Best B’s in Braves Franchise History

Dave Bancroft | By The Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Best B’s in Braves Franchise History

When you have operated a squad for nearly 150 years, you rack up a pretty expansive collection of players that have taken the field for you. In this series, we look at possibly the best possible lineup you could build that all share one thing in common – a last name that begins with the same letter.

Team B

Depth. That’s what this team has. While they lack the star power of our last squad, they follow it up with some excellent all-around talent. Will it be enough to take down that team and become the current leader in the clubhouse for the best team entirely made up of players with last names that begin with the same letter? We’ll look at that later. Until then, let’s take a look at today’s lineup. Again, I’ll go over the rationale with why I chose the players in the position-by-position breakdown that follows.

Lineup

You may have noticed I added more additional options beyond last week’s team. I felt I really erred by not putting Alex Anthopoulos as that squad’s general manager. So, let’s go with the breakdown:

Catcher – Bruce Benedict

There were a lot of backup catcher options to go with from Paul Bako to Charlie Bennett to Damon Berryhill, but no option spent more time behind the plate than Benedict. Certainly, none were more popular. Benedict was never much of a hitter – only twice did he finish with an OPS over .700. He spent more of his career in Atlanta as a backup himself. Even while the at-bats decreased, each one at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium included shouts of “Bruuuuuuuuuuuce!”

First Base – Sid Bream

Nicknamed “Wheels” (unconfirmed), Bream already was ahead of many options before this list started. Yep, because of his speed. As challengers showed up to try to take his spot, he fended off Bob Beall from the late 70’s and Al Bridwell, who played four seasons during the dead-ball era. To be honest, Dick Burrus was the best option from a production standpoint, but Bream contributes to a “winning culture.” Speaking of which, have you kept up with my series on “Built To Win?”

Second Base – Jeff Blauser

Okay, this is a little cheap. To be fair, before he became the everyday guy at shortstop in 1993, Blauser was a utility player who played a good deal of second base. I recently wrote about Blauser’s 1997 season in the Year In the Life series, but from 1992 until ’97, Blauser slashed .271/.366/.422. Getting him on this team was a no-brainer. Of course, going with Blauser at second is a little bit easier because there weren’t many better options. No offense meant to Gordon Beckham.

Shortstop – Dave Bancroft

Okay, Bancroft’s best years – the years that eventually got him into the Hall of Fame – came with the New York Giants from 1920 until 1923, but he was a solid addition for Boston from ’24 until ’27 as part of the John McGraw/Emil Fuchs arrangement. Bancroft hit .292/.373/.370 in four seasons with Boston while also serving as their manager.

Third Base – Tony Boeckel

In the season before Bancroft came to Boston, Boeckel was finishing up his fourth year with the Braves. Acquired during 1919, Boeckel came into his own in 1921 with a .811 OPS along with double figures in doubles, triples, and homers. He would OPS about .760 the two following years and was expected to hold down the Hot Corner for a fifth full season when prior to the ’24 season, he was involved in a serious car accident and died the next day. While his time with the franchise was brief and not that notable, he shines from a pool that includes Les Bell, Clete Boyer, and Dave Brain.

Left Field – Dusty Baker

His biggest years came after a trade to the Dodgers, where he would hit 144 of his 242 home runs. However, he was very good over an eight-year run in Atlanta. That’s a bit of a misnomer – half of his years in Atlanta could be classified as cups of coffee (103 PA between the four seasons). In the other four years, he averaged 603 PA and slashed .280/.355/.448 with 77 HR and 58 steals.

Bill Bruton | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons
Bill Bruton | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons
Center Field – Bill Bruton

One of the fastest players in baseball, Bruton joined the Milwaukee Braves in 1953 – a year before Hank Aaron. Over nearly a decade, Bruton flashed world-class speed in center field and led the league in steals three consecutive years. He started late – signing as a 24-year-old and getting to the bigs three years later – and he only on-based .323 during his time with Milwaukee. Furthermore, an injury took him out of the 1957 World Series, but he came back the next year and was one of the Braves’ best players in their seven-game loss to the Yankees. He on-based .545 in the series, though because of platooning, he only started four games. But Bruton was a constant next to Aaron during his career and one of baseball’s best people at the time. Other possible picks include Jimmy Bannon, Ginger Beaumont (on name value alone), Jeff Burroughs, Brett Butler, and Emilio Bonifacio. Okay, one of those doesn’t belong.

Right Field – Wally Berger

This lineup needs some thunder and it gets it from Berger and his 199 home runs by a Brave. His run with Boston included one of the best rookie seasons during the first century of Major League Baseball – .310/.375/.614, 38 HR. Injuries would both shorten his time with Boston and his career, but in 1057 games with the Braves, he hit .304/.362/.533.

Starting Pitcher – Lew Burdette

No “B” Pitcher was more dominant than Tommy Bond, who thoroughly shredded the National League after joining Boston in 1877. In 2127.1 innings, he had a 2.21 ERA and a 2.41 FIP. But that was a different time – pitchers pitched from a box, not a mound. Instead, I’ll go with Burdette, who pitched over a decade with Milwaukee after Boston acquired him for a broken-down Johnny Sain. While always Warren Spahn‘s #2, Burdette had some big years (winning the ERA Title in ’56 and finishing 3rd in the Cy Young for ’58). His shining moment, though, came in 1957 when he shut down the team that acquired Sain seven years before – the Yankees – in the World Series not one, not two, but three times. In 27 innings, he allowed just two runs – and none after the third inning of Game One. That meant shutting down Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Enos Slaughter. Unlike that trio, Burdette wasn’t a Hall of Famer. He was just damn good at the right time.

Closer – Steve Bedrosian

A relief ace for the Braves from 1982 until 1984, the Braves tried to maximize his ability by starting him in 1985. It would be a mistake. Bedrosian would later reach bigger heights with the Phils before his arm petered out. Once his arm was strong enough, he returned to Atlanta for three seasons before retiring with the Braves giving him a nice goodbye. He saved 41 games with the Braves. That makes him a better play than Joe Boever or Juan Berenguer.

Defensive Replacement – Rafael Belliard

I mean…why not?

Bobby Bragan | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons
Bobby Bragan | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons
Manager – Bobby Bragan

Over four seasons, Bragan had a winning percentage of .519. Unfortunately, his teams never finished higher than fifth place. He’s still a better option than letting Bancroft player/manage. Only two managers in Braves’ history are more games under .500 than Bancroft.

Owner – William Bartholomay

A leader in the insurance industry, Bartholomay was heavily invested in moving the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Later, he sold his controlling interest to Ted Turner, leading to the Braves being beamed into a number of homes on TBS. The man helped lift Hank Aaron’s mother over the barrier onto the field to meet her son after the latter broke the career home-run record. Bartholomay was hated in Milwaukee, but he is a saint in Atlanta.

So, there’s my Team B with some bonus figures. What changes would you make? Let me know below. But before we end this, should Team B take over as our Champion?

Best Team By Letter: Team A vs. Team B

Having a lineup centered around Felipe Alou, Aaron, and Joe Adcock makes Team A dangerous. But the lack of depth beyond them will be their downfall against Team B’s group that, while it lacks star power, it makes up for in all-around talent from the top of the lineup to the bottom. It would be nice to see two starters who had some of the most dominant individual postseason series in franchise history – Steve Avery (’91 NLCS) and Burdette (’57 World Series) – go head-to-head. Nevertheless, I have to go with Team B and they take over as the Best Team by Letter.

Agree or disagree? I’m all ears.

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