’t rejoin the team in 1891 until August, and he hit a very unimpressive .231/.322/.250/.572 in 59 plate appearances. He played in 78 games a year later and stole 28 bags, but he hit an abysmal .189/.288/.235/.522.

Having said all of that, I am recommending Kelly for the team HOF. I worked on this entry for weeks. Kelly was one of the first players I worked on and I decided straight away that I was not going to recommend him. While my opinion on over a dozen other guys changed over the next few weeks, I never once wavered on King Kelly not being in the team HOF.

Then just when I thought I had finally wrapped everything up, I started to rethink it, and decided that he is such a legend of the game that he ought to be in. He did have several good years with the team and he was at least on 2 teams that won pennants, even if not one of the best players on either of those teams.

King Kelly’s Baseball Reference Page

King Kelly’s Baseball Hall Page

mccarthyTommy McCarthy (Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1885, 1892-1895

Hall of Fame: 1946

The Case: Along with Hugh Duffy, Tommy McCarthy formed the “Heavenly Twins” outfield tandem that helped the Beaneaters win a couple of titles in the early 1890’s. McCarthy used his smarts to play the game as much as his skills. He is mentioned as one of the players who pioneered the hit-and-run play. McCarthy’s signature on the game was the trap play; a trick where he would trap the ball in the outfield to fool runners.

McCarthy hailed from Boston, and he played his first season of pro ball with the Boston team from the Union Association (McCarthy is the only hall-of-famer who ever played in the Union Association), before signing with the Beaneaters to play in 1885. He struggled mightily that season in 40 games, hitting .182/.209/.196/.405, and the team sent him elsewhere at the end of the year.

McCarthy went on to become a great player in the American Association, and the Beaneaters brought him back home in 1892. McCarthy helped the Beaneaters win their 2nd straight pennant. In the championship series following the season, McCarthy went 8 for 21 to hit .381/.519/.476/.995 with 2 runs, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 3 SB, and 6 walks against only 1 K.

In 1893, McCarthy helped lead the Beaneaters to a 3rd straight championship, hitting .346 with an .894 OPS. The Beaneaters couldn’t win a 4th straight title in 1894, but McCarthy had a great year, batting .349 with a .909 OPS.

Using the trap play, McCarthy put up great outfield assist numbers during his time with the Beaneaters. From 1892-1894, McCarthy posted assist totals of 29, 28, and 28 respectively.

McCarthy struggled in 1895 and the team sold him to Brooklyn after the season for $6,000.

In 5 seasons with Boston, Tommy hit .296/.382/.385/.768. His name still pops up on the Braves franchise leader board in both single season and career marks.

Boston won 2 pennants during Tommy McCarthy’s 5 years with the club. He led the team in Offensive WAR once.

Tommy McCarthy was voted into the HOF as a player in 1946 by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: McCarthy did not play that many years for the franchise and his offensive numbers weren’t spectacular. However, the stats don’t always tell the whole story, and that’s true in the case of Tommy. He was a very smart player and a great defender, as shown by his expertise in the trap play.

McCarthy was squarely on the fringe for me. It doesn’t seem right to have half of the “Heavenly Twins” in the HOF and the other half of the combo out. And yet, McCarthy’s presence in the franchise record books is not overwhelming.

My first inclination was to side with McCarthy going into the Braves HOF. Then I changed my mind and decided against it.

However, upon one final review, I decided that I would recommend him for the HOF after all. There was no real deciding factor; I just looked at the situation once more and decided that he should be in the team HOF, going with my final gut reaction (which happened to agree with my first instinct anyway).

Tommy McCarthy’s Baseball Reference Page

Tommy McCarthy’s Baseball Hall Page

nicholsKid Nichols (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1890-1901

Hall of Fame: 1949

Braves Hall of Fame: 2004

The Case: While he is rarely mentioned in discussions of the best pitchers ever, Kid Nichols is a legend and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Relying almost exclusively on his fastball, Nichols was the first pitcher to win 300 games, and today ranks 7th all-time in wins.

In 12 years with the Beaneaters Nichols went 329-183 with a 3.00 ERA, 476 CG, 44 SHO, and 16 saves.

As a hitter, Nichols hit .231 with 56 doubles, 22 triples, 16 homers, 271 RBI, and 19 stolen bases.

Nichols debuted with Boston in 1890, winning 27 games with a 2.23 ERA. Over the next 3 years, Nichols won a combined 99 games and the Beaneaters won 3 consecutive titles. In the 1892 championship series, Nichols went 2-0 in 2 starts, pitching 2 complete games and 1 shutout, allowing just 3 runs (2 earned) on 17 hits and 4 walks with 13 K over 18 innings, as the Beaneaters won all 5 games. He went 2 for 7 at the plate in the series with 2 RBI, a run, and a stolen base.

Nichols led the NL in ERA in 3 straight seasons from 1896-1898, leading the Beaneaters to back to back titles in 1897 and 1898. Kid won at least 21 games his first 9 years in the league, and won 30 or more games in 7 of 8 seasons from 1891-1898.

During his time with Boston, Nichols led the NL in almost every major pitching category at least once. He led the NL in WAR 3 times and in WAR for pitchers 4 times. He led the NL in WHIP and in shutouts 3 times, and led in saves and K/BB 4 times. He led in H/9, BB/9, starts, and innings pitched once each.

Nichols also finished 2nd in ERA in the NL 4 times, 2nd in K/9 twice, was in the top 3 in strikeouts 3 times, was in the top 5 in starts 10 times, and was in the top 6 in complete games 12 times, all with the Beaneaters.

Kid Nichols is all over the Braves franchise leader boards. He has 7 of the top 18 seasons in WAR for pitchers, and 8 of the top 18 in wins.

Nichols is the all-time leader in WAR for pitchers and complete games for the team. He is 2nd all-time in wins and shutouts. He is 3rd in innings, 4th in starts, tied 4th in games pitched, 6th in strikeouts, and 14th in ERA.

The Beaneaters won 5 pennants during Kid’s 12 years with the club. He was either 1st or 2nd on the team in WAR in all 12 seasons, leading the team 8 times. He was in the top 3 on the team in P-WAR all 12 seasons, leading the team 8 times and finishing 2nd 3 times. In his final year with the team Nichols was 3rd on the team in O-WAR. Kid Nichols is 2nd in WAR in franchise history, behind only the great Hank Aaron.

Kid Nichols was inducted into the baseball HOF in 1949 by the Old Timers Committee, going in as a player. He was inducted into the Braves HOF in 2004.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor. Statue.

Explanation: Kid Nichols is already in the Braves hall of fame, but I feel that he should also have a sign with his initials on it hanging alongside the retired numbers. He is one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the franchise, and was the best pitcher in team history prior to Warren Spahn.

I am actually recommending that the team build a statue of Nichols outside the new stadium. Not only is he one of the greatest pitchers in team history, he was the best pitcher and most valuable player on the team when they won 5 pennants. He’s one of the greatest winners in the history of the franchise. He has never gotten the attention he deserves, but a statue would certainly help fans understand how important he was to the franchise.

Kid Nichols’ Baseball Reference Page

Kid Nichols’ Baseball Hall Page

old hossOld Hoss Radbourn (Pitcher, Right Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1886-1889

Hall of Fame: 1939

The Case: Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn is one of the great pitchers of pre-modern baseball history. As the moniker implies, Radbourn was one of baseball’s all-time great workhorses. Over a 6-year span from 1882-1887, Radbourn averaged 58 starts and 526 innings a season. He won over 300 games in his career and his 1884 season is one of the legendary pitching years in the history of the game.

The Beaneaters acquired Radbourn in 1886, and by that time Old Hoss was on the down slope of his career. While pitching for the Providence Grays in 1883 and 1884, Radbourn pitched in 151 games and made 141 starts, 139 of which he completed, throwing a mindboggling total of 1311 innings over just those 2 seasons. It is thus not all that surprising that the ace pitcher was never quite the same after that.

Note: The author would like to apologize in advance for the following paragraph.

I found it absolutely impossible to resist the temptation to make an “Old Gray Mare” reference here. I mean come on: the guy is listed in baseball record books as “Old Hoss” and he pitched the 2 most absurd “workhorse” like seasons ever for a team called “The Grays,” and then was never the same after that. She ain’t what she used to be indeed.

In 4 years with the Beaneaters, Radbourn went 78-81 with a 3.58 ERA. He had a couple of good seasons but he was just never able to duplicate the success he had with Providence. As a batter he hit .233 with 9 doubles, 3 triples, 4 homers, 65 RBI, and 18 SB in 4 years.

During Old Hoss’ time in Boston the Beaneaters did not win a pennant, though they did have a winning record in 3 of his 4 seasons. In Old Hoss’ final year with the club, the Beaneaters were in 1st for the majority of the season, but ended up giving away the pennant late in the year, finishing a game out of 1st.

Radbourn has some presence on the franchise leader boards but he holds no major records and he is in the top 20 in only a few statistics.

Old Hoss led the team in WAR once and finished 3rd another season during his 4 years with the club. He led the team in Pitching-WAR once and was 2nd in 2 other seasons.

Old Hoss was inducted into the HOF in 1939 as a player, voted in by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Old Hoss Radbourn was somewhat washed up by the time he reached the franchise. It sounds harsh to say that, as he pitched well during his 4 years with the club, but he was never elite again after his phenomenal 1884 season that made him famous before he joined the Beaneaters.

Old Hoss Radbourn’s Baseball Reference Page

Old Hoss Radbourn’s Baseball Hall Page

danDan Brouthers (First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1889

Hall of Fame: 1945

The Case: “Big Dan” Brouthers was a power hitting first baseman during a time when contact and speed were the name of the game. Despite being a truly great player, he was a vagabond, playing for 10 different teams in 3 different leagues over his 19-year career.

Big Dan’s only season with the Beaneaters came in 1889. He won the NL batting title that year, hitting .373/.462/.507/.969 with 105 runs, 26 doubles, 9 triples, 7 homers, 118 RBI, and 22 SB. He also led the league in Offensive WAR and HBP. He finished 2nd in the league in OBP, OPS, and RBI; 3rd in the league in WAR for position players, slugging, and walks; 4th in the league in hits; 5th in the league in times on base; and 7th in the league in WAR and total bases.

Led by Big Dan’s production, the Beaneaters were in 1st place most of the season, but they fell down the stretch and wound up a game back in 2nd place.

Brouthers shows up on a number of franchise single season leader boards. His 1889 season produced the 3rd highest average in team history and the 6th highest OBP. Remarkably, despite being one of the best power hitters in the game, Brouthers’ AB/K ratio from that season is the 2nd best in team history.

Big Dan came close to leading Boston to the pennant in his only year with the club, but they came up 1 game short. He led the team in O-WAR and was 2nd on the team in WAR.

Dan Brouthers was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945, voted in as a player by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Dan Brouthers is a HOF player and had an awesome season for the team, but that was his only season with the franchise.

Dan Brouthers’ Baseball Reference Page

Dan Brouthers’ Baseball Hall Page

joe kelleyJoe Kelley (Left Fielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1891, 1908

As Manager: 1908

Hall of Fame: 1971

The Case: Joe Kelley was one of the best all-around players of his day. He was a good defender, had speed, and was a consistent .300 hitter.

Kelley began his career with the Boston Beaneaters in 1891. He was brought up in July and went 11 for 47 (.244) in 12 games. While Boston would go on to win the pennant, Kelley was let go in August. 16 years later Kelley was coming off a year out of the majors but Boston (now called the Doves) brought Kelley back as player-manager. He hit .259/.342/.338/.680 with 17 RBI and 5 steals in 73 games. The team went 63-91 and finished 6th in the league. He was let go after the season and never played or managed in the majors again.

In his 2 seasons with Boston, Kelley played in 85 games and hit .256/.332/.333/.666 with 20 RBI and 5 stolen bases.

Joe Kelley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1971, voted in by the Veterans Committee.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Joe Kelley was a HOF player who began and ended his career with the franchise, also managing the team for a season. However, he was not yet a HOF player during his first year with the team, and he was no longer a HOF player in his only other year with the team. Also, in his only season as manager the team lost 91 games and finished 6th.

Joe Kelley’s Baseball Reference Page

Joe Kelley’s Baseball Hall Page

vicVic Willis (Pitcher)

Years with Braves: 1898-1905

Hall of Fame: 1995

The Case: Vic Willis began his career with the Beaneaters at the tail end of the 1800’s and what would turn out to be the tail end of their great run of success. Willis had a good fastball but his ace pitch was his “drop,” which was said to be just about unhittable. Willis had exceptionally long fingers which helped him to throw a wicked curve.

In his rookie season of 1898, Willis went 25-13 and played a key role in Boston’s 2nd straight pennant. That turned out to be the team’s final championship until 1914. Though the team fell short of a 3rd straight title in 1899, they still won 95 games, and Vic Willis led the way with perhaps his greatest season. He went 27-8 that year, leading the league with a 2.50 ERA, as well as leading the NL in WAR, WAR for pitchers, H/9, and shutouts. He fired the final no-hitter of the 1800’s that year.

In 1901, while the team struggled, Willis had an excellent season, finishing 2nd in the league in WAR and WAR for pitchers, while leading the NL in shutouts. The next year, 1902, Willis carried the Beaneaters on his back all year, helping the team to its first winning record since 1899. That season he finished 3rd in the NL in WAR and WAR for pitchers, and led the league in games pitched, starts, complete games, shutouts, saves, innings pitched, and strikeouts.

Vic Willis was one of the best pitchers in the game during the early 1900’s but he was hurt by an anemic Boston offense. In 1904, Willis had a 2.85 ERA and led the NL with 39 complete games, yet he lost 25 games. From 1903-1905, Willis made 116 starts and threw 104 complete games with a 3.02 ERA, yet he went just 42-72. He would finish his career with just under 250 wins, but with even a decent offense behind him he would have won well over 300 games.

During his 8 years with the franchise, Vic Willis went 151-147 with a 2.82 ERA, 268 CG, 26 shutouts, and 5 saves. He hit .171 at the plate with 16 doubles, 2 triples, a homer, 68 RBI, and an SB.

Willis has some presence on the franchise’s single season leader boards, but his main impact is on all-time records. Willis is 7th in franchise history in WAR for pitchers. He is 3rd in franchise history in complete games. Willis ranks 7th all-time in team history in innings pitched, strikeouts, and shutouts; 8th in wins and games started; tied 9th in ERA; and 14th in games pitched.

The Beaneaters won 1 pennant during Willis’ 8 years with the club. He led the team in WAR 4 times and was 2nd on the team another season. He was in the top 3 on the team in P-WAR in 7 of his 8 seasons with Boston, leading the team 4 times and finishing 2nd in 2 other seasons. Vic Willis is 12th in WAR in franchise history.

Vic Willis was voted into the HOF in 1995 by the Veterans Committee, going in as a player.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Vic Willis was the team’s best pitcher during the early 1900’s. He helped the team win its final championship as the Beaneaters in 1898. After that, Willis did his best to help a bad team. His overall numbers suffered due to a lack of support, but he was obviously still among the best pitchers in team history.

While I’m not recommending Willis for the ring of honor, I have a feeling that things would be different had the team been more successful during his career. His impact on the team was obviously huge during his 8 years with the team, but it would feel much more important if the franchise had won more than 1 pennant during that stretch. That doesn’t seem fair, but there it is.

Vic Willis’ Baseball Reference Page

Vic Willis’ Baseball Hall Page

beaneaterslogo

Braves Hall of Fame Candidates: Pre-Major League History (1871-1875)

The 1871 Boston Red Stockings: the Birth of the Braves
The 1871 Boston Red Stockings: the Birth of the Braves

Author’s Note: Braves Ring of Honor is my idea for a way to put players who never wore uniform numbers into the same club as the players with retired numbers. This is not something the Braves currently do.

I relied heavily (as always) on Baseball Reference while doing this entry, but I also got a good deal of information from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website. Throughout the entry I will post links to the different players’ pages for these two sites.

The players looked at in this entry played with the franchise during the 1871-1875 era, but obviously some of them continued to play for the team after this era. Their contributions to the franchise in the years after will be taken into account as well.

Following the move to the National League, the Boston Red Stockings were at times referred to as the Boston Red Caps. Baseball Reference makes no mention of the team changing from Red Stockings to Red Caps, but there are some sources that refer to the team as the Red Caps from 1876-1882.

 Presumably this was to avoid confusion with the Cincinnati Red Stockings team which joined the NL as a new team at the same time as Boston, and lasted until the end of the 1880 season. However, Baseball Reference refers to that team as the Cincinnati Reds, thus removing any cause for confusion.

While this entry covers the pre-National League era of 1871-1875, there will be some parts of the entry that cover the NL years. In order to avoid any confusion, the name Red Stockings will be used throughout, rather than using Red Caps for the NL years, or using both terms interchangeably.

 Edited Note: I updated this entry a number of times after it was first published (lesson learned there I guess). The changes made are mentioned throughout this post. Also, in the Final Word section the evolution of this entry is discussed at length.

For any questions or clarifications on the process I’m following for these blogs, see the intro to this series at the link below.

Braves Hall of Fame Introduction

 

boston1873
The 1873 Boston Red Stockings

Explanation of the Era

 

For this entry the explanation section is going to be rather lengthy because of a few debates which we have to tackle before we can move on to the rest of this post.

It may seem strange to pay attention to a 5-year period in pre-Major League history, but that time is actually very important in Braves history. When looking at the history of the Braves franchise, you will usually see it dated back to 1876. However, the only reason for this is that 1876 was the first year of the National League, and therefore, the first year of what is now Major League Baseball or the MLB.

The team that played as the Boston Red Stockings in that inaugural 1876 season, however, had already been together since 1871. Today, the Braves do indeed trace their history back to 1871, and they celebrate it in their hall of fame and museum.

The Braves’ origins actually date back to 1871, when the Wright Brothers (no not the flying ones, the baseball playing ones, Harry and George) formed the Boston Red Stockings out of the disbanded Cincinnati Red Stockings. Though the Cincinnati Reds like to link their history back to the Cincinnati Red Stockings (1867-1870), who in 1869 became the first all-professional baseball team, that original club was actually broken up following the 1870 season.

Half of that original Red Stockings team would then migrate to Boston and form the Boston Red Stockings, who would play in the new National Association, the first all-professional league. That team would eventually join the NL in 1876 and would become the Boston Braves years later.

The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings--the first all-profesional baseball team
The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings–the first all-profesional baseball team

Theoretically, you could trace the Braves origins back to the Cincinnati Red Stockings—the first all-professional team–who toured around running over teams in the late 1860’s, becoming a sensation in the process. After all, the Wright brothers and a number of the other members of that team went on to form the Boston Red Stockings of 1871.

However, where as the original Red Stockings were disbanded by their owner, and were taken under new ownership in Boston in 1871, the team formed in 1871 made a seamless transition into the NL in 1876, with the team itself merely joining a new league. Several of the key players from the NA version of the Red Stockings left when that league ended and Boston joined the NL, but it was still the same franchise. So while the Braves franchise has history going back to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the true origin of the Braves franchise is really 1871.

That still leaves the question of how we should judge the National Association—the first all-professional baseball league for which the Red Stockings played from 1871-1875—considering that it is not connected to the Major Leagues that we know today. Unlike some of the other defunct major leagues, stats and records from the National Association are not included in MLB history. The NA was disbanded in 1875, after which the National League was formed in 1876, beginning MLB history. One league folded and another was formed.

However, there’s no reason not to consider the NA part of Braves history, so it doesn’t really matter that its stats are separate from the rest of Braves history.

Still though, there is some debate over whether the National Association should be considered a major league at all. The main argument for discounting it is that there wasn’t much in the way of competitive balance, as the players ran the league, and they could choose to play for whomever they wanted.

In my mind, however, this is hardly reason for us not to consider the success of the Boston Red Stockings of that era. It was a professional league that consisted of all of the top players in the country, and that’s good enough for me. If the Wright boys managed to tip the scales in their favor, well, I have to say I’m all for it.

The 5-year history of the National Association was dominated by the Boston Red Stockings. The Philadelphia Athletics won the pennant in the inaugural season of 1871, but the Red Stockings won the pennant in the final 4 years of the league’s existence.

Braves History of the Era

boston-red-stockings-1874
The 1874 Boston Red Stockings

While you would obviously want to add at least one asterisk to the following statement, you could make the case that the period from 1871-1875 constitutes the greatest era in Braves history. The team dominated the National Association, winning the championship in the final 4 seasons of the league’s existence.

The NA played with a different number of teams from year to year, and the schedule expanded each season, starting with 31 games in 1871 and going all the way up to 82 games in 1875.

After the Cincinnati Red Stockings voted to disband in 1870, the Wright boys relocated to Boston and formed a new team under the ownership of Ives Whitney Adams, to play in the new National Association of Professional Baseball Players (or just National Association). Along with George and Harry Wright, 2 other members of the Cincinnati Red Stockings also came along to Boston: Cal McVey and Charlie Gould. Most of the other Cincinnati Red Stockings helped form the Washington Olympics, another team in the National Association.

In Boston the Wright Boys, Gould, and McVey would be joined by a few players who would become stars and mainstays for the club: Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Harry Schafer.

In the inaugural season of 1871, the Red Stockings lost star player George Wright to a broken leg, and limped to a disappointing 3rd place finish out of 9 teams, with a record of 20-10-1, 2 games back of 1st.

That was the one year of reprieve for the rest of the Association. Beginning in the following season of 1872, the Red Stockings would dominate the competition, winning 4 consecutive titles.

Red-Stockings-Cigars-ca_-1870s

In 1872 Adams sold the club to John Conkey. Andy Leonard, a member of the original Red Stockings from Cincinnati, rejoined the Wright boys in 1872 after playing for the Olympics in 1871.

The Red Stockings went 39-8-1 in 1872 to win their first championship, finishing 7.5 games up, in 1st place out of 11 teams.

The next year the club was bought by Charles Porter. Gould and McVey left the team, but Boston was joined by Jim O’Rourke and Deacon White. They weren’t quite as dominant in 1873, buy they still managed to go 43-16-1 to win a second straight title, finishing 1st out of 9, 4 games ahead of the pack.

McVey rejoined the team in 1874, and the Red Stockings won a 3rd straight title, this time going 52-18-1 to finish 1st out of 8 teams, 7.5 games better than the rest.

Porter sold the team to Nicholas Apollonio in 1875. That year the Red Stockings’ dominance reached its most ridiculous point. In what would turn out to be the NA’s final season, the Red Stockings went an amazing 71-8-3, running away from the rest of the 13-team league. They finished 15 games better than the next best team to take their 4th consecutive championship.

red-stocking-cigars-poster_bDuring their 5 years in the National Association, the Boston Red Stockings went 225-60-7 (.789) and won 4 titles in a row. They excelled at preventing runs but their real strength was in scoring. It was obviously a very different game back in those days, but the Red Stockings averaged over 10 runs a game in all 5 seasons, leading the league in runs per game in the final 3 years. In 1874 they averaged 2.2 runs more than the next highest scoring team.

Each year the Red Stockings had an average run differential of at least +3.2, and they had the best run differential in the league in the final 4 seasons. During the absurdly dominant season of 1875, the Red Stockings not only went 71-8-3 (.899), they did so with a run differential of +6.0.

Ironically it was partly the overwhelming success of the Red Stockings that led to the demise of the National Association. Answering to the cries of “Break up the Bostons!” Chicago executive William Hulbert put together the National League, which would have stronger central authority. Several of the Red Stockings’ best players would be lured away by Hulbert to play in Chicago.

The National Association was disbanded following the 1875 season. The following year, 6 of the teams from the NA, along with 2 independent teams, would form the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, or just the National League. The Red Stockings were of course among the 6 teams that made the transition to the NL, which was the start of the MLB that still exists today.

General Facts

5 players from the 1871-1875 era of the franchise have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: George Wright; Harry Wright; Jim O’Rourke; Al Spalding; and Deacon White.

No players from the 1871-1875 era have been inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame.

The Candidates

hwHarry Wright (Center Fielder, Pitcher, Manager)

Years with Braves: 1871-1877

Manager of Braves: 1871-1881

Hall of Fame: 1953

The Case: Harry Wright is without a doubt one of the founding fathers of professional baseball. He was a very good player during the early, early days of baseball, and was one of the first to play professionally. During the dawn of organized pro baseball Wright was in the twilight of his playing career, but he would turn his attention to managing and team building.

Following the Civil War, Wright crossed the country, finding the best players in the land to play on his Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team would become the first all-professional baseball team. They became American sport icons as they traveled around beating every team they could find.

Wright is credited with coming up with many of the coaching/managing strategies that we take for granted today. Things as simple as doing drills and stressing teamwork were things that Wright did before anybody else.

Harry Wright is really the founder of the Braves franchise, as he formed the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 and brought them to the NL in 1876. Along with his brother George, one of the early stars of the game, Wright led the Red Stockings to 4 straight championships in the National Association and 2 more in the National League. No matter the league, he and the Red Stockings just won.

During 11 seasons as manager of the Red Stockings, the team went 479-247 (.660) and won 6 championships (4 in NA and 2 in NL).

Harry’s best playing days were behind him by the time the National Association was formed, as he was 36 in the inaugural season of 1871. However, he did hit .315 in 1874. Harry was the Red Stockings’ backup pitcher during the first 4 NA years, pitching in 36 games and going 4-4 with a 3.68 ERA and 14 saves from 1871-1874. He led the team and the league in saves all 4 of those years. Harry continued to be a player manager through the 1877 season, but in the last few years it seems that the “player” label was just ceremonial. He did not pitcher after 1874 and in 1875-1877 he played in exactly 1 game each year.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, voted in by the Veteran’s Committee as a Pioneer/Executive.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor. Statue.

Explanation: Harry Wright is a no-brainer for the Braves HOF. He basically started the franchise and led it through their decade of dominance in the National Association and the National League.

Because of his role as more or less the Father of the Braves, I think Wright should also have a sign with his initials on it hanging next to the Braves retired numbers.

And since he founded the team and managed it during perhaps their most successful period, I believe he (along with his brother) should have a statue outside of the new Braves stadium.

Harry Wright’s Baseball Hall Page

Harry Wright’s Baseball Reference Page

GWGeorge Wright (Shortstop, Second Base)

Years with Braves: 1871-1878, 1880-1881

Hall of Fame: 1937

The Case: The younger brother of Harry, George teamed with his brother to form the Cincinnati Red Stockings and turn them into the preeminent baseball team in the world. He was the highest paid player and biggest star on the first ever all-professional team.

After the team was disbanded, the Wright boys formed a new team in Boston to play in the first ever all-professional baseball league. These Boston Red Stockings were the original Braves.

Where as Harry was the innovative executive, George was the superstar player. You can make the case that George created the modern shortstop position. He was the first to play at the edge of the outfield to improve his range. Wright was the first to recognize that the best way to handle throws to second base was to share it with the second baseman, depending on which side the ball was hit to.

George Wright fielded hard hit ground balls and throws barehanded and was able to make strong throws with either hand. Offensively he had all the tools. During his Cincinnati days Wright was a power hitter, belting 49 homers during the original Red Stocking’s legendary 57-0 1869 season.

George was one of the best players on the Boston Red Stockings team that won 4 consecutive championships in the National Association. Had George not broken his leg during the inaugural season of 1871, the Red Stockings may have won the championship all 5 years. Wright hit .350 during the 5 seasons in the NA and was 3rd on the team in WAR during that time.

The Wright brothers and the Red Stockings moved to the National League in 1876. Though his skills were diminished, George was still a key player on the Red Stockings teams that won back-to-back titles in the NL in 1877 and 1878. That gave them 6 titles in 7 years.

Wright played 10 seasons for the franchise, winning 6 pennants. He led the team in WAR once, in O-WAR once, and in D-WAR 3 times. He was in the top 2 on the team in WAR once, in O-WAR 3 times, and in D-WAR 7 times. He finished in the top 3 on the team in WAR 4 times, in O-WAR 5 times, and in D-WAR 8 times.

George Wright was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Centennial Committee as a Pioneer/Executive in 1937 (ceremony in 1939), some 16 years prior to older brother Harry. George Wright died that same year at the age of 90, some 43 years after his brother Harry.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame. Braves Ring of Honor. Statue.

Explanation: There’s obviously no doubt that George Wright should be in the Braves HOF, as he formed the team along with brother Harry, and he was one of the best players on the team that won 4 straight titles in the NA. While Harry was the manager/executive of the team, George too had a big part in the formation of the Red Stockings. All the great players wanted to play with George Wright.

Because of his role in founding the team, and because he was the team’s first start, I would recommend that Harry Wright also enter the Ring of Honor and have a sign hanging up next to the retired numbers.

I think a statue should be erected of the Wright brothers outside the new stadium. It just makes way too much sense to have a statue of the two brothers, the two founders, together outside the Braves stadium.

George Wright’s Baseball Hall Page

George Wright’s Baseball Reference Page

orourkeJim O’Rourke (Outfielder, Catcher, First Baseman)

 

Years with Braves: 1873-1878, 1880

Hall of Fame: 1945

The Case: Known as Orator Jim, O’Rourke was a baseball lifer, playing the game into his 50’s. O’Rourke was a key member of the Red Stockings’ dominant early days, helping the team win 5 championships (3 in NA and 2 in NL).

Jim O’Rourke joined the Red Stockings in 1873 and helped the team win 3 more titles in a row. Following the move to the National League, O’Rourke helped the team win back-to-back titles in 1877 and 1878. He recorded the first hit in National League–and therefore Major League Baseball—history in 1876.

O’Rourke was a force in the field, at the plate, and on the bases. He was an excellent fielding outfielder, adept at running down fly balls. During the 1870’s he was thought to have perhaps the best outfield arm. His speed also helped him at the plate, as he consistently hit for a high number of doubles and triples. He was a base stealer and was always at the top of the league in runs scored. O’Rourke hit for a high average, batting at least .296 in 5 straight years from 1873-1877.

O’Rourke hit .317 in his 3 seasons with the Red Stockings in the National Association, leading the NA in homers in back-to-back years in 1874 and 1875. Despite playing in only 3 of the 5 NA seasons, O’Rourke was 6th on the team in WAR during that time. He was just as good in the NL, hitting .318 in 4 years with the team. He led the NL in BB and OBP in 1877, and in homers in 1880.

The game was obviously very, very different in those days, but O’Rourke was more like a modern day player than a lot of the other stars. In a time where players concentrated on the art of contact and putting the ball in a good spot, O’Rourke was more willing to go for the home run and much more willing to take a walk.

Despite never reaching double figures in dingers, he led the league in homers 3 times for the Braves. During 1877, the Braves first championship season in the NL, O’Rourke led the league in walks and OBP. The 20 walks and .407 OBP helped him to lead the league in runs scored.

O’Rourke played 7 seasons for the franchise and won 5 pennants. He led the team in WAR once and in O-WAR twice. He finished in the top 2 on the team in WAR twice and in O-WAR 4 times. He was in the top 3 on the team in WAR 4 times and in O-WAR 5 times.

Jim O’Rourke went into the Hall of Fame in 1945, voted in as a player by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: O’Rourke’s stats don’t jump out at you but he was one of the best players on the team during both the NA and early NL years. In reading about O’Rourke, I was able to get a better picture of just how good he was. With these early teams and players, sometimes you can’t get the true picture until you read up on them. There’s no question O’Rourke deserves to be in the Braves HOF.

Jim O’Rourke’s Baseball Hall Page

Jim O’Rourke’s Baseball Reference Page

spaldingAl Spalding (Pitcher, Center Fielder, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1871-1875

Hall of Fame: 1939

The Case: Before he became well known as the owner of one of the most successful sporting goods companies in the world, Al Spalding was one of the best baseball players in the world. He was another of the key pioneers of the game, forming a team and taking it on a barnstorming world tour in the 1880’s.

But prior to that, Spalding helped the Red Stockings become the National Association’s dominant team. Spalding was the best player on the Red Stockings all 5 years in the NA, as the team won 4 straight championships. He led the NA in wins all 5 years, and led the Red Stockings in WAR all 5 years.

During the 5 NA seasons, Spalding went 204-53 with a 2.21 ERA. He was the ace on a team that won 4 straight titles.

Spalding led the NA in shutouts in 4 of the 5 years. In 1874 he led the NA with 65 complete games. In 1875 he led the NA in saves. He led the league in WAR in 1872 and 1875.

Spalding was more than just the best pitcher on the best team in the NA. He was perhaps the best player in the 5-year history of the National Association. Spalding hit .323 during those 5 years, and finished in the top 5 in the league in RBI in 3 straight years from 1872-1874. He was 3rd on the team in O-WAR in 1872.

Al Spalding was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, voted in as a Pioneer/Executive by the Old Timers Committee.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Spalding obviously should be in the Braves Hall of Fame, as he was perhaps the best player on the team all 5 years in the NA, as the team won 4 straight titles. The trickier question was whether or not he should be in the ring of honor.

Obviously, you don’t want to put too many players in the ring of honor because you want to make it very, very special. But at the same time, if a guy really deserves it, then you have to put the exclusivity concerns to the side.

Spalding was a baseball pioneer, but he didn’t form the Braves franchise the way that Harry Wright did. He was, however, the best player, or at least the most valuable statistically, on a team that won 4 straight championships.

The deciding factor for me is that Spalding did not go with the Red Stockings when the team joined the National League. Spalding was one of several Red Stockings who jumped to Chicago and led that team to the title in the NL’s first season.

In the end, I decided not to recommend a sign going up for Spalding, as it just seems like a player should have been with the team longer than 5 years in order to join that club.

Al Spalding’s Baseball Hall Page

Al Spalding’s Baseball Reference Page

deaconDeacon White (Third Baseman, Catcher, Right Fielder)

Years with Braves: 1873-1875, 1877

Hall of Fame: 2013

The Case: Deacon White was the 5th member of the Boston Red Stockings National Association era to be elected to the HOF. He was another of the early stars of the game, recording the first hit in National Association—and therefore professional baseball—history (not to be confused with Jim O’Rourke collecting the first hit in NL, and therefore MLB, history).

White played all 9 positions during his career, but he was best known for being one of the premier bare-handed catchers. When White played, catchers were absolutely crucial to the game. They stood much farther behind the plate than catchers do today, and it was important to have a sure handed catcher. White was an excellent fielding catcher and he was also adept at throwing runners out.

Deacon White played just 4 total seasons with the Red Stockings, but the team won a title in all 4 of those years (3 straight in the NA and 1 more in the NL). What’s more, White was a key member all 4 of those years, hitting a combined .359 with the club. Despite only playing in 3 of the 5 NA seasons, he was 5th on the team in WAR during the NA years.

White was 2nd on the team in WAR in 1877 and led the team in O-WAR. He finished in the top 2 on the team in O-WAR twice and was in the top 3 in O-WAR 3 times. He was 3rd on the team in D-WAR twice.

White joined the Red Stockings in 1873 and made an immediate impact, batting .392, stealing 19 bases in 22 attempts, and leading the NA with 77 RBI. In 1875, as the Red Stockings reached their peak and won their 4th consecutive NA title, White led the Association in batting. According to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame’s website, Deacon White was one of the first players ever to be named MVP, winning the award in that final NA season.

Deacon went with a few other Red Stockings teammates to Chicago in the first year of the National League, but he returned to the Red Stockings in 1877. It wasn’t mere happenstance that White’s return to the club coincided with the Red Stockings becoming champions again. He was the best player in the NL that season, leading the league in hits, triples, RBI, average, slugging, OPS, and WAR for position players.

Over a decade later following the end of the 1888 season, the Beaneaters bought White from Detroit along with several other players. For whatever reason, the team returned White to Detroit in the spring of the following year before the start of the season.

It took a long, long time for Deacon White to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. To be exact, his induction came 113 years after he played his final game. Voted in as a player by the Veteran’s Committee in 2013, White has the earliest birth date of any member that has gone into the Hall as a player.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Deacon White is now in the Baseball HOF, but since he played only 4 years with the Red Stockings I felt like he was on the fringe of the Braves HOF. I ended up giving him the nod because he was such an important player on the team in all 4 years, and because the team won the championship in all 4 years.

Deacon White’s Baseball Hall Page

Deacon White’s Baseball Reference Page

gouldCharlie Gould (First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1871-1872

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Charlie Gould was a member of the original Red Stockings from Cincinnati, and he went with the Wright brothers to Boston to form the new team to play in the NA in 1871.

Gould was noted for being a great defensive first baseman. At the plate he hit .267/.277/.388/.666 during 2 seasons with Boston. In 1872 he led the NA in triples while helping the Red Stockings to the pennant.

Gould did not play in 1873 and he played for other NA teams in 1874 and 1875. In 1876, Gould—who had been the only member of the original Cincinnati Red Stockings who was actually from Cincinnati—returned to Cinci to play for the new Cincinnati baseball club in the NL. His final season was 1877.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: Charlie Gould deserved mention since he was a member of the original Red Stockings team who also played for the original Boston team, but he doesn’t merit inclusion in the team HOF.

Charlie Gould’s Baseball Reference Page

barnesRoss Barnes (Second Baseman, Shortstop)

Years with Braves: 1871-1875, 1881

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Ross Barnes is the first player we’ve looked at who is not a member of the Baseball HOF. But it should be stated out front that Barnes is one of the many players in baseball history who would have made the Hall had health not gotten in the way. For a few years, Barnes was perhaps the best player in the game. Had he been able to play a few years longer he would most likely have gone in either as a player or else as a pioneer.

Al Spalding may have been the most valuable player in the National Association, but according to the website Not in Hall of Fame, Barnes was chosen Most Valuable Teammate by his peers. He was definitely the best position player on the Red Stockings and in the National Association during the league’s 5 year existence.

During the 5 seasons of the NA, Barnes hit .391/.415/.518/.933. He led the NA in batting, slugging, and OPS in back-to-back years in 1872 and 1873. He also led the league in doubles during those 2 seasons. In 1873 he led the NA in stolen bases, walks, and triples. Barnes led the NA in runs 3 times and also led the NA in hits 3 times.

Barnes was 2nd on the Red Stockings in WAR in 4 of 5 seasons, and during the 5 NA years he was 2nd on the team and 1st among position players on the team in WAR. He had the most hits and the most runs of any player during the 5-year history of the NA. During the NA years, Barnes led the team in O-WAR 3 times and was 2nd another year. He led the team in D-WAR 3 times and was 2nd the other 2 seasons.

After helping the Red Stockings win 4 consecutive titles in the NA, Barnes joined fellow former Red Stockings Al Spalding and Deacon White in Chicago for the inaugural 1876 National League season. Chicago was a dominant team that year, while the Red Stockings finished 4th, but it is possible that the Red Stockings would have won the championship if they had still had Barnes that season. Ross Barnes led the NL in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, runs, hits, doubles, triples, walks, and total bases in that inaugural MLB season.

Barnes was the best player in the game and was in the prime of this career, but fate would now turn against him. In 1877 Barnes fell ill from a terrible fever and he was never the same player again. He played in just 22 games that year and missed all of the next season. After playing for Cincinnati in 1879, Barnes missed all of 1880. He returned to the Red Stockings for 1 final year in 1881, but he was a shadow of the player he once was (though even then he was able to finish 3rd on the team in Offensive WAR). At the age of 31, Barnes’ career was over.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: There’s no need to explain Barnes going into the club’s HOF, as he was the best position player–and maybe even the best overall player–on the Red Stockings team that won 4 straight titles in the NA. It was harder to decide whether or not he should go into the ROH.

Putting a sign up for Barnes would be a cool tribute to a player that is totally forgotten, apparently even by those who study the history of the game, as he was not put into the Baseball HOF as a pioneer.

In the end, it came down to the same exact thing that decided the issue with Spalding. Like Spalding, Barnes went to Chicago in 1876, rather than remaining with the Wright Boys as they joined the National League. Barnes and Spalding led Chicago to the title that season.

Barnes did make a comeback with Boston in 1881, but that doesn’t change anything for me. He just wasn’t around long enough to go into the Ring of Honor.

Ross Barnes’ Baseball Reference Page

mcveyCal McVey (First Baseman, Catcher, Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1871-1872, 1874-1875

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Cal McVey was a member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings who became the first all-professional team in 1869. McVey stayed with the Wright boys as they moved to Boston and joined the National Association. He was one of the best hitters in the National Association, and he helped the Red Stockings to 3 titles, including back-to-back in 1874 and 1875 (he did not play with the team in the championship season of 1873). He had the most RBI in the NA over its 5-year history.

Cal McVey was an athletic player. He reportedly had a tradition of doing flips on field following Boston victories.

McVey was the key run production bat in the Boston lineup. During his 4 seasons with the team he hit .359/.361/.482/.844. As you can see by his bizarre AVG/OBP, McVey was not going to take a lot of walks, but the game was different then, and being that aggressive was part of what allowed him to drive in so many runs. He was a good base runner, stealing 24 bases in 25 attempts with the Red Stockings in the NA.

McVey played for the Red Stockings in only 4 of the 5 NA seasons but was 4th on the team in WAR over that stretch. He was in the top 3 on the team in WAR in 3 of 4 seasons, finishing 2nd once. He led the team in O-WAR twice and was 2nd another year.

McVey was one of the top hitters in the National Association. In 1871 he hit .431 and led the league in hits. In 1874 he led the Association in runs, hits, RBI, total bases, and WAR for position players. The following year, 1875, McVey led the NA in doubles, RBI, slugging, OPS, and total bases.

Cal McVey was among the Red Stockings players who joined Chicago when the NA folded and the National League was formed. He played only 4 more years, with his last game coming at the age of 30, despite still playing well in his final season.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: Though he played only 4 years with the club, McVey was never on the fringe for me during the first few editions of this post. He was a member of the original Cincinnati Red Stockings, and came with the Wright boys to help form the new team in Boston.

Then at some point things changed, and I started to rethink his case. Eventually he became one of the harder cases to decide on.

I felt like McVey was going to be a test case for guys who played only a brief time with the team but were very good.

He was a key player on 3 of the championship teams. He was either the best or 2nd best position player on the team in 3 of his 4 years with the team. But he still only played 4 years with the franchise. Plus, after the NA ended he did not go with the team to the National League.

In the end, I decided to stick with McVey in the team HOF.

Cal McVey’s Baseball Reference Page

schaferHarry Schafer (Third Baseman, Outfielder)

Years with Braves: 1871-1878

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Harry Schafer was a Boston Red Stockings lifer. He joined the team in 1871 for their first year in the NA. His final season was 1878, the year the Red Stockings won their last title under the name “Red Stockings.”

He played on all 6 teams that won the championship during that stretch (4 in the NA, 2 in the NL), winning 4 straight in the NA and back-to-back in the NL. Schafer was 8th on the team in WAR during the National Association years.

Schafer was an everyday regular during Boston’s run of dominance, but he wasn’t one of the best player’s on the team. Schafer’s role was as a defensive specialist at 3rd base. He finished in the top 3 on the team in D-WAR 4 times, finishing 2nd once.

Known as “Silk Stockings,” Schafer’s best asset was his durability. He led the league in games played in 1873, 1874, and 1876. He was always among the leaders in fielding statistics.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: I considered Schafer’s case for a long time; a very long time.

He was a difficult player to judge the importance of due to the fact that he was a defensive specialist. Fielding was crucial during his time, so the fact that he was considered a great defensive third baseman gave him candidacy some validity.

While it would have to be said that Schafer was a key player during the early years, he was never one of the best. He was good defensively and okay at the plate, but overall was just above average compared to the rest of the league.

What I had to decide was whether a guy who was merely a regular on a very successful team was going to go into the team HOF. I thought that if I set that precedent here it might cause problems in the future.

So I decided against it. Schafer was an important member of the early Red Stockings, but not good enough to be in the franchise HOF.

Then I changed my mind again. I finally decided that Schafer being an important part of all of those pennant winning teams merited his inclusion. And perhaps more than that, it just seemed like all of the key guys should go in. It didn’t feel right to have one guy left out.

Harry Schafer’s Baseball Reference Page

leonardAndy Leonard (Left Fielder, Second Baseman, Shortstop)

Years with Braves: 1872-1878

Hall of Fame: NA

The Case: Andy Leonard was a member of the original Cincinnati Red Stockings. He was a key player on the Red Stockings during their dominant early years. During his 7 years with the team, the Red Stockings won 6 titles (4 in NA, 2 in NL). Born in Ireland, Andy Leonard remains one of the most famous Irish ball players ever. The MVP award for the present day Irish major league baseball league is named after Leonard.

Andy Leonard was a very good hitter and was known for being a very good defender. He was said to be one of the best in the game at tracking down fly balls in the outfield. Additionally, Leonard was reported to have a strong and accurate throwing arm. Leonard’s reputation eventually led to runners not daring to test his arm.

After originally joining the part of the Cincinnati Red Stockings that went to play in Washington at the start of the NA, Leonard joined the Boston Red Stockings in 1872, the year they won their first of four straight NA titles. After moving to the NL in 1876, the Red Stockings won consecutive titles in 1877 and 1878. 1878 would be their last championship under the title “Red Stockings,” and that was Leonard’s last year with the club.

Leonard was a consistent and durable regular for the Red Stockings. He led the NL in games played in 1874 and played the most games in the 5-year history of the NA. He was 7th on the team in WAR during the NA years, batting .324 over those 5 seasons.

Andy Leonard was strong in the field and at the plate. He was a solid overall player. He played 1 season before coming to Boston, and 1 season after his final year with Boston, and then retired.

Verdict: Braves Hall of Fame.

Explanation: When I first wrote this entry I thought Andy Leonard was on the fringe of the franchise Hall of Fame. I knew he was a good hitter and an important part of the great Boston teams that won championships in 6 of his 7 years with the club But in the end I decided not to recommend him, saying that he was close but that I had to draw the line somewhere.

However, as I read further about the Boston teams of that era, I learned that I did not have his defense assessed correctly. From looking at statistics, I thought that Leonard was a below average fielder. However, I subsequently learned that during his time he was actually considered to be an excellent defender. Fielding stats are tricky and need to be taken with a grain of salt even today, so it’s not at all hard to see how fielding stats of the 1870’s might be misleading. In addition, Leonard had been part of the original Red Stockings team in Cincinnati, and after first going with the other half of that team to play in Washington, had rejoined the Wright Boys in 1872.

In any event, the fact that Leonard was an outstanding defensive outfielder changed my entire view of his career. I decided to recommend him for the team HOF after all.

But eventually my thinking changed again and it took me a long time to figure out what to do. One of the problems was that in a way it was hard for me to separate Leonard from Schafer. I felt that if I called for Leonard to be in the team HOF I would have to include Schafer as well.

In the end, however, being able to compare Leonard with Schafer helped. Though Schafer was a grinder and a good defensive player, Leonard was a better player than that. Also, while Schafer was a part time player in 1877 and only played a few games in 1878, Leonard was still a regular on the 2 NL pennant winning teams.

So after a lot of back and forth, I ended up recommending Leonard for the Braves HOF.

And then after all of that, I went back and put Schafer on my list of recommended players anyway.

Andy Leonard’s Baseball Reference Page

manningJack Manning (Right Fielder, Pitcher, First Baseman)

Years with Braves: 1873, 1875-1876, 1878

Hall of Fame: Year

The Case: Jack Manning pitched and played the field for Boston during the Harry Wright years. His career has several strange quirks about it. Boston loaned him to other teams not once but twice during the 1870’s, first to Baltimore in 1874, and then to Cincinnati in 1877. What makes this situation even more interesting is that he played much better in his 2 brief stays with those clubs than he ever did with Boston.

Manning’s role with the team when he wasn’t out on loan was as a utility player and backup pitcher. He hit .264 with 38 doubles and 115 RBI during 4 seasons with the team. On the mound he made 64 appearances as both a starter and reliever, going 35-7 with a 2.63 ERA, 22 complete games, 1 shutout, and 11 saves.

His 1876 season is fun to look at because it brings to light some of the strangeness of early baseball. In 1876, the National League’s inaugural season, Manning led the league in games played with 70, having appeared in games as pitcher, outfielder, shortstop, and second baseman. He led the league in saves with 5 and was 3rd in the league in homers with 2. Manning hit .264/.281/.330/.611 at the plate. On the mound he appeared in 34 games, made 20 starts, and went 18-5 with a 2.14 ERA, 13 complete games, and 5 saves.

Was Manning better offensively or as a pitcher that season? Doesn’t seem like a hard question, does it. If you were told that these were two different players from modern times, you’d say that the batter was likely sent to the minors or released, and the pitcher has a very good chance of winning the Cy Young.

In fact, Manning’s Offensive WAR that season was 0.9. His WAR for pitchers was actually -0.1. To summarize, he has a .611 OPS and is worth almost a full win in a year when there were only about 70 games played; he wins 18 games with a 2.63 ERA, has 13 complete games, and leads the league in saves and is worth less than a replacement player.

Jack Manning played on Boston teams that won 3 pennants. He played another 8 seasons after leaving the franchise.

Verdict: No.

Explanation: To be honest, I only included Manning in this entry because his career has so many good examples of the wackiness of early baseball.

Jack Manning’s Baseball Reference Page

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Recap

Not Recommended

Charlie Gould

Jack Manning

Braves Hall of Fame

Harry Wright

George Wright

Jimmy O’Rourke

Al Spalding

Deacon White

Ross Barnes

Cal McVey

Harry Schafer

Andy Leonard

Braves Ring of Honor (Retired Number for Player with No Number)

Harry Wright

George Wright

Statue

Harry Wright

George Wright

Final Word

While it took me a long time to compose this entry, I spent almost as much time editing it. The trouble started when I was finishing up the entry for the era after this one. As I was making final decisions on the players in that era, I began to feel like perhaps I hadn’t been strict enough with this era.

It was hard to know what to do with the players from this era who were only on the team a few years. Was I going to put every player who had a few good years in the team HOF? Was I going to put every mediocre regular that played on multiple championship teams in the franchise HOF? What about a good but not great player who won multiple championships?

I got a bit stuck. In the end, however, I decided that this entry didn’t need to set precedents necessarily, because this was a special era. These were the original “Braves,” and they were extremely successful. Several of the players we looked at not only dominated in the National Association, but went on to be part of teams that won in the National League as well. So with the important Braves “pioneer” aspect, combined with the phenomenal success, it only makes sense that we ended up with 9 guys from the era going into the team HOF.

It took a while for me to figure out what to do in terms of the ROH. For a time I had both Wright brothers, Spalding, and Barnes in the ROH, but I was never comfortable with that and I ended up changing it. For a while I only had Harry Wright in. Finally I went back and added George.

The Schafer/Leonard issue alone led to 4 or 5 edits. I also had 2nd and 3rd thoughts about some of the other guys like Deacon White and Cal McVey.

By the time I got done with what I knew would be the final product, I had figured something out: any player who played an important role on the team during a period of success was going to be a good candidate for the team HOF, and I shouldn’t worry if a bunch of guys from one era go in.

I believe I got it right in the end, but this process was a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be, and it took much longer to finish than I expected.

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Braves Hall of Fame: Looking at Candidates (Introduction)

Looking at Candidates for the Braves Hall of Fame: An Introduction

140408092724-hank-aaron-leifer2-single-image-cutRecently we’ve been looking at Braves retired numbers and the histories of those players. We’ve gone through the 5 members of the retired numbers club who played prior to the Miracle Season of 1991, and we have the 5 players/manager from the 1991-2005 era left to go. I thought this would be a good time to take a break and look at some candidates who played prior to that latest era.

I didn’t want to have to write this lengthy introduction because I knew it would be boring and most likely no one would read it. But I figured I had to do it, if only to serve as a reference for people reading future posts to go back and look at for explanation.

Breaking it up into Eras

The process of writing about past players who might have their number retired hasn’t turned out to be anywhere near as easy as I expected, for several reasons. For one, Braves history is nearly 150 years old, so there are a lot of seasons to go through. Also, the game of baseball has had many different eras and that makes it difficult to just judge a player based on raw statistics. You need to know what the rest of the league was like at the time that that individual played.

I eventually decided I needed to break this task down into more than just pre-1991 and post 1991. In fact, I couldn’t even do something like Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. I was going to have to be much more specific.

I decided to break things down into the following sections: Pre-Major League History (1871-1875); Pre-Modern Major League History (1876-1900); Dead Ball Era (1901-1919); Post-Dead Ball Era Boston (1920-1952); Milwaukee (1953-1965); Pre-Division Title Streak Atlanta (1966-1990); Division Title Streak Atlanta (1991-2005); Post-Division Title Streak Atlanta (2006-Present).

Certainly there are different ways this could be done (and it’s possible I may have to revise it during the process), but I liked this one because it takes into account both the eras of Major League Baseball and the Braves franchise.

Struggling with Pre-Modern and Early Modern Players

What really made me think about dividing this process up was the difficulty I had judging players from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. I started off by simply looking at every Hall-of-Famer who played for the Braves prior to 1920 and seeing what their numbers were like with the franchise. That was easy enough, but I knew I had to dig deeper because not every great player is in the HOF. That’s where the problems began.

It wasn’t just that the numbers are hard to judge due to the sport being so different in those days. One of the biggest problems I ran into was that so many players tended to play for the same franchise for a long time. This was totally unexpected.

Obviously, I knew that things were very different before free agency, and I knew that the Reserve Clause allowed owners to keep any player they wanted to. However, I also knew that in those early days teams often sold players off to franchises willing to pay for better players. In addition, I figured that players must have been “fired” whenever a team was dissatisfied with their play, and they would be replaced. I did not anticipate that rosters would be so similar for so many years.

The reason that this really mattered for my purposes should be obvious. No matter how good a player is, 99% of the time, that player will have to spend a good deal of time with a franchise and play well in those particular years in order to be considered for having their number retired.

In modern baseball, teams are constantly changing their roster. Even all-time great players almost never spend their entire career with one team. Thus, good players who do spend a long time with one team, even if they aren’t all-time greats, automatically become candidates to have their number retired. And they are often better candidates than truly great players who spent only 5 or 6 years with a team.

For example, Bernie Williams never finished better than 7th in the MVP race and was only in the top 10 in WAR once in his career. However, he will almost certainly have his number retired by the Yanks at some point, as he played very well for them for many years.

So in modern times, players like Williams, or even lesser players who spent a long time with one team, stand out. They’re easy to single out and judge. But when a team consistently has players that stay with the team for 7 to 10 years, it’s more difficult.

For example, look at Mark Grace. During his career he was never more than a good-to-great player. He fell off the HOF ballot after receiving just 4.1% in his first year of eligibility. And yet, if you were looking at the history of the Cubs from, say, 1984 on, Mark Grace would absolutely be someone that you might consider having his number retired. He played 13 seasons with the team, recording over 2200 hits, batting .308, and winning 4 Gold Gloves. He would standout as a candidate. Now imagine if the Cubs had 12 guys who were slightly better or slightly worse than Grace over any 25-year period, each of them playing at least 7 years with the team.

You can see how it would be difficult to quickly and easily identify candidates and dismiss others. In addition, you end up having so many good candidates that it starts to get ridiculous. This is a major reason why I decided to split things up into different sections. That made the process less confusing, though it was still more difficult than expected and took much longer than I imagined it would.

Braves Hall of Fame

In earlier posts I mentioned how the Braves have set the bar pretty high for retiring a jersey. I also mentioned that the Braves have done a very good job both of celebrating their history and linking the franchise’s pre-Atlanta history to the present. With that in mind, I began looking at the Braves Hall of Fame, and I realized that going in the Braves Hall of Fame was probably the way that the older players and “others” (like scouts, coaches, executives, broadcasters, etc.) were going to be honored by the team, rather than going up alongside the retired numbers.

The members of the Braves Hall of Fame each get their own plaque, which is placed in the Walk of Fame in Monument Park outside Turner Field. In reality, this is basically what other teams have done to celebrate either non-players/managers or players who never wore a number. Yes, those teams have those names positioned among the retired number signs, but other than that there’s really no difference.

So I decided that I would also look at which players should be in the Braves HOF. For one, I thought it was interesting, but I also thought it would help solve the problem of having so many good candidates in the early years.

However, I didn’t like that there wasn’t anything I could do to differentiate between Player A–with no number who deserved to be in the Braves HOF but wasn’t necessarily worthy of having his number retired even if he had worn a number–and Player B–who should be in the Braves HOF but also deserved to be on a level with the retired number club. Nor was there a way to differentiate between an “other” who was extremely important to the team, like Ted Turner, and an “other” who was important but not on that same level, like Don Sutton.

I finally decided to create something called the Braves Ring of Honor. I pulled this completely out of my ass. However, it’s really just a combination of players who do or should have their numbers retired and players (or others) who would have their numbers retired if they ever wore a number.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, it looks like the Braves are going to use their HOF/Museum to honor older players, others, and players who are very important in franchise history but aren’t up to the standards of the retired number club. Thus, it would appear that anyone who has gone into the Braves HOF but has not had his number retired (or been elected into the Ring of Honor by having a sign placed alongside the retired numbers) will not be having their number retired.

Be that as it may, I decided not to allow that to affect my process. My goal was to look at candidates and determine whether or not they deserved to have their number retired. While I may comment on whether or not I think the Braves will retire someone’s number, my goal was never to determine whether or not I thought the Braves would retire their number.

Braves Retired Numbers: Dale Murphy

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#3 Dale Murphy

 

Years with Braves: 1976-1990

 

Locations: Atlanta

Date Number Retired: June 19th, 1994 (Atlanta)

 

9f4ff4a69bd3e51ef14bd27f1f7a7472Fast Facts: Dale Murphy was the first player to have his number retired by the Braves who played for the team exclusively in Atlanta. He is the only member of the Braves retired number club who was traded away midseason. Murph is also the only member of the Braves retired number group who is not either in the Hall of Fame or a shoe-in to make it.

An All-Time Great: Of the 10 players/managers to have their number retired by the Braves, Dale Murphy is the only one about whom it would probably be a stretch to say he was an all-time great.

Actually, it’s fair to say that Murphy sort of stands out from the rest of the group. The main reason for that is that Murph’s importance to the franchise dwarfs his impact on the game, and that isn’t the case with any of the other players.

Murphy’s overall career numbers may not hold up against the numbers of the greatest players in the history of baseball, but for a time he was an elite player.

Dale Murphy was perhaps the best player in baseball during the early 1980’s. He won consecutive NL MVP’s in 1982-1983. His peak, while not very long, was brilliant. It was really the sudden and severe drop in Murph’s numbers that kept him from being an all-time great.

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Murph finished his career just 2 homers shy of 400, at a time when that number was considered very impressive. However, in the near future that number would look less and less significant. While Murphy may never have made the HOF regardless of what happened in the league, the timing of his years on the ballot almost certainly hurt his chances.

Consider that Dale’s first year on the ballot (1999) was the season immediately after the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homerun chase. The years when Murphy might have had his best chance were in the middle of the power explosion in baseball. Not only did Murphy’s single season numbers look less and less impressive, his overall numbers looked less and less Hall worthy, as more and more players reached the 400, 500, and 600 homerun marks.

As mentioned earlier, however, Murphy may never have made the HOF, as he never really received a high percentage of votes in any year, and his voting numbers declined rather quickly. In his first year of eligibility, 1999, Murphy was on 19.3% of ballots. The next year he bumped up to 23.2% but that would be his best year ever, and it was still more than 50% short. He dropped down to 18.1% in 2001 and by 2004 he was all the way down to 8.5%. In his final year on the ballot, 2013, Murph was on 18.6% of ballots.

In recent years, as certain players linked to PED’s are not allowed in and writers start to look at pre-steroids players’ numbers differently, some players who did not receive many votes early on in their eligibility have gotten into the HOF. That never happened to Murph, and that stands as evidence that he probably wouldn’t have gotten in even if there had never been an offensive surge.

Their numbers and careers are certainly not identical, but Jim Rice is a decent comparison to Murphy. Rice was on nearly 30% of votes his first year (Murphy was on nearly 20%), he never fell below 29.4% (Murphy dropped to 8.5% at one point), and he was over 50% in 9 straight years prior to finally getting in (barely) in 2009 (Murphy was never higher than 23.2%).

The two players played in similar eras; had similar numbers; and their years of eligibility were similar. So the difference between how they were treated by voters is fairly good proof that Murphy would never have gotten in.

However, it’s important to remember that the Baseball HOF is by no means a perfect system. In fact, it’s easy to argue that Murphy had a better career than more than a few members of the HOF.

Murphy may not be an all-time great, but he is one of the greatest Braves players of all-time, and he is certainly among the very best players in Atlanta history. More than that, however, Murphy was a no-brainer to have his number retired because of what he, in particular, meant to the Atlanta Braves.

He led the Braves to the only successful seasons that they had over a period of two decades. For many years he was the only bright spot on a terrible team. For that matter, he was the lone bright spot in Atlanta sports for a time. During the 80’s, Murphy was as beloved as any athlete has ever been in Atlanta.

He is a legend in Georgia and remains one of the most well liked athletes in Georgia history. Not only for his play, but also for the kind of person he was and is, Murphy is perhaps the most revered athlete in Atlanta history.

05 Jul 1983, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- Dave Murphy of the Atlanta Braves is shown during an All Star baseball game in Comiskey Park. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Murphy during the 1983 All-Star Game in Milwaukee.

Braves Numbers: Dale Murphy spent 17 years with the franchise and played 15 seasons for the Braves. Over that time he played in 1926 games, batting .286/.351/.478/.829 with 371 homers, 1143 RBI, and 160 SB. He had 306 doubles and 37 triples.

Braves Ranks: Dale Murphy is all over the Braves record books. He ranks among the top 6 in franchise history in WAR for position players, Offensive WAR, games played, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, homers, RBI, walks, extra base hits, times on base, and sacrifice flies.

Murphy’s peak years produced a few of the best single season marks in team history. His 131 runs scored in 1983 are 9th best in team history and the most in any season since 1897.

The Murph missed out on the high offense years of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but he did play during 1987, a year in which offense took a huge spike around the league. Several of Murphy’s stats from that season are among the best in team history, including 44 homers (tied 7th), 115 walks (10th), and 289 total bases (tied 7th). He was the best player on a bad Braves team and was thus walked intentionally 29 times that season, still the highest single season total in team history.

WfOVrcGYAchievements: It took Murphy a while to blossom and his career ended rather abruptly, but during his peak he was one of the game’s greatest players.

He was a 7-time All-Star and made the team 6 years in a row from 1982-1987. He led all MLB players in votes in 1985. Murph won 5 straight Gold Gloves in the OF from 1982-1986. He won 4 straight Silver Slugger awards for the OF from 1982-1985. Murphy won back-to-back NL MVP’s in 1982 and 1983. He received MVP votes in 7 different seasons. Dale Murphy made the 30-30 club in 1983, with 36 homers and 30 SB.

During his peak years from 1982 through 1987, Murphy was constantly at the top of the NL leader boards. In 1983, Murphy led the NL in Offensive WAR, OPS, total bases, and EXBH. In 1985 he led in runs scored, walks, and times on base. He led the NL in intentional walks in 1987.

Murph led the National League in RBI in back-to-back years in 1982 and 1983; in Slugging in back-to-back years in 1983 and 1984; and in homers in back-to-back years in 1984 and 1985.

Though his body eventually failed him, Murphy was one of the most durable players in the game during his peak. He played in 740 consecutive games from September 26th, 1981 through July 8th, 1986. He played in all 162 games in 4 straight years from 1982-1985.

Murphy hit at least 13 homers in 14 straight seasons from 1978-1991. From 1978-1990 he hit at least 20 homers in 12 of 13 years, with the strike shortened 1981 season the only exception. From 1980-1987 he hit at least 29 homers in 7 of 8 seasons, with the 1981 season again being the only exception.

Dale had 6 seasons with 30 or more homers; 5 seasons with 35 or more homers; and 1 40-homer season. He hit at least 36 homers and drove in at least 100 runs 4 years straight from 1982-1985.

Murphy wasn’t all about power; he had speed as well and was a great base runner. He totaled 161 stolen bases in his career and did it with a 70% success rate. He stole at least 9 bases in a year at least 9 times.

Once Murphy got settled in the outfield he was a great defender, as evidenced by his Gold Gloves. His biggest strength defensively was his arm. He had double digit assists in 6 seasons as an outfielder. With his durability and his strong arm, Murphy was consistently among the top 5 in all of the defensive categories for outfielders.

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Dale Murphy was the Braves lone star for most of the 1980’s and thus played on many bad teams. However, Murphy’s best seasons did not result in empty numbers, as he won MVP’s in 1982 and 1983, which were Atlanta’s best seasons from 1975 to 1990. The Braves won 89 games in 1982, winning their 2nd division title in Atlanta. They nearly repeated in 1983, winning 88 games, but winding up in 2nd place. Murphy helped the Braves win at least 80 games in 4 of 5 seasons from 1980-1984.

mww0tqsWZ800mMXI46HICfACareer Story: Murphy came out of BYU and was taken by the Braves 5th overall in the 1974 amateur draft. While it didn’t take Murphy too long to reach the Majors, it did take him a long time to get settled in. It took even longer for him to fully blossom.

The problem early in Murphy’s career was in the field. It has long been said that the quickest route to the Majors is as a catcher. Murphy came up as a catcher and made his debut with the Braves in 1976 at age 20, just 2 years after being drafted. However, Murphy’s defense was behind his offense.

Among his problems at catcher was throwing accuracy. He had some trouble harnessing his arm. Often he would throw down to second and the ball would sail into center field. But that was not at all. He was struggling in all aspects defensively.

In 1976, Murphy committed 3 errors, allowed 9 passed balls and 7 wild pitches, and threw out just 9 of 30 base stealers (30%) in just 19 games. His numbers in 1977 were similar, as he made 6 errors, allowed 5 passed balls and 8 wild pitches, and was abysmal throwing out runners, getting just 5 of 30 (17%) in only 18 games.

Murphy played much better behind the plate in 1978, having apparently harnessed the power of his arm (he threw out 48% of would-be base stealers), but by that time the team had moved him primarily to 1st base. Murphy was advancing much faster at the plate, although he struggled with contact early in his career.

Whatever defensive improvements Murphy made behind the plate in 1978 disappeared in 1979, as he allowed 11 passed balls and threw out just 6 of 38 base stealers in 27 games. However, Murphy again played primarily at 1st base that year.

Murphy’s bat was coming along, as he lowered his strikeouts and posted an OPS over .800 in 1979. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to make it catching, so the team, now with Bobby Cox as manager, had decided to play him mostly at 1st base in 1978 and 1979, using him as a catcher only in reserve. Cox’s decision made a lot of sense. First and foremost, he was hurting the team defensively as catcher. And while he would lose some value by moving to another position (great hitting catchers are obviously scarce), the move would keep his bat in the lineup everyday and save his legs.

300x435_murphy_photoSo problem solved, right? Not exactly. Unfortunately, Murphy sucked at first base too. He made 20 errors at 1st base in 1978 in 125 games. In 1979 he was even worse, committing an obscene 15 errors at 1st base in just 75 games. Murph had hit over 20 homers in 78 and 79, and the Braves wanted him in the lineup. But up to that point, defense was holding the highly touted former 1st round pick back.

In the spring of 1980, Cox made an unexpected decision that may have saved Murphy’s career. He decided to move his young slugger to the outfield. Murphy finally found his spot. He never caught again in the Majors and played only 4 more games at 1st base in his career.

It’s almost certainly no accident that Murphy getting his defensive situation settled coincided with his breakthrough season at the plate. In 1980, Murphy hit 33 homers and posted an OPS over .850 to make the All-Star team as an outfielder. He spent time at all 3 outfield positions in the first couple of years after moving to the outfield but played primarily in center field.

After taking a step back in the strike year of 1981, Murphy finally reached his full potential in 1982. He became one of the best players in the game and the Braves turned into winners. Murphy hit 36 homers and drove in 109 that season on the way to winning the MVP.

While it wasn’t enough to take the Braves back to the postseason, Murphy’s 1983 season was his finest. He hit .302/.393/.540/.933 with 36 homers, 121 RBI, 131 runs, and 30 SB in just 34 attempts on the way to his 2nd straight MVP.

Murphy’s back-to-back MVP seasons were the beginning of his peak, which was up there with the greatest individual stretches in history. Over 6 seasons from 1982-1987, Murphy averaged 161 games played, 28 doubles, 4 triples, 36 homers, 110 runs, 105 RBI, 18 SB in 24 attempts, 173 hits, 90 walks, and .289/.382/.531/.913.

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Murphy on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July of 1983.

Team and Postseason Story: Like his longtime teammate Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy was a star on the Braves during their lean years. There was a long period of time prior to the 1990’s when the Braves were a bit of a joke, and Murphy was often times the only bright spot on those teams. However, it is also true that Dale Murphy was the spearhead of some of the best seasons the Braves had during those times.

By the time Dale Murphy debuted with the Braves in 1976, the Braves had fallen on hard times. Over his first few season, while Murphy struggled to become star player that he was expected to be, the Braves were consistently one of the worst teams in the league. They lost at least 92 games and finished last in the NL West 4 years in a row from 1976-1979.

As Murphy broke through in 1980, the Braves showed signs of turning things around, finishing 81-80 for their first winning record since 1974. Both Murphy and the Braves took step back in 1981, with the team going 50-56 during the strike year.

In 1982, Murphy transformed into an MVP, and he helped the Braves turn into winners. The team won their first 13 games that season and wound up winning 89 games, clinching the NL West division title on the final day of the season. They would go to the postseason for just the 2nd time since coming to Atlanta.

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Game program from the 1982 NLCS.

In the NLCS the Braves faced the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. Murphy went 3 for 11 in the series with a run and 1 SB in 2 tries. The Braves were swept in 3 games.

Sadly, that would be the only time Murphy would reach the postseason in his career. He was even better in 1983, winning another MVP, and the team had another good season, winning 88 games, but they came up short in the race for the division title, finishing 2nd. The team was competitive again in 1984, going 80-84, but they finished in 2nd in the division, well back of 1st.

Over the next few years, Murphy would continue to be one of the best players in the game, while the Braves sunk back to the bottom of the league. They lost at least 89 games in each of Murph’s final 6 years with the team, finishing 5th or worst each year, and finishing last in the West 4 of those years.

Being the star on a lousy team would eventually become Murphy’s legacy. But Braves fans know that he was more than that. He was the main reason for the team’s success in the early 1980’s, when they went from losers to winners. He stuck it out with the Braves during many dark years.

Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy. May 8, 1988. (Renee Hannans / AJC staff)
Murphy in May of 1988.

End of Career and After: While it took a long time for Murphy’s career to really get going, the end was comparably swift. Following his monster power season of 1987, Murphy’s production dropped significantly across the board in 1988. It had to have been quite unexpected for the Braves, as he was only 32 and was coming off one of his best ever all-around seasons. Not only did Murphy’s power fall off, his batting average fell below .230. He appeared to have turned into an old man over night, losing the speed in his legs and his bat. Not coincidentally, the Braves had one of the worst seasons in franchise history that year.

Murph’s 1989 season was identically to his 1988 season except that his strikeouts increased and his power numbers dwindled even further. In 1990, the Braves were on their way to another last place season and Murphy was having a 3rd consecutive poor year. Murphy was exclusively a right fielder at this point and the Braves had a young right fielder who needed to play. With that in mind, Murphy was traded to the Phillies on August 9th of 1990.

Murphy had been with the franchise for 17 years and had played 15 seasons for the Braves. It was a sad way for Murphy to go out and it wasn’t a move that Bobby Cox (now acting as GM, soon to take over as manager) enjoyed doing. But it was a move that seemingly had to be made. Murphy played okay the rest of the season with the Phillies. The young man who took Murphy’s place in right field for the Braves, David Justice, played very well down the stretch and ended up winning the NL Rookie of the Year award.

During June of the 1991 season, as the Braves were off to their best start since the early 1980’s, the Phillies came to town and the club held an appreciation night for Murphy. Despite raining whether, it was a nice ceremony and there was a decent crowd on hand. There certainly was much appreciation shown for Murph, but at the same time, it was very clear that the club had moved on to a new era.

Certainly it is sad that Murphy was not around to enjoy the Braves success in the 1990’s. The Dale Murphy era Braves were erased by the Braves of the 1990’s, and in a way that was a very good thing. In another way, however, it was unfortunate, as Murphy became a relic almost immediately after his time with the Braves ended. Those who were fans of the Braves during the 1980’s never wavered in their love for Murphy. However, for the youngest fans of the 90’s and 2000’s, Murphy was a bit obscure. And it is unfortunate that he was never rewarded for his loyal service during those awful years.

Murphy played a full season with the Phillies in 1991, putting up about the same numbers as the year before. Unfortunately for Murph, while the Braves were headed to the posteason, he was stuck again on a losing team.

Murphy was just 4 homers shy of the 400 mark heading into the 1992 season. At that time, the 400 club was still a pretty big deal. But Murphy’s 1992 season was derailed by leg injuries. He played in only 18 games and hit just 2 homers in 62 at bats. After being out for 4 and a half months, the Phillies (who were in last place) started him and played him for 1 inning on the final day of the year.

His career was seemingly over, but the Phils did resign him after the year and give him a chance to make the team. They released him just before the start of the season however. Not ready to give up, Murph signed a contract with the expansion Rockies for the league minimum.

Looking back, it would seem that the 400-homer mark did mean something to Murphy, and perhaps he felt like it would have some bearing on his HOF chances. In any event, playing in Colorado and needing only 2 homers to reach that milestone, it’s somewhat remarkable that he was unable to reach 400 homers. The fact that Murph couldn’t stick with an expansion team for the league minimum seems to be evidence of just how obvious it was that he was finished.

He played in just 26 games with the Rockies, going 6 for 42 with no homers. His final game came on May 21st. He ended his career at the age of 37, just 2 homers shy of 400.

murphThe following year on June 19th, the Braves retired Murphy’s number 3 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in August of 2000. Murphy became eligible for the baseball HOF in 1999 and remained on the ballot for 15 years, though he never approached the 75% needed for induction. The possibility remains that Murphy will be elected by one of the special committees at some point in the future.

After retiring from the game, Murphy more or less disappeared. In recent years, Murphy has spent some time broadcasting games for the Braves on both radio and TV. He has been involved with the team much more lately, and for those of us who missed his presence over the last 25 years it has been great to have him around again.

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Murphy’s number 3 commemorated outside Turner Field.

Braves Retired Numbers: Phil Niekro

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#35 Phil Niekro

Years with Braves: 1964-1984, 1987

Locations: Milwaukee (1964-1965); Atlanta (1966-1984, 1987)

Date Number Retired: August 6th, 1984 (Atlanta)

Fast Facts: Phil Niekro was the first pitcher who played in Atlanta to have his number retired (Warren Spahn never played in Atlanta) by the Braves. He is the only member of the Braves retired number club to wear his number again for the Braves as a player (Eddie Mathews wore it as a coach and manager). Niekro is also the only player to have his number retired by the Braves prior to retirement. He was the first player who played the majority of his career in Atlanta to have his number retired (Hank Aaron played 12 years and 1806 years with the Braves in Milwaukee, compared to 9 years and 1270 games in Atlanta).

82854An All-Time Great: Phil Niekro is the greatest knuckleball pitcher of all-time. He had an incredibly long, consistent career. His durability and ability to eat innings were obviously part of what made him so valuable but make no mistake: he was an ace.

“Knucksie” finished his career with 318 wins, 16th most in history. He is also 11th all-time in strikeouts with 3342, and is 10th all-time in WAR for pitchers (BBR). Considering the era that Niekro pitched in, his stamina and durability numbers are staggering. He is 4th all-time in innings pitched and 5th all-time in starts. The 3 pitchers ahead of him in IP all pitched during the late 19th century or early 20th century.

Niekro was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, his 5th year of eligibility. He was voted in on 80.3% of ballots.

Braves Numbers: Phil Niekro spent 28 years with the Braves, playing 21 seasons. Over that time he pitched in 740 games, made an amazing 595 starts, and logged 4622.1 innings. He went 268-230 with a 3.20 ERA, a 1.229 WHIP, and 2912 K’s. Niekro recorded 226 complete games and 43 shutouts. Niekro spent time in the bullpen early in his career, and recorded 29 saves with the Braves.

philBraves Ranks: Phil Niekro’s remarkable consistency and longevity shows up over and over in the Braves record book. He has the 3rd most wins in Braves history. Despite pitching the overwhelming majority of his career as a starter, Phil holds the Braves franchise record in games pitched. He pitched in modern times, yet is 2nd in team history in starts and innings pitched. He also 2nd in strikeouts. Knucksie is 3rd in Braves history in WAR for pitchers and tied for 5th in complete games.

Niekro is 6th all-time in sacrifice hits for the Braves. Knucksie’s 1967 ERA of 1.87 is the 4th best single season mark in team history. He has 2 of the top 10 strikeout years in team history.

Achievements: Phil Niekro was a 5-time All-Star (the first 4 with the Braves) and won 5 Gold Gloves. He received MVP votes in 3 different seasons. Knucksie finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting 5 times, including 1969 when he finished runner-up.

Niekro won 20 or more games 3 times, and led the NL in wins twice (1974 and 1979). He led the NL in ERA in 1967 and got the NL strikeout title in 1977. Knucksie led the NL in WAR for pitchers in back-to-back years in 1978 and 1979, and led all NL players in WAR in 1978. He threw a no-hitter in 1973.

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For many years Niekro was one of the premier workhorses in baseball. He led the league in innings pitched 4 times, including 3 consecutive years from 1977-1979. He led the league in starts 4 years in a row from 1977-1980. He also led the league in complete games 4 times in his career, including 3 straight from 1977-1979.

As shown by his 5 Gold Gloves, Knucksie fielded his position very well. With all the innings he pitched and his good glove work, Niekro was consistently near the top in all of the defensive stats for pitchers. He could handle the bat as well. Niekro hit .169 in his career with 42 doubles, 9 triples, 7 homers, and 109 RBI (all with the Braves). In 1968 he led the NL in sac hits.

p078_Hemi_Mar09-1Phil Niekro was often the best player or one of the best players on a bad team. However, Knucksie helped the team to their only postseason appearances in Atlanta prior to 1991. He led the Braves to their first division title and first playoff appearance in Atlanta in 1969. He was a big part of the Braves success in the early 80’s when they won the 1982 division title.

Niekro’s knuckler is of course what allowed him to pitch so many years without wearing down. Much like the first Braves pitcher to have his number retired, Warren Spahn, Niekro was able to pitch successfully well past the age when most players are at or nearing retirement. He won an amazing 121 games after the age of 40, an MLB record. Niekro was one of the 6 oldest players in the league in each of his final 12 seasons from 1976-1987. He was the oldest player in the league in his final 4 seasons (1984-1987).

Career Story: Phil Niekro came from a small town in Ohio, the son of a coal miner. In contrast to most of the other knuckle ballers, Niekro didn’t turn to the pitch out of desperation when he lost his fastball or when his path to the majors stalled; Niekro’s father taught him the pitch when he was a child. Instead of staying in the Majors with the knuckle ball, Niekro got to the Majors with the knuckle ball.

He was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958, but unlike the other members of the Braves retired number group, it took Phil a long time to reach the big leagues, and even longer to establish himself as a Major League starter. Phil debuted with the Braves in Milwaukee in 1964 at the age of 25, making 10 appearances in relief, though he would spend the majority of the season in the minors. In 1965, Knucksie had a great season as a reliever, but he struggled in 1966 with the team now in Atlanta, and was sent back to AAA.

Finally in 1967, Niekro broke through. Pitching as both a starter and reliever, Knucksie lead the NL in ERA. He nearly pulled off what would have to have been one of the rarest feats in baseball, recorded double digit complete games and double digit saves. He came up 1 short, finishing with 10 complete games and 9 saves.

images-7Phil continued to pitch occasionally in relief, but he was a starting pitcher from that point on. From 1967 through 1987, Niekro registered at least 7 wins in 21 consecutive seasons, averaging 15 a year. From 1967-1986, Niekro won at least 11 games in 19 of 20 seasons, with only the strike-shortened 1981 season interrupting his streak. Niekro made at least 30 starts and threw at least 200 innings in 17 of 18 seasons from 1968-1985, with only that same strike season of 1981 breaking his streak.

Phil recorded at least 2 complete games every year from 1967-1987 (21 straight). He pitched at least 1 shutout in 16 consecutive season from 1967-1982 (and in 18 of 19 from 1967-1985).

In 1985, Phil won his 300th game in his final start of the year while pitching for the Yankees.

Team and Postseason Story: When Niekro came up with the Braves the team was still in Milwaukee and was still winning. The team had winning records in the final 2 years in Milwaukee and the first year in Atlanta, but Niekro really didn’t become a major part of the time until 1967. That was the year Niekro finally proved his worth, and it happened to coincide with the Braves worst season since 1952, as the Braves won just 77 games, snapping a streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons.

The Braves didn’t stay down for long though. They had a .500 record in 1968, and in 1969, the Braves had their best year since moving to Atlanta. Niekro finished runner-up in NL Cy Young voting, leading the team to the NL West division title, their first division title as a franchise, and the first playoff appearance in Atlanta.

1969 NLCS Game1

In the NLCS the Braves went up against the Miracle Mets. The Braves sent their ace to the mound in game 1, squaring off against New York’s ace, Tom Seaver. It was the first postseason game ever played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Niekro pitched well for most of the game, but the night ended badly. It was reminiscent of some of the troubles that Warren Spahn (Niekro’s teammate briefly in 1964) ran into at times in the World Series.

Phil gave up a pair of runs in the 2nd, with one of them scoring on a passed ball for an unearned run. The Braves took the lead but Niekro gave it back in the 4th, allowing 2 runs to give New York a 4-3 advantage. The Braves answered with a run in the bottom of the inning to tie it up at 4. It stayed tied until the 7th when Henry Aaron homered off Seaver to put the Braves on top, 5-4.

It was all there for the Braves. They had the lead, they had their ace on the mound, and they needed 6 outs to win their first ever playoff game in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the Braves would lose the lead before getting even one of those outs. The Mets began the 8th with 3 consecutive hits off of Niekro, tying the game and putting runners at the corners with nobody out.

At this point Niekro’s defense would let him down again. He got a ground ball to first but an error on the throw home allowed an unearned run to score, giving New York the lead, 6-5. After getting the next 2 outs and loading the bases with an intentional walk to Bud Harrelson, Niekro gave up a single to pinch hitter J.C. Martin. An error on Braves center fielder Tony Gonzalez allowed all 3 runs to score. Martin was thrown out at second but the damage was more than done. The Mets scored 5 runs (only 1 earned) on 4 hits, a walk, and 2 Braves errors.

Only the first run scored in the 8th was earned, but to be fair, Niekro had surrendered 3 straight hits to tie the game and put the go-ahead run at 3rd with nobody out before any errors were committed. In addition, while he should have been out of the inning already, he still had a chance to get out of it only down a run, but he gave up the hit to Martin that would have put the game away even with out the error by Gonzalez.

Niekro wound up pitching 8 innings, allowing 9 runs, only 4 earned, on 9 hits and 4 walks. The Braovs lost 9-5. They Mets would go on to sweep the series in 3 games.

The Braves would not return to the postseason for a long time. In fact, the dawn of the 1970’s was also the beginning of the Braves struggles. They would go from consistent winners in Milwaukee to consistent losers in Atlanta. From 1970-1981, the Braves had just 3 winning seasons in 12 years, never won 90 games in any season, never finished better than 3rd in any season, and finished 5th or 6th in the 6-team NL West in 8 of those 12 years. They finished last 4 years in a row from 1976-1979. The team started to pull out of it in Bobby Cox’s first tenure with the team, going 80-81 in 1980, and 50-56 in the strike shortened 1981 season.

Cox was then replaced by Joe Torre and the 1982 season began with the Braves on fire. They reeled off 13 wins in a row to start the season, and there was more excitement about the Braves in Atlanta than any time since Hank Aaron was going for 715. Despite cooling off considerably, the team had a 9-game lead in late July. That lead would evaporate in shockingly rapid fashion however. The 1982 Braves were perhaps the streakiest in franchise history, and an 11-game losing skid in early August dropped the Braves out of 1st place. By August 18th, the Braves had lost 15 of 16 and were 4 games behind the Dodgers in the division and were only a game away from falling all the way to 5th.

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But the Braves would turn it around. Niekro was at the forefront, as the team went 8-2 in his final 10 starts from August 19th on. It would be a desperate struggle the rest of the way, as the two teams took turns taking the lead and then losing it again. On September 27th, the Braves began the day trailing the Dodgers by a game with just 7 games remaining. In San Francisco, Niekro threw a 2-hit shutout to beat the Giants, 7-0, while the Dodgers lost in LA to the Reds. That put the two teams tied in 1st.

The two teams split two games in LA, and the Braves had a 1-game lead in the division with 3 games at San Diego remaining. In the opener on October 1st, Niekro had one of the great games of his career. Knucksie tossed a 3-hit shutout and blasted a 2-run homer, leading the team to a 4-0 victory that kept them a game in front.

The Braves still led by just a game on the final day of the season, and they would lose their game to the Padres, 5-1. But over in San Francisco, Joe Morgan hit a 3-run homer in the 7th, and the Giants beat the Dodgers, 5-3, giving the Braves their 2nd division title and sending them to the postseason for the first time since 1969 with a record of 89-73.

The Braves would face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. Once again, luck was not on the side of Niekro and the Braves. Atlanta again sent their ace to the mound in game 1, this time on a raining night in St. Louis. Niekro was dealing and the Braves had a 1-0 lead going to the bottom of the 5th. They were 3 outs from an official game when the umpires pulled the teams off the field due to the inclement weather.

What happened next is disappointing and ridiculous, no matter what version of the story you believe. You would assume that with the game nearly half the way played and with one team ahead of the other, Baseball would do everything in its power to make sure they got the game in that night. Apparently, just the opposite was true. With game 2 of the ALCS in Anaheim set to be played later that night on NBC, commissioner Bowie Kuhn demanded that the umpires call the game so as not to force one of the games off of television.

In any event, the game was called, the first 4.5 innings were washed out, and instead of having their ace on the mound for game 1, the Braves had to send out Pascual Perez for take-2 of game 1 a night later. The Braves would lose it 7-0.

Niekro would now pitch in game 2. He went 6 and allowed 2 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks. Once again, mistakes and late inning problems did the Braves in. With 2 out in the bottom of the 1st, a wild pitch by Niekro allowed the Cardinals to score and go ahead 1-0. The Braves took the lead with 2 runs in the 3rd, and in the 5th Niekro helped himself with a sacfly that extended the lead to 3-1. In the 6th, Niekro gave up a single and a run scoring double to start the inning, cutting the lead to 3-2. Despite allowing 2 more hits in the inning, Niekro got out of it with the lead still intact.

In the top of the 7th, the Braves had runners at 1st and 2nd with 1 out and Torre decided to pinch hit for Niekro. The Braves failed to score anyway, and now he was out of the game. In the 8th with Gene Garber pitching, St. Louis tied it up on a ground ball to short that the Braves couldn’t turn into a double play. In the bottom of the 9th, Garber gave up a hit to Ken Oberkfell with one out and a runner at second, and the winning run came around to score.

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Game 3 of the 1982 NLCS

That put the Braves in a 2-0 hole and they would go on to lose game 3 at home to be eliminated from the postseason, once again having been swept in 3 games.

That was the last time the Braves would make the postseason with Knucksie. The 1983 team again ran hot and cold, getting off to another blazing start, then going cold again. However, they got hot again in July and on August 13th they had a 6.5 game lead in the division. But they hit another cold spell and this time there was no rebound. The Braves wilted down the stretch and wound up 3 games back of the Dodgers, in 2nd place in the West at 88-74. The Braves traded released Niekro just 5 days after the end of the regular season.

In his 2 postseason starts, Niekro was 0-1, and he allowed a startling 11 runs on 15 hits and 8 walks with 9 K’s over 14 innings. However, only 6 of those runs were earned. The Braves lost both of their ace’s starts.

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Niekro’s number 35 outside Turner Field.

End of Career and After: After the team faded down the stretch in 1983, the Braves released Niekro just days following the end of the season. Ted Turner would later tell Niekro that it was the biggest mistake he ever made. Indeed, the Braves did seem to regret it soon after, as on August 6th, 1984 they took the unusual step of retiring his number 35 while Niekro was still playing in the league for another team.

Niekro signed with the New York Yankees and pitched 2 solid seasons for them, making the All-Star team in 1984, and winning his 300th game in his final start of the 1985 season, yet another major milestone that a Braves legend would achieve in another uniform. Released by the Yanks after the season, Niekro signed with Cleveland and put in a decent full season there in 1986. Niekro began the next season with the Indians but struggled, and in August of 1987 he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. After being with the team for a little over 3 weeks, Toronto cut him loose.

With both the team and the player wanting to end things the right way, the Braves signed Knucksie on September 23rd so he could pitch one final game in Atlanta and retire with the team he played so many years for. He made 1 final start against the Giants, going 3 innings and allowing 5 runs. It wasn’t exactly a dream ending. The Braves scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 3rd to take a 5-0 lead, but in the 4th Niekro fell apart. He allowed 2 runs and left with the bases loaded and nobody out. After a wonderful send off by the crowd, Chuck Cary took over and immediately allowed a grand slam to Candy Maldonado. That put the Giants ahead 6-5 and charged 3 more runs to Niekro. The Braves would lose, but at least Niekro got a no-decision.

After 28 years with the franchise and 21 seasons playing for the Braves, Niekro said goodbye. In 1997, Niekro was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, going in on 80.3% of the ballots in his 5th year of eligibility. Ted Turner was not done honoring Niekro. In that same year he had a statue of Knucksie erected outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The statue moved with the team to Turner Field in 1998. In 1999, Niekro was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame.

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Stature of Phil Niekro outside Turner Field.

Braves Retired Numbers: Hank Aaron

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#44 Hank Aaron  

Years with Braves: 1954-1974  

Locations: Milwaukee (1954-1965); Atlanta (1966-1974)

Date Number Retired: April 15th, 1977 (Atlanta)  

Fast Facts: Hank Aaron was the first Braves player that never played in Boston to have his number retired. He is one of four players with their number retired by the Braves who played in Milwaukee. However, Aaron was the first player who played a significant amount of time in Atlanta to have his number retired by the team. Hank-Aaron

An All-Time Great: Hank Aaron is one of the most famous baseball players ever, but it has sometimes been said that he is overshadowed in the game’s history. He doesn’t have the larger than life personality or the legendary man amongst boys aura of Babe Ruth. He doesn’t have Ted Williams’ reputation as the hitting genius. In his own time, Aaron was overshadowed by Willie Mays, the flashier, more charismatic star who played in New York and San Francisco.

You could almost make the case that Aaron is underrated. It seems almost ridiculous to think about, and in truth, breaking Ruth’s record and holding it for so many years made Aaron a household name around the world. But as strange as this may sound, outside of being known as the Homerun King, Mr. 755, the guy who chased down the Babe, Aaron does kind of get overlooked.

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Hank with Willie Mays

Hank is quite simply, one of the greatest players in history. He is rarely mentioned in discussions of the greatest player of all-time, but he certainly should be in that discussion. Especially if you value consistency and longevity. The only knock on Aaron might be that he was never considered the best player in the game at any point, being always placed behind Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays during his prime years. But even if you were never the greatest at any one time, what about being great for longer than anyone else?

Aaron is 1st in MLB history in total bases, RBI, and EXBH. He is now 2nd in homers, after holding the top spot for 32 years from 1974 through 2006. He is 3rd in games played and hits. Aaron is 4th in runs and sac flies. He is 5th in WAR for position players and Offensive WAR (both as defined by Baseball Reference), and 7th in WAR (as defined by BBR). Aaron is also 10th in doubles.

Hank Aaron’s total career numbers are staggering. Over 3,000 games played; over 2,000 runs scored; over 3,700 hits; over 600 doubles; 98 triples; 755 homeruns; 2,297 RBI; 240 SB; a .305 lifetime average and a .928 OPS.

Aaron was of course elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot, 1982, going in on 97.8% of ballots. aaron

Braves Numbers: Hammerin’ Hank was with the Braves franchise for 23 years, playing 21 seasons for the team. During that time, Aaron played in 3076 games and 2107 runs; 3600 hits; 600 doubles; 96 triples; 733 homers; 2202 RBI; 240 SB; 1297 walks (3 more than his total number of strikeouts); and hit .310/.377/.567/.944.

Braves Ranks: Obviously, Hank Aaron dominates the Braves franchise record books. It’s almost unfair. No other player in the history of baseball has as much control of a team’s records as Aaron does with the Braves. He is, quite simply, the greatest player in Braves history, and it’s not even close. hank

The following is a list of just some of the franchise records held by Aaron: WAR for position players; Offensive WAR; slugging pct; OPS; games played; at bats; plate appearances; runs; hits; total bases; doubles; homeruns; RBI; extra base hits; times on base; sacrifice flies; and intentional walks. There are all sorts of other stats, both traditional and sabermetric, that Hank leads the franchise in.

In addition to all of the stats above, Aaron is 2nd in franchise history in triples and SB% (since 1951); 3rd in walks; 6th in stolen bases; and 10th in batting average.

Mainly due to outrageous offensive numbers from the 19th century, Aaron does not hold as many single season Braves records as you might expect. He holds the all-time single season record in WAR for position players, total bases, extra base hits, and is tied for 1st in sac flies. However, Aaron has one or more of the 10 best single season marks in team history in a slew of categories. He has 5 of the top 10 single season marks in both WAR for position players and Offensive WAR. He has 1 top 10 for batting average; 3 for slugging; 3 for OPS; 1 for hits; 5 for total bases; 1 for doubles; 6 for homers; 3 for RBI; 4 for XBH; and 3 for SF.

Achievements: Hank Aaron was an All-Star 21 years in a row from 1955-1975. He was not an All-Star in his rookie season but did finish 4th in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He won 3 Gold Gloves in right field, all in a row, from 1958-1960.

Hank won the 1957 NL MVP and finished in the top 3 in MVP voting 7 times. He received MVP votes in 19 consecutive seasons from 1955-1973. He won 2 batting tiles and led the league in homers 4 times. Hank-Aaron Aaron led the league in total bases a staggering 8 times and in extra base hits 5 times. He led the NL in slugging 4 times; in OPS 3 times; in runs 3 times; in hits twice; in doubles 4 times; in RBI 4 times; in times on base twice; and in SB% twice.

You could go on about Aaron’s consistency for days. He was incredibly durable, playing at least 139 games every year from 1955 to 1971, a span of 16 seasons. He had 3 different seasons with at least 200 hits; double digit triples in 3 seasons; and at least 20 SB in 6 seasons.

Aaron drove in at least 100 runs 11 times. From 1959-1963 he drove in at least 120 runs in an absurd 5 consecutive seasons. He had 2 separate streaks of 5 consecutive .300 seasons, hitting .300 in 10 of 11 years from 1955-1965. Hank scored 100 runs or more in 13 straight seasons and in 15 of 16 from 1955-1970. hank-aaron-2 Hank never struck out 100 times in any season. He made it to the 30-30 club in 1963, hitting 44 homers and stealing 31 bases. Hank even had 21 sac hits in his career to go along with 121 sac flies.

And then there was the power. Aaron was without a doubt the most consistent homerun machine in baseball history. He hit at least 10 homers in all 23 MLB seasons. He hit 20 or more homers in 20 straight seasons from 1955-1974. Aaron had 11 seasons with at least 30 homers, including 7 straight from 1957-1963. He then had at least 29 in 9 straight seasons from 1965-1973, meaning that from 1957-1973, Aaron hit at least 29 homers in 16 of 17 seasons. Finally, though he never hit more than 47 in any year, Hank had 8 seasons of at least 40 homers.

As we’ve already seen, Aaron was an all-around phenomenal offensive player with speed, power, more walks than strikeouts, and an amazing ability to hit for average. But Aaron was also an excellent defensive player. He had terrific range, was sure handed, and had a great arm. He was consistently in the top 5 in assists, putouts, range, total zone runs, and fielding percentage.

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Aaron receiving the 1957 MVP

While Henry Aaron was a Brave, the team was a consistent winner. The Braves finished with a winning record in Aaron’s first 13 seasons in the big leagues. He won back-to-back pennants with Milwaukee in 1957 and 1958, winning it all in 1957. In 1969, Aaron helped lead the Braves to the NL West division title, taking the team to the postseason for the first time since moving to Atlanta.

In his 21 seasons with the Braves, the team finished with a winning record 16 times; finished at .500 once; and had a losing record just 4 times. During that stretch from 1954-1974, the Braves never lost more than 86 games or had a winning percentage worse than .455 in any season.

The Hammer began his career in 1954 as the 4th youngest player in the NL, and ended it in 1976 as the 2nd oldest player in the AL.

Career Story: Hank Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in the majors in 1947, but Aaron began his pro career in the negro leagues. The Boston Braves were able to sign him in 1952. He made his debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, the team’s second season in Wisconsin. Aaron played in 122 games that year and finished 4th in ROY voting.

Hank was an early bloomer like his teammate Eddie Mathews. He put together excellent seasons in 1955 and 1956, finishing 9th and 3rd in NL MVP voting respectively. But it was in 1957 that Hank reached elite status, clubbing 44 homers and driving in 132 runs on the way to winning the NL MVP and leading the Braves to the championship. aaron_hank As we’ve seen earlier, Hank really didn’t have peaks and valleys or spikes and dips in his career. In fact, it’s hard to say when exactly his prime was. It was basically all one long prime. From 1955-1973, a span of 19 years, Hank’s average season was 150 games played, 105 runs scored, 29 doubles, 5 triples, 37 homers, 109 RBI, 12 SB, .312/.380/.574/.955. The idea of averaging 37 homers, 109 RBI, and a .312 average over 19 years is ludicrous. 1396901423000-4-7-hank

If the Hammer did have a peak it was probably the 5-year stretch from 1959-1963. During that time he averaged 156 games played, 116 runs, 197 hits, 32 doubles, 8 triples, 40 homers, 125 RBI, 18 SB, and .323/.383/.600/.984. Again, outrageous numbers.

Hank’s chase of the all-time homerun mark took place during his years in Atlanta. He hit his 500th homer in 1968 and got his 3,000 hit in 1970. In 1971 the Hammer reached 600 homers, and a year later he passed Willie Mays for 2nd. Also in 1972 he collected his 2,000th RBI. Finally in 1974, Hank tied and then passed the Great Bambino with his 714th and 715th homeruns. A year later Hank moved past Ruth to become the all-time leader in RBI as well.

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Even his opponents congratulated Aaron when he 715.

Team and Postseason Story: As mentioned earlier, the Braves were immensely successful during Hank’s career, posting winning records in 16 of his 21 seasons, winning a division title, 2 NL pennants, and 1 world championship.

Aaron and teammate Eddie Mathews helped turn the Braves into a powerhouse during the franchise’s days in Milwaukee. The two combined to hit 863 homers as teammates from 1954 through 1966.

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Aaron being carried off by his teammates following his pennant clinching homer in 1957.

Hank Aaron won the MVP in 1957 while leading the Braves to the NL pennant. On September 23rd of that year, he hit a game winning homerun to clinch the pennant and send the Braves to the series for the first time in Milwaukee.

In the Fall Classic, the Braves defeated the Yankees in a thrilling 7-game series. Aaron was Milwaukee’s leader offensively in the series, going 11 for 28 to hit .393/.414/.586/1.200 with a triple, 3 homers, 7 RBI, and 5 runs scored. braveslogo4 In 1958 the Braves returned to the WS after winning a 2nd straight NL pennant for the first time in team history. Once again they faced the Yankees and once again the series went the full 7 games. Aaron played well on the biggest stage again, going 9 for 27 to hit .333/.419/.407/.827 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored.

The Braves won the first 2 games in the series and had a 3-1 lead after 4 games, but they let it slip away. The crucial game was game 6, which went to extra innings tied at 2. New York scored 2 in the top of the 10th to take a 4-2 lead. Aaron drove home a run with a hit in the bottom of the inning to cut it to 4-3. The Braves had runners at the corners with two out but Frank Torre lined out to end the game. The Braves would lose game 7 at home, 6-2, completing the collapse.

The Braves continued to win in Milwaukee but they would not go back to the postseason. The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, and in 1969 Aaron led the Braves to the NL West division title, sending the team to the postseason for the first time in their new home.

The Braves had to go up against the Amazin’ Miracle Mets in the NLCS, which at that time was a best-of-five series. It didn’t go well for Atlanta, but Aaron was a star as usual. He went 5 for 14 at the plate with 2 doubles, 3 homers, 7 RBI, and 3 runs scored.

The series opened in Atlanta. Game 1 was a back and forth affair that turned ugly late. Aaron doubled home a run to give the Braves the lead in the 3rd but the Mets retook the lead in the very next inning. In the bottom of the 7th, Aaron came to the plate with the score tied at 4-4 and took Tom Seaver deep to give the Braves the lead late. However, the Mets rocked Phil Niekro in the 8th to retake the lead and the Braves defense fell apart. New York scored 5 runs (4 unearned) and went on to win 9-5.

The Mets came out and pounded the Braves in game 2, scoring 9 runs in the first 5 innings. Hank hit a 3-run bomb in the 5th to bring the score to 9-4, and Atlanta scored 2 more runs in the inning to make things interesting. But New York put the game away with 2 in the 7th and went on to win 11-6, taking a 2-0 lead back to Queens.

It didn’t look good for the Braves but Aaron continued to try and put the team on his back. He came out and jacked a 2-run homer in the top of the 1st of game 1 to give the Braves an early lead. It didn’t last long however. New York scored 7 runs from the 3rd through the 6th inning and went on to win it 7-4, completing the sweep. Hank Aaron would never play in the postseason again.

For Bad Henry, the postseason was a showcase. Not every legendary player has been able to come through in the playoffs but Hank surely did. In 17 games, Aaron went 25 for 69 to hit .362/.405/.710/1.116 with 4 doubles, a triple, 6 homers, 25 RBI, and 11 runs scored.

End of Career and After: After breaking Babe Ruth’s record in Atlanta in 1974, Hank was traded by the Braves to the Milwaukee Brewers early in the offseason. That ended Hank’s career with the Braves after being with the franchise for 23 years and playing 21 seasons.

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The Braves have kept the spot where Aaron hit his 715th homer protected for posterity.

The Hammer played his final 2 years with the Brewers, playing in just 85 games in his final season of 1976. He retired following the end of the season and was hired by the Braves to be Vice President of Player Development. The Braves retired Aaron’s #44 in April of the next year.

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Henry Aaron’s number 44 outside Turner Field.

In 1982, Henry Aaron went into the baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, going in on 97.8% of the ballots. He was just 9 votes away from being the only unanimous selection and his 97.8% is 2nd only to Ty Cobb, who went in on 98.2% of the ballots as part of the inaugural class of 1936.

Also in 1982, a statue of Aaron was unveiled outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It now stands outside of Turner Field. Hank held the VP of Player Development position until 1989 when he became Senior Vice President and Assistant to the President of the Braves.

In 2014, the Braves held an on-field ceremony in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Hank passing the Babe. It was clear to all that Hank Aaron is one of the most beloved athletes in Atlanta, if not the single most beloved. In case you were wondering, Henry Aaron is a member of the Braves Hall of Fame.

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Statue of the Hammer outside Turner Field.