As we race to the finish line that is the offseason, so does our All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves series. If you’re new to the series, here’s the previous pieces:
Hope you’ve been following along in the comments section, providing us with your favorites! If not, there’s always time. 4 & 3…here we go!
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 4
Bruce Benedict – “Now batting, for your Atlanta Braves, Catcher #20, Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce Benedict”. We as fans tend to be drawn to a player who doesn’t stand out statistically, doesn’t stand out behaviorally, and I can’t explain why Bruce has always been close to my heart. Maybe it’s the memories of childhood, sitting in front of our 22-inch television built to look and act like a piece of furniture, and hearing the announcers and crowd do the “BRUUUUUUUUUCE” anytime he’d come to bat or do something eventful.
Nicknamed “Eggs”, Bruce was primarily a defensive first catcher in an era where nearly every catcher was a defensive first catcher. He appeared in 2 All-Star games including 1983, his best offensive year, in which he compiled a .733 OPS in 133 games. He also played a vital role in the 1982 division winning Braves. As far as Braves history is concerned, Bruce has a very important role as his development at the catching position led the Braves to explore other avenues for then catcher, Dale Murphy. Needless to say, the rest is history as Dale moved to the outfield and became a perennial All-Star and back to back MVP.
Bruce has worn many hats since his retirement including Minor League coach, scout, and NCAA Division 1 referee, but the only hat that matters to me is the hard plastic hat with the Braves logo.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 4
Tim Hudson – What I love about Tim Hudson is that he is a good ‘ol country boy. He was such an amazing pitcher; one of the best pitchers of the 2000’s in my opinion. I remember one time watching an interview called ‘At Home with Tim Hudson’, I don’t know why it is something that has always stuck out in my mind about him, but Joe Simpson interviewed him at his 700-acre property. He was describing how he spends his time at home, riding four-wheelers, having barbeques, hunting, fishing, etc. and I thought to myself he’s just like me and my family. I grew up in the same sort of environment and it’s something that I have always remembered about him and the way he carried himself throughout his MLB career; he is just a simple, honest, talented redneck.
Plus on top of all his success as a pitcher, he has a fantastic foundation and anyone that gives back to the community the way his and his family have is very inspiring and says a lot about the type of person he is. I have a lot of respect for people like Tim Hudon, who have money and fame, but put it toward others and that, to me, makes him a classy guy and an all-time favorite in my book.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 4
Andruw Jones – I, like many fans, recall looking forward to the arrival of Andruw Jones. The previous year, the Braves had won the World Series and now, here was the best prospect in baseball. For years, we waited for his breakout season. It seemed like a bad joke – every year, Sporting News or Sports Illustrated would predict an MVP season. He was expected to be Ken Griffey Jr., but even better. It’s unfortunate because those expectations were straight impossible to live up to.
What Andruw did become was the best center fielder I have ever seen. He bashed 434 home runs – 368 with the Braves. That includes 2005 when he finally seemed to be coming into his own with a 51-home run year. His follow-up was nearly as good, but years of playing world-class defense caught up with him in 2007. He left the Braves, never played more than 107 games again, and just kind of faded away. It was a sad end to a career of possibilities. While we can talk about how Andruw never became Willie Mays, the version of Andruw we did get was one of kind. Oh, and he should be in the Hall of Fame, too.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 3
Jonny Venters– 33% of the O’Ventbrel trio, but Jonny Venters had 100% of my heart while on the mound. Always an underdog, Jonny Venters was a draft afterthought, being selected by the Braves in the 30th round of the 2003 draft. As a starter in the minors, Venters continued the path that most 30th round picks go on and that is the path out of baseball. He walked too many, struck out too few and the future wasn’t bright. Then the unthinkable happened: a failed minor league starting pitcher became an elite reliever overnight.
It was 2010 and Venters received a Spring Training invite, likely just as filler and to get a bit of exposure. However he got the attention of the most important man in the clubhouse: Bobby Cox. Cox saw the slider, knew it was a gem, and brought Venters on to dominate in short inning stints, and dominate he did. By the end of May in his rookie season, he solidified himself as a back-end bullpen arm and held it through 2012.
Venters pitched 229.2 innings of dominant baseball for the Braves from 2010-2012. Most of his innings came in high-leverage situations and he held opponents to a .574 OPS. Lefties, righties, it didn’t matter. Venters sat them down and did it all in the most humble fashion one could imagine. After the 2012 season, Venters’ slider was deemed the most unhittable pitch in all of baseball, a title that had been given to Mariano Rivera‘s cutter for several straight years.
Unfortunately for Jonny, the slider was the pitch that put the most stress on his elbow and after 3 years of constant use, his arm said no more. Now, Jonny is rehabbing with the Rays in Spring Training, has undergone 3 Tommy John procedure, and another elbow procedure, and after 5 years out of the league, Jonny, minus a few ticks in MPH, sees light at the end of the tunnel. I, for one, am rooting for him no matter the jersey.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 3
Freddie Freeman – There is something special about Freddie Freeman being at first base. If someone other than Freddie is playing first and they miss catching a ball, I instinctively say ‘Freddie would have gotten that.’ His stretch is absolutely insane and there have been so many times I find myself saying ‘how did he do that?’ Freddie is my favorite active Braves player. He seems like an all-around great guy; he’s fantastic at bat and at first base. The last couple of years he has performed so well, I hope this year that he can stay healthy for the whole season. Last year he hit 28 home runs and in 2016 he hit 34 home runs.
I still have yet to meet him and that is currently on my bucket list for the 2018 season. I think he brings a great spirit to the organization. I don’t really know why he’s my favorite, all I know is I enjoy watching him play more than any other current Brave. I feel like I have somewhat of a connection with Freddie because the year that he joined the Braves in the majors was when I started seriously watching the Braves. So it’s kind of like me and Freddie have grown up together with the club.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 3
Greg Maddux – Watching Greg Maddux pitch was kind of like watching Picasso paint or Jimi Hendrix play. You knew what you were seeing was truly amazing and unique. Maddux never had Randy Johnson‘s fastball or Pedro Martinez‘s slider, but he didn’t need it. His control was otherworldly. You know those arcade games where you throw the balls through holes? The bigger hole gives you a hundred points, the medium hole gives you 250, and the smallest one gives you 500? Maddux could set new highs on that game that no one would ever touch.
He didn’t market himself and just went out and did his thing 35 times a year + the postseason. In some regards, it was rather boring. You ended up remembering the times something weird happened – like three walks or a Grand Slam – over his own accomplishments because they were so common. Like how in 1996, he gave up his first regular season Grand Slam to Benito Santiago. It was his tenth major league season.
Maddux was so good that he had a baseball accomplishment named after him (complete game, less than 100 pitches). Not too shabby for a guy who only struck out 200 batters once during his season.
Please consider purchasing Walk-Off Walk and Outfield Fly Rule’s 2018 Atlanta Preview with plenty of great information about Freddie Freeman and all of the Braves players from the GCL to the majors.