The Braves are one of the National League’s founding franchises, operating continuously since 1876. But, its origins go back even further than that, to the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association, a team that was itself formed from the remnants of the Cincinnati Red Stockings when that club, baseball’s first all-professional team, folded prior to the National Association’s first season in 1871.
The Red Stockings changed their nickname to the Beaneaters in 1883, to the Doves in 1907, the Rustlers in 1911 and finally the Braves in 1912. Except for the 1936 to 1940 seasons when Boston was known as the Bees, the Braves nickname has remained in use ever since, even through two franchise moves, first to Milwaukee in 1953 and then to Atlanta in 1966.
The Braves are the fifth of the original NL clubs in our Mount Rushmore series. Your task is to choose the four players who best represent this franchise. Have fun!
The Red Stockings were the National Association’s dominant team, finishing first in that circuit’s last four seasons, including a 71-8 record in the NA’s final 1875 campaign. That success continued in the National League’s first years, with Boston claiming league titles in 1877, 1878 and 1883, and then winning three successive pennants from 1891 to 1893. Boston also won the first (and only) National League championship series in 1892 with a 5-0 whitewash of the second-place Cleveland Spiders. Two more championships in 1898 and 1899 made for a total of 8 NL titles, the most of any franchise in the league’s first quarter century. Dominant players of this period included Herman Long, Hugh Duffy, Billy Hamilton and George Wright, and pitchers Al Spalding, Kid Nichols, John Clarkson and Tommy Bond.
Boston finally had an extended down period, finishing no higher than 6th for 10 consecutive seasons (1903-12), including last place finishes in the final four years of that stretch. It was thus seen as something of a miracle when the Braves rose, phoenix-like, to claim the 1914 NL title, recovering from a 3-16 start to finish 61-16, and then go on to sweep the defending world champion Athletics in that year’s World Series. The Braves were again contenders in 1915 and 1916 before returning to second division status for the remainder of the decade. Dominant players in the dead ball years included Fred Tenney and Rabbit Maranville, and pitchers Vic Willis and Dick Rudolph.
The dawning of the live ball era did little to help Brave fortunes, with Boston finishing no higher than 5th from 1917 to 1932. Three successive .500 finishes (1932-34) were the first since 1914-16, but that brief period of respectability came to a sudden end with a 38-115 record the next year, the first of eleven straight seasons finishing no higher than 6th. The Braves’ .248 winning percentage in 1935 is still the lowest mark for an NL franchise since 1901. Wally Berger was the Braves’ only star of the 1920-45 period, with his 36.6 WAR almost double the total of any other Braves’ player.
After those long years in the wilderness, Brave fortunes finally took a turn for the better with .500 finishes in 1946 and 1947 and an NL pennant in 1948, as Boston held off the Dodgers, Cardinals and Pirates, all within 2 games of the lead starting that September’s pennant chase. Attendance in 1948 reached almost 1.5 million, more than 4 times what it had been in 1945. But, by 1950, fewer than one million showed up, and fewer than half a million the next year, as the cross-town Red Sox captured Boston’s fancy, dueling the Yankees for AL supremacy during those years. Attendance made a sudden reversal in 1953 as almost two million home fans came to see the Braves in their first season in Milwaukee. Team fortunes also turned around as the Braves won 92 games, the first of 14 straight .500 seasons winning at least 80 games. From 1955 to 1960, Milwaukee finished 1st or 2nd every year, with pennants in 1957 and 1958, splitting those two World Series with the Yankees in two 7-game thrillers. But, while success on the field was a constant, it was a different story at the box office, with fewer than a million home fans showing up in the Braves’ last four years in Milwaukee. Dominant players of this period include Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre, and pitchers Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Johnny Sain.
With divisional realignment, Atlanta was assigned inexplicably to the NL West, winning its first divisional crown in 1969, but suffering an NLCS sweep at the hands of the Mets. Over the next 21 years, Atlanta returned to the NLCS only once, being swept again in 1982, this time by the Cardinals. The Braves challenged again the next season, finishing 3 games back of the Dodgers, but these years were mostly forgettable as Atlanta finished last 8 times and next-to-last on 6 more occasions. Not surprisingly, the Braves went through a lengthy list of managers, starting the 21 seasons from 1970 to 1990 with no fewer than 9 different skippers. One of these was a former Yankee infielder by the name of Bobby Cox, who posted just one .500 season (81-80 in 1980) in four years at the helm. His second tour of duty, starting in 1990, would prove more successful. Notable players of this period include Hank Aaron (again), Dale Murphy and Darrell Evans, and pitcher Phil Niekro.
The Braves would see their most consistent success over the next 15 seasons, all under Bobby Cox, installed in his second tenure as manager when he relieved Russ Nixon midway through the 1990 season. The next year, Cox guided Atlanta to its first pennant in 33 years before falling to the Twins in a memorable World Series won in walk-off fashion in a 1-0 extra-inning game 7. Another pennant followed the next year, but the Braves fell again in the World Series, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays. Atlanta claimed its first world championship in 38 years in 1995, beating the Indians who were making their first post-season appearance in over 40 years. Two more pennants followed in 1996 and 1999, but the Braves fell both times to the Yankees, embarked on yet another dynasty. In all, Cox would guide Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles (1991-2005, excepting the strike-ended 1994 season), a mark approached only by the Yankees with 9 straight division crowns (1998-2006). Atlanta owed its success through this period to their pitching with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz each compiling over 50 WAR in Brave colors. The offense was led by the Joneses, Chipper and Andruw, who together surpassed 140 WAR.
Here are the top 15 position players, by WAR (Baseball-Reference.com version) as Braves.
And, the top 15 pitchers, by WAR as Braves.
Now, it’s your turn. Please choose 4 players, or write in your own. Polls are open until midnight Pacific time on Wed, Dec 17th. You can check on results using the link at the bottom of the ballot. If the ballot does not display on your browser, you can also vote here.