I don't usually write about sports, but since the Atlanta Braves are having such a terrific year, let's have some fun. As a fan of the Braves ever since they moved south, here are my ten all-time favorites:
10. Ozzie Albies
For several years, I watched Jose Altuve, an undersized superstar second baseman for the Houston Astros, and wondered, why can’t the Braves get somebody like that? They had gone through several second basemen, and none lived up to their promise. When Albies was called up to the major leagues, he started strong, but I didn’t get my hopes up. I never said it out loud, but I thought to myself, he could be our Jose Altuve. He did. His enthusiasm for the game is unparalleled. Thankfully, he will be a Brave for a very long time.
9. Andruw Jones
The best outfielder I have ever seen. He came to the major leagues as a baby-faced 19-year-old, always smiling. The “big 3” Braves pitchers of his era are all on my list too. I believe they would tell you they owe much of their success to the guy in center field who caught balls that seemed destined to be hits. He was a great hitter too, which made him even more valuable.
8. Tom Glavine
I’ve always envied pitchers who keep their cool, even when things aren’t going well. Glavine was a great pitcher whose expression never changed. Whether he was winning 7-0, or losing 7-0, he was always the same. No eye-rolling, no slumped shoulders, no pacing around the mound. The Braves have a couple of young pitchers now who carry themselves the same way. I believe they were influenced by Glavine.
7. John Smoltz
I remember being disappointed when the Braves traded veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, a kid pitcher with a horrible record in the minor leagues. This was during the depth of the Braves’ bleak run in the late 1980s. Who knew that Smoltz would emerge as a big-game starting pitcher, who later doubled as one of the best relief pitchers of all time?
6. Freddie Freeman
A few days ago, Freeman told a reporter, “This is the only uniform I’ve ever worn, and I hope it’s the only one I ever wear.” Other than the young Albies, and the incredible Chipper Jones, no one else in my top ten can say this. Freeman represents all that is good about major league baseball.
5. Chipper Jones
It hasn’t been that long ago since Chipper played, so I don’t have to tell you how good he was, for such a long time. He really won me over when he wrote his autobiography. Chipper made some mistakes in his personal life, and he did not sugarcoat them. In addition to the clutch hitting, the great defense, and the championships, his honesty and candor make him an all-time Braves great.
4. Greg Maddux
The best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and probably the best I will ever see. Other pitchers throw harder, strike out more batters, and are more physically impressive. Maddux was an average-sized guy who liked cheeseburgers. But he could throw the ball exactly where he wanted it. He rarely walked a batter. He threw nine innings regularly, which is almost unheard of today. His games rarely lasted beyond two hours, because he worked fast. Truly a vanishing breed.
3. Phil Niekro
There’s never been a more durable pitcher, for the Braves or anyone else. During the Braves’ worst years in Atlanta, Niekro was the starting pitcher at least 40 times a year, piling up more innings than anyone before or sense. His unpredictable knuckleball cost him a few games, because when it left his hand, it was out of anyone’s control. It would often fool the batter, the catcher, and Niekro himself. He was more effective while pitching in his late 40s, than most guys are in their 20s.
2. Henry Aaron
755 career home runs, 733 of them as a Brave. He did so much to break the color barrier, especially playing for a deep south team in the 1960s. Nothing came easily for “The Hammer,” when many of the fans were offended that a black guy had the nerve to break a record set by the fabled Babe Ruth. But he carried himself with class and dignity, and truly deserves the title of the Real Home Run King.
1. Dale Murphy
Nicest guy in MLB history, always kind to every fan. Missed about 100 games due to injuries, before becoming an iron man, playing in 740 consecutive games. Finished with 398 home runs, two short of the 400 some baseball writers use as a yardstick for the Hall of Fame. I guess they don't think he could have hit two home runs in those 100 missed games.
(Who did I leave out? Who did I rank too low, or too high? You may contact me at email@example.com, or 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37415).