This is the first in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for every Atlanta Braves, a team that won the World Series in 2021.
One of the best things about baseball is the history involved. That and the coincidences, anomalies, and interesting facts you come across watching games. In this case, an alphabetical look at the teams has the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of Major League Baseball’s two most recent franchises (beginning play with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 25 years ago in 1998) followed by the Atlanta Braves, which is baseball’s longest continuously operating franchise.
The Braves began play in the National League in 1876 as the Boston Red Stockings, but if you look further, the franchise was part of the NL’s predecessor, the National Association, beginning in 1871. The Braves have gone through many name and city changes through the years, starting as the Red Stockings (1876-82), Beaneaters (1883-1906), Doves (1907-10), Rustlers (1911), Bees (1936-40) and Braves (1912-35 and 41-52) while in Boston. The Native American-themed name stuck with the franchise through moves to Milwaukee (1953-65) and their modern home of Atlanta beginning in 1966.
The Braves had the opposite issue as the previous team in this series. With the Diamondbacks, the problem was making decisions between players who only played one or two seasons for the bottom spots on the list. The Braves are approaching their 150th season, so the issue with them will be sifting through decades of great players and managers and only picking five (along with a few honorable mentions).
The franchise had success in the 1890s and won the World Series in 1914 and 1957 before falling back in the standings for a couple decades. The Braves were revived and thrived again beginning in the early 1990s, with two names in the accompanying lists playing big roles in that success.
The Best Catchers and Managers in Atlanta Braves History
Honorable mention – Bruce Benedict – Spent his entire 12-year career with a Braves team that made the playoffs just once in that time (a National League Championship Series loss to the Cardinals in 1982). Benedict was a two-time All-Star who drove in 260 runs in 982 games.
5. Phil Masi – The Braves went a long time between their championship in 1914 and their 1957 title in Milwaukee with only one postseason appearance during that time (although, to be fair, only the pennant winners played on after the regular season ended). Masi was the catcher on the 1948 team that lost to the Indians in the World Series. He played 11 seasons with the franchise, driving in 314 runs in 945 games and earning All-Star selections in four straight seasons from 1945-48.
4. Joe Torre – While modern fans know Torre as a Hall of Fame manager and long-time league executive, he was also a great player during an 18-year career that lasted from 1960-77. He spent the first nine seasons with the Braves, earning five All-Star selections and posting a .294-142-552 stat line in 1,037 games. Torre reached the 20 home run mark four times, and his best season was 1964, when he hit .321 with 20 homers and 109 runs batted in.
He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1961 (to future Hall of Famer Billy Williams), and he also won a gold glove in 1965. He joined the Cardinals in 1969 and converted to third base, winning the National League MVP award at that position two years later.
3. Brian McCann – A solid offensive player during his 10 seasons in two stints with the Braves. McCann was a seven-time All-Star, a six-time silver slugger, hitting at least 20 home runs and driving in at least 60 runs seven times each. The 2010 All-Star Game MVP totaled 188 homers and 706 RBIs in 1,190 games. He was part of four Braves playoff teams, and he hit four home runs and drove in 11 runs in 17 games.
2. Del Crandall – Spent 13 seasons with the Braves in their pre-Atlanta days, and he also lost two seasons (1951-52) to military service during the Korean War. Crandall went to 11 All-Star Games, won four gold gloves and was a starter on back-to-back World Series teams (a win over the Yankees in 1957 and a loss to New York the following year). In 1,394 games, Crandall hit 170 home runs and drove in 628 runs. He hit 20 homers three times and reached the 60 RBI mark in five seasons.
1. Javier Lopez – After brief late-season call-ups in 1992 and ’93, Lopez spent the next 10 seasons backstopping the Braves as they won the NL East nine times, went to the World Series three times and won the championship in 1995. In addition to being on the field for the title, Lopez was also the MVP of the 1996 National League Championship Series and caught Kent Mercker’s no-hitter in 1994. He was a three-time All-Star who hit 20 or more home runs five times and drove in 60 or more runs on six occasions.
In Lopez’s best season of 2003, he hit .328 with 40 homers and 109 RBIs despite being on the bench for all of Greg Maddux’s starts (in favor of backup Henry Blanco). Lopez finished his career in Atlanta with 1,156 games, a .287 batting average, 214 home runs and 694 runs batted in. He added 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 60 postseason games.
Honorable mentions – Bill McKechnie was a Hall of Famer based on his time with the Pirates and Reds, he posted a 560-666 mark in eight seasons with Boston. Although that total ranks fifth on the franchise list, his teams never finished higher than fourth in the National League. Fredi Gonzalez went 434-413 and led the Braves to a pair of playoff appearances in his five full seasons but went just 1-4 in the playoffs before being replaced early in 2016. After two titles with the Cardinals, Billy Southworth went 424-358 in six seasons with the Boston Braves and led them to the World Series in 1948. Chalmer “Lum” Harris posted a 379-373 record in five seasons and led the Braves to the first-ever National League Championship Series in 1969 (a 3-0 loss to the Mets).
5. Fred Haney – Haney went 341-231 in four seasons, and he led Milwaukee to a championship in 1957 and a return to the World Series a year later. The Braves had second-place finishes in his other two seasons.
4. George Stallings – Despite having a losing record in his eight seasons (579-597), Stallings has a place on this list due to a dramatic turnaround in one particular season. The Boston Braves were 26-40 in early July of 1914 but went on a 68-19 run to finish 94-59 and win the National League pennant by 10 1/2 games over the Giants, who had earned that honor the three previous seasons. The “Miracle Braves” then swept the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
3. Brian Snitker – The current Braves skipper is third on the team’s win list. Snitker took over for Fredi Gonzalez in 2016 and has posted a 603-482 record to this point. Atlanta has won five straight division titles and is currently leading the NL East this season. Snitker led the Braves to a 23-18 record during that time, which includes a seven-game loss to the Dodgers in the 2020 NLCS and a victory over the Astros to win the title the following year.
2. Frank Selee – Sporting a killer 1800s mustache, Selee amassed a 1,004-649-24 record over 12 seasons (1890-1901). He led his teams to five pennants and the Beaneaters finished at .500 or better 11 times under his watch. Selee’s teams won 102 games twice, including 1892, when Boston beat the Cleveland Spiders 5-0-1 in the “world’s championship series” (a precursor to the modern World Series). Although Selee passed away in 1909, he was not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame until 1999.
1. Bobby Cox – What started with an unsuccessful four-year stint from 1978-81 turned into one of the most successful managerial careers in baseball history. The Braves brought back Cox late in 1990 and, starting the following year, won 14 National League East titles in a 15-year span. After four non-playoff seasons, Atlanta earned a Wild Card spot and lost in the Division Series in what turned out to be Cox’s final season in 2010.
Overall, Cox went 2,149-1,709 in 25 seasons, and his 2,504 wins (including his four years with the Blue Jayes in the early 1980s) rank fourth in Major League history. Atlanta won at least 90 games 14 times under Cox and topped the century mark six times. Cox’s 64-65 postseason record includes five pennants and a World Series victory in 1995. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Other articles in the Braves series:
First and Third Basemen – Coming soon
Second Basemen and Shortstops – Coming soon
Outfielders – Coming soon
Pitchers – Coming soon
A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks
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