Alex Kielar | May 8th, 2020
If there is a Major League Baseball season this year, it will be the 149th for the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. Starting out as the Boston Red Stockings in the early 1870s, they are one of the most historic teams in history and are actually the only one of the current 30 teams to field a team every season professional baseball has been in existence. With a team that has been around for so long, it is difficult to limit this to just four players. Nevertheless, here are the players who should be on a hypothetical Atlanta Braves Mount Rushmore. Be sure to check out all of our Mount Rushmore articles here.
Hank Aaron (1954-1974)
Mr. 755 is a no-brainer here as he spent 21 unforgettable seasons with the Braves. Aaron made his debut at 20 years old while the Braves were in Milwaukee. He finished fourth on the Rookie of the Year ballot that year and turned it onto another gear starting in 1955. He made it to 21 straight All-Star Games (ASG), 20 of them with the Braves. Aaron only took home one MVP award, in 1957, but he finished in the top five seven other times. He led the league in home runs four times while he hit over 40 homers eight times and led the league in OPS+ three times. He was incredibly consistent and was his generations’ Mike Trout.
His lowest OPS with the Braves other than his rookie year (.769) was .832 in 1974 and his lowest home run total other than his rookie year was 20 also in 1974. Hammerin’ Hank currently ranks second in home runs (755), third in hits (3,771), and fourth in runs scored (2,174). On April 8, 1974, Aaron passed Babe Ruth on the career home run list as he smashed number 715.
Aaron was inducted into Cooperstown in 1982 with 97.8% of the vote, the second-highest percentage at the time, to Ty Cobb‘s 98.2%. Since 1999, the MLB has awarded the Hank Aaron Award to the top hitter in each league. Alex Rodriguez won it a record four times during his years with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. Aaron moved into the Braves’ front office after retiring in 1976 with the Brewers and he now serves as the Braves’ senior vice president.
Greg Maddux (1993-2003)
The second lock of this list, “The Professor” spent 11 years with the Braves after starting his career with the Chicago Cubs from 1986-92. He won four straight Cy Young awards, his first one coming in 1992 with the Cubs. He was a complete workhorse, as he has a baseball statistic actually named after him. A “Maddux” is when a pitcher pitches a complete game shutout while throwing under 100 pitches. He threw 13 of these such starts while no one else has ever thrown more than seven, while he threw 109 total complete games in his career. He once threw a complete game in just 76, though he did give up one run (how DARE he!) so that doesn’t fall under the category that he created. Maddux also won four ERA titles and was good with his glove as well, winning 18 gold gloves.
Maddux returned to the Cubs in 2004 where he started his career and was there for another two and a half seasons. He split time between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres for his last two and a half seasons. He finished his career with the Dodgers in 2008 at the age of 42, holding a career 3.16 ERA, 3,371 strikeouts, and 35 shutouts. Maddux was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot in 2014. Despite winning his one World Series with the Braves in 1995, he opted to go in without a logo on his cap.
Chipper Jones (1993-2012)
The next two spots on this hypothetical Braves Mount Rushmore are a lot harder to choose. Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. was the Braves’ number one overall pick in the 1990 MLB Draft and was their primary third baseman from 1995-2012. He was not only a major piece to their playoff runs, but he was a huge fan favorite and played the game the absolute right way. Jones finished runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race in 1995 to Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers and was an important piece to the Braves World Series Championship that year. He went on to win the MVP award in 1999 with a .319/.441/.633 slash line, 45 HR, 110 RBI, and 25 SB. He brought home some more hardware that year with the silver slugger award, which he also won in 2000.
Jones was selected to eight ASG and won the batting title in 2008 with an impressive .364 batting average. Jones was so consistent and was one of the most prominent switch-hitters in baseball history. He finished his career in 2012 with a career slash line of .303/.402/.529, 468 HR, and 1,623 RBI. His RBI mark is third all-time among third basemen and his .402 OBP is the Braves’ team record. Among switch-hitters, Jones ranks second in career RBI to Eddie Murray and he is the only switch-hitter to record a .300 BA and 400 or more home runs. He is also the only switch-hitter and 18th overall player to finish with a .300 BA, .400 OBP, and .500 SLG for his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018 on his first ballot. Chipper’s number 10 jersey was retired by the Braves in 2013.
John Smoltz (1988-2008)
The question here was Smoltz or Tom Glavine, the other two pieces of “The Big Three” that included Maddux. I gave the edge to Smoltzie because of his consistent postseason success compared to Glavine’s more inconsistent numbers when the calendar turned to October. Smoltz pitched to a career 15-4 record, 2.67 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 199 strikeouts, and four saves over 209 innings pitched in 41 games in the postseason. His ability to start and close games with much success also gives Smoltz a bit of an edge.
Smoltz pitched for 21 years, 20 of them with the Braves, and finished with 3,084 career strikeouts (fifth at the time) and 154 saves. He won the Cy Young Award in 1996 with a league-leading 24 wins, 276 strikeouts, 2.64 FIP, and 9.8 K/9. He was selected to eight ASG and took home the MVP award in the 1992 NLCS after going 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA. Smoltz was inducted to Cooperstown in 2015 in his first year on the ballot.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images