The 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves, Nine Years Later: Introduction (by bledsoe)

Of all the things Our Beloved Founder did on this site, my absolute favorite was the “44 Greatest Atlanta Braves.” This is the kind of barstool argument or back of the envelope noodling that I love, on a subject dear to my heart. It engendered a lot of nostalgic reminiscing from the gang and some good-natured debate about inclusions and exclusions. I even responded with my own list of my Left Behind 18, the taxi squad Braves that Mac left off, that included a couple of serious oversights in my view (Clete Boyer, for one), some halfhearted entries, and one fully tongue in cheek. Given that the franchise moved in ’66, Mac’s list also allowed the Methuselahs in the gallery to play “remember when” as well as edumacate the young’uns about some players that they never saw play and maybe even had never heard of.

Mac’s last update to the 44 Greatest on this site was after the 2007 season. (He did publish a later version after the 2011 season as an e-book, which expanded the list to 47 entries). A lot has happened since then. This is my attempt to update Mac’s list based on what has happened since.

For those unfamiliar or in need of a refresher, Mac’s rules for the list are here. The abbreviated version is 1) the key criterion is career value in a Braves uniform only, not what the player did elsewhere, and 2) the equivalent of at least three full seasons with the Atlanta franchise is required for eligibility. (Milwaukee stats count if the player had 3 full seasons with Atlanta.)

For purposes of this update, I have regarded Mac’s original list of 44 as canonical, even if I disagreed with them at the time. So I will spend no time evaluating the merits of the original entries in the Gospel according to Saint Mac. But there are, by my lights, seven Braves not on the Original 44 that now should be, requiring us to expel the bottom seven on the Original List. That means bye-bye to Lonnie Smith, Jeff Burroughs, Gary Matthews, Claudell Washington, Charlie Leibrandt, Cecil Upshaw, and Steve Bedrosian. (For the most part, good riddance. The first four were short term free agent Braves, most from the crazy years when Ted Turner play-acted as a GM, and I never really felt any loyalty to them. I am, however, sad to see Mr. Upshaw go down the Memory Hole.)
In Mac’s fashion, I will introduce the new inductees one by one, in similar format to Mac’s original entries, over the next few weeks.

72 thoughts on “The 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves, Nine Years Later: Introduction (by bledsoe)”

  1. When most people think of Jeff Burroughs, they recall a handful of big offensive years — 1973-74 in Texas, or 1977-78 in Atlanta. But I always remember one ignoble moment from 1979.

    Burroughs, a powerful & patient righthanded hitter, who wore glasses, was never known for his glove prowess, and that shortcoming was never more on display than one afternoon at Wrigley Field.

    Braves are winning by a run with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Cubs runner on 3rd with Gene Garber on the mound. Braves are one out away when the Cubs send up Dave Kingman to pinch-hit & he singles. Tie game. Next guy, the immortal Scot Thompson, bangs a routine single between 3rd and short.

    First and second, two outs, right? Nope.

    Left-fielder Burroughs runs up to the worm-burner single and puts his glove down to the ground just as the ball is going through his legs. It wasn’t a Buckner, because he didn’t slow the ball down one bit. If he had, the long-legged Kingman wouldn’t have had the opportunity to run all the way home with the game-winner from 1st base, but that’s exactly what he did.

    Watching Burroughs turn and chase the ball toward the ivy with his hopelessly blocky gait certainly made every Braves fan watching (on WTCG or WGN) throw up their hands, cuss loudly and angrily shut off the set.

    Burroughs was a really good hitter, but that one regrettable play very much personified those mid/late-’70s Braves clubs. Let’s hope the current era of misery doesn’t last anywhere near as long.

  2. The Dollop had a solid episode on that night. My favorite quote from the whole affair came from the crew chief: “If the f—— war is on tomorrow, I’m gonna join the other side to get a shot at them.”

  3. The early Turner era slogan “America’s Team” evoked a forthright and steadfast dynamism. And while Dale Murphy, forever the centerpiece of those teams, certainly embodied the traits the marketing strived for, so many of those teams were comprised of some frankly ungainly athletes. Burroughs, Horner, Mahler, Ramirez, Oberkfell (almost as fat as Horner, but hit for no power whatsoever), et al, most of them done no favors by the baby blue unis of the day.

    Edit: Yes, Zac! That episode of The Dollop podcast was hilarious. They’re pretty goofy and get a lot of details wrong, but they were definitely in the spirit of the thing.

  4. Schwarber, Kyle
    His defense a steaming pile
    His offense, on the other hand
    So explosive it should be contraband

  5. Daniel Murphy
    stayed out past his curfey
    Out trotting bases
    His next contract will require at least 8 places

  6. Jacob Degrom
    Wore a yamaka on Kippur, Yom
    Is he a Jew?
    Someone find out before this game is through

  7. @1

    where would you place his son Sean in all this, i have only the vaguest memories of him?

    …but i’m pretty sure, happily, there were no Cecil/Prince family issues at play here.

    my ex wife would usually refer to Dad in those TBS days as ‘Fatty Burroughs’…clever, don’t you think, original.

    the interweave of families and baseball, life’s odd couple.

  8. @ 11

    there was a young slugger named Kyle
    who shouted out bugger, don’t smile
    at its fullest extension
    my arm i should mention
    is focused on effort not style.

  9. @ 1/14

    derivative features abound
    the father, the son, common ground
    expectations misplaced?
    he’d have wanted a taste
    the slugger, you know, come around.

  10. Jacob de Grom
    he owed so much to his Mom
    his fastball, so cute
    she had suggested might eventually bear fruit.

  11. Daniel Murphy
    as a sailor he got a bad case of scurphy
    sailed on to the Mets
    where they insisted he be treated by their resident Vets.

  12. Delilah once said
    i’ll pinch hit for the Mets if they are ahead
    but if they’re behind
    I’ll go play with Samson to help me unwind.

    enough already!

  13. Schwarber endeared himself to me with his loping catch in the LF corner early on. If a flyball isn’t hit in my vicinity, I always overrun the ball and have to catch it by sticking my arm out a little behind me. Stupid flyballs. They’re the worst.

  14. Sean Burroughs was one of the bigger recent prospect busts. He was supposed to be able to hit for average though not power, and based on his minor league track record and successful major leaguer for a father, he was supposed to be a pretty sure thing. Turned out he just couldn’t hit.

  15. In Scharber’s defense, learning to play the outfield is one thing. Learning to play the outfield at Wrigley is another.

  16. Smitty @ 23, (and others)

    I may have shared this before and many of you may have run across it anyway. but the difficulties of playing the outfield in Wrigley are illustrated in this supposedly true story with an interesting ending.

    Leo Durocher’s first managing job was as player manager of the Cubs. I think it was late 40’s. One day, the wind was strong, but variable, whipping here and there. A ball is hit to left field. The leftfielder stands under it, then moves right, then moves left, and BAM, the ball hits the ground 10 feet away. Later in the same inning, same process. Moving front and back, left and right, and BAM ball hits the ground.

    FINALLY the Cubs got three outs. When they started in, EVERYBODY was waiting for one of Durocher’s legendary blow ups. Durocher said “So and so, give me your glove. I’ll show you how to play left field.

    Durocher goes out and in the next half inning, ball hit to left. Durocher moves left and right and front and back. Suddenly, the ball hits 10 feet away from him.

    When the inning is over and Durocher is coming in, all of the guys are trying to look straight ahead and not look at Durocher. Durocher takes the glove and throws it at the starting leftfielder and says “So and so, you have f _ _ _ _ _ up left field so bad that nobody can play it.”

  17. Only one team wins its last game, and it doesn’t appear the power-mashing beat-’em-’til-they-bleed Jays or Cubs will be that team.

    Could there be reason in the good pitch, good field, put the ball in play approach after all? Maybe good pitching beating good hitting is not just a cliché.

  18. coop @ 25,

    Well the Braves beat the Indians in 95, right?

    I think the formula is more like (and have read a good article somewhere on this)

    1. raw offense MORE from power than from on base. As in, assuming same RC +, that RC + that is more from SLG.
    2. good fielding.
    3. good pitching 2 to 3 starters deep and 3 relievers deep.

    It seems counterintuitive, but power produces runs on a more consistent basis than obp. Every home run is AT LEAST 1 run.

    On the pitching, most teams don’t really need 4 starters and usually they need at least 1 shutdown lefty (who can get righties) and the other 2 would typically be shut down righties.

  19. It’s interesting to think about. “Good pitching” to me means minimizing contact in this context, and I would’ve thought lineups that maximize contact would help more than a bunch of sluggers.

    That may help explain why Harvey/Syndergaard/DeGrom are handling the Cubs.

  20. Nice informative post, Ryan. I’m stacking wood in central Florida and am ready to fire up the stove. Adding Antonio Bastardo satisfies my name lust, and Tony Sipp wouldn’t hurt.

    Cliff, I’d love to add some power but have never been a fan of the Dave Kingman type. If a guy both mashes and gets on base at a .350-.400 clip, I’d love to have him hitting behind Freddie; but it would be nice if he could field a position and hit the cutoff Andrelton.

    I want it all.

  21. Yeah, power pitching in post-season, in particular.

    That’s one theory why, for example, Smoltz was better than Glavine & Maddux in October.

  22. @coop,

    I don’t think this year’s playoffs are telling us much of anything because all four teams are above (respective) league average in pitching, hitting, and fielding.

    The Royals really do play great defense, but the Blue Jays are good out there, too. The Blue Jays really do score a ton of runs, but the Royals scored plenty. The Royals team ERA is 3.73. The Blue Jays team ERA is 3.80.

    The Home Runs v. Contact thing is interesting, but KC’s hitting home runs this post-season.

    As for the Mets and Cubs? They’re close to identical. Check it out:

    Edit: Forgot to mention, if you click that link don’t read any of the rows that begin with ‘ATL’ if you want to make it through the day without crying.

  23. I think the year-2015 rankings are a bit misleading in that some of the teams (Mets anyone?) can enter the postseason with vastly different lineups than they played the first half of the season with.

  24. Cliff @24

    I went to a game at Wrigley a few years ago. There was a pop up in front of the plate. Can of corn. It was strait up in the air. David Wright came in and camped under it. The wind was howling in. He misplayed it by 5 feet and the batter was credited with a triple.

  25. I always thought Andruw handled the outfield at Wrigley better than anyone and then one day I read this:
    Even if the wind is blowing all around, in and out, with fly balls confusing all the other outfielders on both teams, chances are Andruw will track them down easily. That is because his father, Henry Jones, used to fee him fly balls almost every day near a beach in Curacao, where the wind never takes a rest. “When I see a fly ball in the wind, it is easy compared to back home,” Andruw said. “It doesn’t matter, I catch it here. But down there, the wind is every day. You hit a pop fly there, you go back, you go forward, you go sideway. Not like a knuckleball, but it’s moving,” Jones explained.
    Source here.

  26. Funny to be around Mets fans in NYC these days.

    Half the group seems to be already adding up the rings of a coming dynasty, while the other half remains terrified of becoming this year’s ’04 Yankees.

    Conditioned like a beaten dog, yet overcompensating like the little brother who scored a touchdown — yup, that’s the Mets fanbase.

    Get it while you can, folks. You never know when you’ll be back.

  27. I’ve been unimpressed by each of the surviving four managers this postseason, but Terry Collins has made me shake my head less than the others.

    Edit: Does good pitching make good managers?

  28. @41- Your comments remind me of one time when I was coaching 10 year old baseball.

    Between innings, I told one of my players to head out to right field; he said that he didn’t want to go. I’ve never been one of those coaches who confuses recreation league baseball with a running-through-a-brick-wall contest, but I didn’t have time to explain nicely why I needed him to go on out there. So, I worked up my best General Patton and read him the riot act, with my central thesis being that the best thing that he could do was to head on out to right field. Well, he took off, and very satisfied, I turned around.

    Sitting about 3 feet behind me, was his mother.

    I looked at her, waiting for her reaction. She just shrugged, and said, “Hey, I have to LIVE with him.”

    So, while I am slightly in favor of the Mets in this series, I do feel for those who have to live with them.

  29. Wonder what an AL team will give for Schwarber. He’d look better in pinstripes (or any vertical stripes).

  30. I said here back on August 14th that if I were an AL team I’d give the whole farm for him. That might be an understatement.

  31. Those are going to be some empty minor league stadiums, Edward. Surely not the whole farm system. Surely!

  32. #44
    A Met fan in the deli today said to the Yankee fan behind the counter, “Hey, we’ll miss you at Citi Field next week.”

    The Yankee fan: “That’s OK, enjoy the ride. You still got a lotta catching up to do.”

  33. @50

    not in dispute, obviously…

    nor is the reality these two teams played at quite different levels since August…

    wanna bet the next 5 years, collectively? You’re never going to get away from that young pitching in that time frame…nor the spirit. New game in town.

    and wasn’t it special to get to see a real,new MLB record set…6 in a row, consecutive, wow…Daniel in the Lions Den

  34. Medlen and Beachy in the same week, let’s hope not, they are fun to watch..

    ‘opportunistic’ the Times also calls them this morning…that’ll work.

  35. Our new friend Kyle had a harrowing evening, the swallow dive in the wrong amusement park, times two, but still made some good contact with the bat. What do you think are going to be the plans of the Epstein/Madden caucus as to where they will play him next year, how are they going to fit him in?

    Ross must be close to over, Montero looks ordinary. Is this going to be Gattis redux, wrong League, where he goes back behind the plate where i believe he sprung from so how good a defensive catcher was/is he? And how representative of his outfield play were those two bothces last night?

    You just know they cannot leave that bat out. What would you do? Where would you play him if he was a Brave?

    Kyle Schwarber
    already immortal, a Cub shock absorber
    taught on an Elysian field
    refrain from the charge, it might be better to yield.

  36. Alex R. at 40,

    Accurate except more walks. So instead of 280 / 310 / 400 (normalized) it is more like 280 / 350 / 400.

  37. I haven’t seen much of Schwarber, but he reminded me more of Pete Incaviglia. Not nearly as good as Klesko. SSS.

  38. Blazon,

    Wood and Prior.

    Another pitchers imploding was mid 90’s Mets. I remember Pulsipher was one that was supposed to be splendid. Not remembering the rest.

  39. I would keep Schwarber in some combo of LF/C. For now, he’s not so terrible defensively that his bat can’t overcome it. And he’s so cheap, not that they care.

    When and if Almora comes up and sticks, maybe they trade him.

  40. The ’03 Cubs had 3 young, stud, right-handed, power pitchers — Mark Prior, Kerry Wood & Carlos Zambrano.

    They won the division, beat the Braves in the NLDS (their first post-season success since 1908), then came within 5 outs of the WS (memorably losing the NLCS to Florida in 7 games). The future was bright, etc. However…

    Almost immediately, Prior & Wood were beset by injuries & never pitched 200 innings again. Prior was out of the game after a couple years, while Wood had to re-invent himself as a reliever. The temperamental Zambrano enjoyed a good, if tumultuous career as a starter.

    Extreme example, perhaps, but… like I said, you just never know.

  41. @ 60, 63

    Paul Wilson was the other almost-great Met pitcher, of that era. Rumor has it they were gonna eclipse the success of the Brave’s terrific trio. Not so much…

  42. If Chris Johnson played average defense, walked 60 times per year, and weren’t such a huge douche, he’d be a fairly useful player.

  43. @ 60,62..

    if memory now serves i remember an afternoon game at Wrigley, had to be against the Astros , when Wood, very early in his ML career, rookie,got his famous 20 strike outs…

    i am not someone who generally kneels at the Stats altar but watching that number accumulate one by one was awesome -27 outs, 20 by strike out,wow. Was that a Harry Caray/Steve Stone production still on air then or had those days passed?

    Yes, he and Prior, what a sad ending. Didn’t Dusty Baker have something to do with that, one of them?

  44. When it came to overusing pitchers, Dusty wasn’t quite Billy Martin, but he’s been assigned plenty of blame over time.

    In that game vs. Houston, Wood’s hook broke like a Whiffle Ball. On K #20, the helpless look on Derek Bell’s face after Strike 2 is hysterical. It’s straight out of Little League. (“But coach, how am I supposed to hit this?”)

  45. Every passing day of Braves baseball makes me appreciate Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz a little more.

  46. I dredged this same feeling from our mad Milton days (daze?):

    Dredge not again glad memories from our past
    When Mad Dog, Smoltz and Glav did magic spin;
    And though but one world’s title did we win,
    We won! Dave’s swing, Tom’s gem, a crown, at last!

    Curse Hrbek, who off base Gant’s foot did cast.
    The last great pennant race Bond’s dream did end.
    Young Andruw’s blasts did dynasty portend,
    But Leyritz broke our hearts again, at last.

    Now comes our dawn: our Braves shall rule these days;
    And hits shall spring from now misguided bats;
    Young sluggers will at last control home plate;
    New aces twirl, and Simba make great plays.
    Braves fans will boo the hated Mets and Nats
    And win again unnumbered flags: ’tis fate!

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