Tomorrow, we will have a new season. A fresh sense of hope. It’s been a while since we’ve had real hope for our Atlanta Braves. Tomorrow, fresh young faces take the stage and over the course of the season, hopefully, other fresh faces will dethrone space filling veterans. By the end of the year, I hope that we see a different, youthful team that injects energy into a disgruntled (and rightfully so) fanbase. But, one last time for this offseason, we look at the past to players that have won our hearts through their play, social interactions, or just that wonderful moment at the ballpark the player provided that lives on in our memory. Today, our last piece in our All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, we finally get to the core of what makes us fans.
In case you’ve been under rocks, here are the 1st four installments in the series:
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 2
Chipper Jones – It’s pretty hard to be a 30-40-year-old Braves fan and not have this man at the top of the lists. He was everything and more for the team, year in and year out for 19 years….19 years in one uniform. Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr, Willie Stargell, George Brett, Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter, Jim Palmer #endlist. That’s it. Since free agency was introduced, these are the only players in MLB history to spend their careers in 1 uniform longer than Chipper. One has to wonder, with the direction the game is heading where analytics rule all, has the franchise player finally become extinct? I hope not.
Chipper was the offensive cog in the historical Braves division run. During those 14 years, Chipper carried a .939 OPS, hit 331 homeruns and boasted the ever sought-after .300/.400/.500 slash line. His MVP year came in the middle of that run and was his best year as he hit 45 home runs and sported a 1.074 OPS.
However up until last year, even with the stats and the loyalty to the only team I pull for anymore, Chipper likely doesn’t make top-5 on my list. It was June of 2017 that Chipper completely won my heart. His piece on The Players Tribue called “Letter to My Younger Self” sealed it for me. While I won’t get into the details of his personal life (read it, he does a good job himself) , Chipper made a fan out of me again talking about, and owning up to, his mistakes of the past. We all make them but there are so many people in this world that never admit wrong-doings and it takes a big person to self-reflect and become a better person. Chipper did that.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 2Craig Kimbrel – ‘Welcome to the jungle we’ve got fun and games…’ Craig Kimbrel is one of my most memorable Braves. There was nothing like hearing that song and knowing it’s Kimbrel time. Every time I hear that song now I think of him. Every part of his time with the Braves was unforgettable, from his music to his stance to his process of pitching. I remember thinking when I saw him pitch for the first time, ‘why is he lean so far down? does he need glasses?’ Now I know that was one of his keys to success and an iconic trademark, Kimbrel move. He was such an incredible closer and the Braves haven’t had one as good as him since; he was so constant and so reliable. He is definitely one of a kind.
The first jersey I ever bought was Kimbrel’s. I got it at Christmas and I wasn’t going to wear it until opening day, then it happened. The day before opening day he gets traded to the Padres. I still wore his jersey to work on opening day and I had a few people joke & tease me, but I didn’t care. I wore the jersey in celebration of his time as a Brave.
Also, a cool side note, when I was in college at Berry Kimbrel and his wife came to campus to take their engagement pictures. All of campus was a buzz when they arrived on campus. Sadly, I did not get to see them but a few of my friends did.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 2
Kelly Johnson – For people who know me, the only surprise here is that KJ isn’t number one. Kelly Johnson was an important player in my evolution as a baseball fan. About the time that we were learning these terms like VORP and “Moneyball,” KJ rockets up the latter to the majors. He was an on-base machine with power and a bit of speed. While others grew tired of his inconsistency, I thought he was the type of player the Braves should target from now on. For a franchise that often went after raw, but toolsy, guys in the draft, KJ was a refreshing mixture of talent and a high ceiling.
Unfortunately, KJ never became the perennial All-Star like I thought. Around that time, though, KJ became half-talent and half-meme. Yeah, I knew he wasn’t a great player. A useful one, absolutely, but he wasn’t great. But it drove a few people nuts when my first answer to something was “Kelly Johnson.” Who should play third? Kelly Johnson. Who should play left field? Kelly Johnson. Who should be the closer? Let’s ask Kelly Johnson.
So, I don’t know if KJ is the right player for #2 on my board, but honestly, how couldn’t he be? He’s Kelly Johnson.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 1
Dale Murphy– In a dark time for Braves fans, there was 1 and only 1 player that was worth the price of admission: The Murph. From 1978-1990, the Braves had 3 winning seasons and only 1 division title. However, Dale was the Freddie Freeman of that era, the steady presence that brought people to Fulton County Stadium.
Murph came up as a catcher in the minors, but with the emergence of Bruce Benedict, he was moved to 1st Base. After 2 years as the Braves regular 1st Baseman and part-time catcher, Murph moved to CF and the rest is history. In 1980, he picked up his first All-Star bid, missed out in 1981, then earned 6 straight from ’82-’87. During that time he also won 5 gold gloves and back-to-back MVPs in ’82 and ’83. He was the best player in the league for the most part of a decade and don’t deny me my opinion.
But that was not what made Murph my favorite. The posters, the man, the smile, and just his fun-loving personality that continues to bless Braves fans everywhere has always been there. He talks about his family. He takes pics with fans. He responds on Twitter. And beyond that, he’s what every professional athlete should strive to become: a role model. Oh yeah… my daughter just so happens to be named Murphy. I’m not sure there will ever be a player to trump the Murph and I take pride in that.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 1
Chipper Jones – Just like many Braves fans, Chipper Jones had some sort of special impact. Chipper was the only baseball player I knew of, way before I even became a Braves fan. To me, that speaks volumes about the type of player he is, which is why he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of course, he was playing when I went to my first game and even though I knew nothing about baseball I had one person to cheer for. My husband and I were there for many of his games in his last season. When he got hurt and rehabbed in Rome, we had front row seats and being 3 feet from Chipper Jones when he was waiting on deck was exhilarating. He was very focused and professional. He was the first player that I had ever seen play in close proximity.
I will never forget watching him play in his last game and watching him at bat for the last time. Everyone stood to honor one the great Chipper Jones, the greatest switch hitter of all time! Wherever he went in his last season he was praised and adored for his accomplishments. More recently, about a year ago my husband and I were able to go to a book signing and Q and A when Chipper was on his book tour for his book “Ballplayer,” (which I plan on reading next month, Tommy). He signed the book and to hear him talk about his time as a Brave was so eye-opening; a special insight into the mind of one of the greatest Braves to ever grace the diamond. I had such a sense of pride watching his name be called to be inducted to the Hall of Fame and I can’t wait to see a well-deserved career forever be minted in history with so many other Braves greats this summer! We love you Chipper! Thanks for inspiring my Braves fandom and becoming the legend of my generation.
Looking back over all the players in my list, my list should really be my top 10 firsts because every one of my ten favs had to do with my first experience with baseball or the Braves.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 1
Chipper Jones – A bit cliche, I admit. But for me, there is no other option. I know he had his own personal problems. And I’ll read more about them in “Ballplayer,” which will be the April Book of the Month (Sundays in April). Shameless plug out of the way. By the end of 1995, I adopted Chipper’s batting stance, held a grudge against Hideo Nomo, and thought World Titles would be the new normal. Yeah, about that last thing.
Larry Wayne Jones Jr. became the Braves. Greg Maddux? He went back to Chicago. Tom Glavine? The Mets. The Friggin’ Mets. John Smoltz? Okay, but he was hurt too often. Chipper was the Braves and year-after-year, he put up the kind of numbers that eventually landed him in Cooperstown. He was a leader, which my kind – the analytically-inclined – don’t value too heavily. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a guy who served as the lightning rod. Oh, you want to manipulate service time to send Jason Heyward down? Chipper’s going to blast you. Tim Hudson‘s contract might be too rich? Chipper’s calling up the AJC and offering to defer money. Was it always a good idea for Chipper to talk? As we’ve learned on Twitter, that’s a resounding no. But at the same time, he wasn’t dropping player-acceptable lines. He was his own guy and he didn’t mind that ruffling feathers.
Of course, it was at the plate that he routinely brought us joy. Extra-inning homers, big-time doubles, huge games. The man earned his spot in Cooperstown with a .397 wOBA – a mark that is a career year for most. While he often seemed to fly under the radar, his results were always impressive. Chipper Jones – warts and all – is one of the best players I will ever watch. And for that, he’s still my favorite.
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