While most people who have followed my column and writings over the years won’t be terribly surprised by my top 10 Braves, especially the top three, the one that comes in at No. 4 may catch a few by surprise, mostly because of those who are ranked below him. But remember this is MY list of all-time favorite Braves.
While he was a very good player for the Braves, there were, and are, certainly those who are better, but my memories of him are etched deep into my mind and heart.
Who is it? Why, Ralph Garr, the “Roadrunner” himself.
Garr’s skill-set and personality has always infatuated me. Not only did he play in the first Major League Baseball game I saw in person on July 7, 1972, but he picked up the first Braves hit I ever personally witnessed.
I loved his speed, the way he moved in the outfield, whether he was in left and right, and the excitement it generated when he was on base was electric. When Garr would come to the plate or steal a base you would hear a “Beep, Beep” blasting from the sound system in Fulton County Stadium, in true Roadrunner style.
Not only was he a fan favorite, but a really good hitter.
He led the National League with a .353 batting average in 1974 — when I got to watch him play three times in a week’s span — and also topped the NL in hits with 214 and triples with 17.
He led the league again in triples in 1975 when he stroked 11, while hitting .343 in 1971 and .325 in 1972. He stoled 35 bases for Atlanta in 1973 and 30 in 1971.
In December of 1975 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox along with Larvell Blanks for Ken Henderson, Dick Ruthven and Dan Osborn.
Now, let’s look at more of my Top 10 Braves:
•Ozzie Albies is at No. 10. I just love the way this little dude plays the game. He can bat leadoff or cleanup. He is a solid Gold Glove candidate at second base and can hit with pop. He also delivers in the clutch. His upside is tremendous. I’m very pleased that the Braves have Albies and Acuna Jr. locked up for the next several years.
•Chipper Jones comes in at No. 9. He could very easily be one of the best Atlanta Braves of all time. I really can’t argue about that. But those above him are just more of my favorites.
He could mash it from both sides of the plate and played a slick third base. Most have probably forgotten that he played shortstop throughout the minor leagues, and in an effort to help the Braves add some pop to their overall lineup, even played left field for a season.
He was a clutch player, which really ups your stock in my book. My wife and I got a chance to watch him play his final Major League game, a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the first ever NL play-in game on Oct. 5, 2012. I hate to even mention who they were playing, but if I didn’t I’m sure my longtime friend and avid Cardinals fan Rocky Higginbotham would bring it up.
•No. 8 is Tom Glavine, No. 7 is Greg Maddux and No. 6 is John Smoltz. How could they not be in the top 10? And it’s only right that they were ranked side-by-side-by-side. I enjoyed watching that trio take the mound throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Many forget that Glavine led the NL in wins five times in his career and in games started six times. He tossed nine complete games in 1991 and five shutouts in 1992, both NL highs.
Glavine won the NL Cy Young in 1991 and 1998, finished second in the voting twice and third once. Two of those years Maddux was the winner, and the other time it was Randy Johnson. Glavine finished his career with a 305-203 record, earning a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I have to admit he made me crazy with walks. He would rather walk a guy with the bases loaded than cave in and groove a pitch. I guess his plan worked out pretty well for both him and the Braves.
•Maddux is No. 7. The amazing right hander began and ended his career with the Chicago Clubs. In fact, he began a string of four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards as a Cub in 1992 but won the next three for the Braves, including an insane 1995 season that saw him go 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA and a league-leading 10 complete games. He walked only 23 batters that season, with three of them being intentional, while striking out 181.
Amazingly enough, Maddux only won 20 games twice in his career, those coming back-to-back in 1992 and 1993. However, he won 19 games five times, 18 twice and 15 or more for 17 consecutive seasons. Also a hall of famer, Maddux won 355 games in his career while losing only 227. He led the league in ERA four times and innings pitched five. In 1994 he went 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA.
•John Smoltz comes in a No. 6. For whatever reason, Smoltz was always my favorite of the big three. It could have been the story from early in his career when a sports psychologist turned his season around or how he bounced back from a catastrophic injury — missing the entire 2000 season to come back and become one of the game’s elite closers, saving a league-high 55 games in 2002.
After four seasons in the bullpen, saving 44 or more games three times, he wen back to the starting rotation and led the league in wins with 16 in 2006 and games started with 35.
He won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996, posting a 24-8 record. He was third in Cy Young Award voting in 2002 when he saved 55 games. The next year, he posted an incredible 1.12 ERA while saving 45 contests. He, of course, is also in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His slider may be the filthiest I’ve ever witnessed.
•Freddie Freeman is No. 5. I really don’t think there is any doubt that he will eventually crack my top 4. I just love watching this guy play the game.
While his power is legit and his glove work amazing, the way he can smack the ball to left-center field against the shift makes him one of the game’s best overall hitters. Hopefully the Braves will sign him to a deal that will have him ending his career in Atlanta. And by the way, if they would go ahead and sign his son Charlie now, that would be good, too. That little guy’s swing is near perfect, and obviously his bloodlines are good.
Freddie is unquestionably the best first baseman the Atlanta Braves have ever had, and we’ve had a few great ones, including Fred McGriff and Andres Gallaragas.
I’ve decided to wait one more week to reveal my top three. Surely you can figure out who they are by now, but I just wanted to spend a little more time writing about those guys.
Until then, be blessed.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com.