Best H’s in Braves Franchise History

Best H’s in Braves Franchise History

After the struggles of yesterday, let’s go with a palate cleanser and bring back this fun series.

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 – the last name that begins with the same letter.

Team H (or Preparation-H)

I was a little worried the player selection for this group would be small, but there were surprisingly a lot of “H” players throughout the Braves history even if many didn’t stand out in my head at first. A couple, including one as a Brave, became Hall of Famers. The infield could be better and the same could be said behind the plate. The team lacks a big-time name in the ninth inning. But this is a solid group of players that could unseat Team G after just one “week” as champion.

Lineup

Let’s go position-by-position.

Catcher – Shanty Hogan

It’s really difficult not to go with Pinky Hargrave just for name value. You could argue for Mert Hackett – if you knew who Mert Hackett was. But Shanty Hogan’s the winner here. A Boston-native, Hogan reached the majors in 1925, but didn’t arrive to stay until 1927. He hit .288/.324/.410 as a rookie and because Boston can’t have nice things, he was traded in the Hornsby deal. After he excelled for most of five seasons with the Giants, Boston brought him back in 1933. They missed his best years, but he still finished with a .272/.322/.354 triple slash behind the plate for Boston. What? You were expecting Mike Heath?

First Base – Bob Horner

While Horner played more third base with the Braves than he did first base, the options that he’s blocking at first are weaker than Andy High, our starter across the diamond. Horner famously went from Arizona State to the majors, never playing an inning in the minors. For nine years, he hit .278/.339/.508 with 215 homers. Like our starting right fielder, he never reached his potential but was still plenty good. Injuries did a number on him, but it was a labor dispute that led to Horner leaving the Braves. After a year in Japan, he returned to look like a shell of the Bob Horner we remembered.

Other options considered were Buddy Hassett and Walter Holke – both decent hitters with no power.

Second Base – Rogers Hornsby

Is it cheating to use a guy who spent one season with the franchise? Not if he slashes .387/.489/.632! Hornsby’s 1928 was outstanding, though because Boston was horrid and people didn’t like Hornsby all that much personally, he only received a 13% share of the MVP vote. Hornsby, who also took over as manager, left the Braves after the season largely because his salary was a bit too expensive for the ever-in-the-red Boston Braves to afford. They sent him to Chicago, where Father Time finally caught up with him. Still, those video game numbers he put up in Boston were ridiculous.

Shortstop – Buck Herzog

Passed back-and-forth between the Giants and Boston more than once, Herzog arrived in 1908 and played 13 years in the majors – four during two different stints with the NL’s team in Beantown. His numbers with Boston were pretty consistent with his Giants’ days – .261/.328/.348. He was a talented defender all over the infield, though it was his issues with John McGraw that made him famous. “I hate his guts, but I want him on my club.” Of course, that didn’t always hold as the Giants traded him away three times. Oh, and he also beat the tar out of Ty Cobb once in a no-holds barred fight in Cobb’s hotel room. Seriously, you can’t write enough about Buck Herzog.

Third Base – Andy High

In yet another example of how Boston can’t have nice things, the team acquired High from the Dodgers in 1925. He was struggling badly in Brooklyn after a breakout 1924 campaign. He caught fire after the trade and in 2.5 years with Boston, High hit .297/.352/.401. As a result, the Braves moved him to the Cardinals for Les Bell. To be fair, Bell also had a big season in his recent past and was productive himself (.287/.342/.417 in two seasons). Bell was waived – again, Boston hated good things. Luckily, they didn’t have to watch High continue to rub it in because his days as a starter were over when the 30’s started. Did I mention that Boston gave St. Louis $25K in the High/Bell trade to, basically, not improve?

Left Field – Tommy Holmes

It’s fair to say that Holmes was never that great. His best seasons came as the league desperately searched for bodies to replace those that were engaged in World War II. So, take it with a grain of salt that Holmes hit .352/.420/.577 with 28 homers in 1945. In the other ten years he was active, he hit 50 home runs. Still, Holmes finished his Boston run of a decade with a .303/.367/.434 triple slash, including a MVP runner-up and an appearance in the 1948 All-Star Game.

Billy Hamilton | Redlegnation.com
Center Field – Billy Hamilton

While most modern fans think of the speedy Reds player with an allergic reaction to getting on base, the best Billy Hamilton is the one who joined Boston in 1896 near the end of their dynasty. Hamilton was always recognized as one of the game’s best players after six years with the Phillies, but he had enough in the tank to .339/.456/.413 over the final six seasons of his career. He swiped 274 bases, which still ranks third in franchise history. Twenty-one years after his passing, he was finally recognized as a Hall of Famer and entered with a Boston hat.

Right Field – Jason Heyward

Yes, he never took the torch from Chipper Jones. Yes, for reasons that still escape me, he went from a guy walking about 15% of the time in his rookie year to one at the 10% mark in his final year in Atlanta. Yes, he only reached 20 homers once. But, there’s two reasons Heyward makes this team.

One is simple – it’s not like the competition for this final spot is that heavy. I considered Albert Hall, George Harper, Terry Harper, and Jeff Heath for this final spot, but none of them really had a wow factor associated with them.

But the bigger picture here is that Heyward was productive and a difference maker for the Braves. While the years that followed have been…disappointing, when Heyward was a Brave, even when he didn’t reach his sky-high expectations, he was a three-win player with – for the most part – a bat capable of a wRC+ of 120+. With his defensive skills, speed, and pop, he should have been better, but what he was…wasn’t so bad.

Starting Pitcher – Tim Hudson

I jotted down a few other names. Mike Hampton was a better hitter than he was a pitcher with the Braves. Tommy Hanson‘s decline was sudden before his unfortunate tragic end. Finally, Otto Hess, the Swiss-born southpaw, had some pretty big moments in baseball. His value to Boston came more as an often-hurt, but reliable depth arm who gutted out eleven starts to support Boston’s Big Three of Bill James, Dick Rudolph, and Lefty Tyler in 1914. He didn’t pitch in the Series, but “our old reliable Otto Hess” played a solid supporting role and remains the only Swiss-born major leaguer in history.

But this is Huddy’s spot. Like a few others on this squad, his best years came before joining the franchise. He was a yearly contender for the Cy Young as an Athletic. With the Braves, he really never reached those heights, but remained a steady arm who was a workhorse when healthy enough to stay on the mound. He logged seven 2+ fWAR seasons with the Braves, including a truly excellent 2007 campaign where he finished with 4.9 fWAR.

Relief Pitcher – Tom House

Selected out of USC by the Braves in ’67, House arrived in 1971 and within two years, he became one of the team’s most-trusted relievers. He broke out in 1974, finishing with a 1.93 ERA over 102.2 ING. He set a personal-best with eleven saves that year. He’d match it in 1975 and as a result, he had to go. I kid, but the Braves tended to move out their best talent in the 70’s and got little in return. Atlanta traded House to Boston for Roger Moret, a lefty who finished the previous year with a 14-3 record and a 3.60 ERA. His one year with the Braves wasn’t nearly as good and Atlanta moved him in the Jeff Burroughs trade after ’76. House only saved 28 games – same as Warren Spahn, oddly enough – but the pickings are slim.

Manager – Fred Haney

One of three managers in franchise history to win a World Series, Haney joined the Braves after wearing out his welcome with the Browns and Pirates. In 1956, the Braves began the year under Charlie Grimm, who had replaced Tommy Holmes in 1952. The Braves were always good under Grimm, but couldn’t make the playoffs. A coach under Grimm for less than a year, Haney took over after the former’s dismissal. The ultra-competitive Haney pushed for more out of his players and nearly won the pennant in his first summer as the team’s manager.

The next season, after a grueling spring, Haney’s Braves won 95 games and went to the World Series, beating the Yankees in seven. A return engagement the following season led to the Yankees returning the favor in seven. In 1959, the Braves slipped to 86-70. In his four seasons at the helm, Milwaukee finished either first or second in each year. No other manager in franchise history as a better average finish of 1.5 than Haney. After the ’59 season concluded, he resigned. There were rumors that he wanted more authority with organizational decisions and was declined.

President – Percy Haughton

Why he became part-owner of the Braves after purchasing the team from James E. Gaffney is a mystery. He never played the game at a high level and outside of coaching a season of college baseball at Harvard, the game didn’t seem all that important to him. He quickly sold the team after yet another losing season after 1918, just his third season as president. Haughton is much more known as successful football coach, who turned Harvard into one of the best teams in college football. During his nine years, the Crimson went 72-7-5 with three national titles.

For all the good his coaching at Harvard is known for, the thing most associated with Haughton is an legend from 1908. With Yale next on the schedule (i.e. The Game), Haughton tried to find ways to motivate his players to not just score against Yale – they had been shut out six straight games against the Bulldogs – but beat their rival. So, legend goes that Haughton strangled a live bulldog in front of his players. To motivate them. And it worked!?!? Harvard won the game on the strength of four field goals and a shutout effort by the defense.

Did it happen? Probably not. Jesus, I hope not!

Pinch Hitter – Eric Hinske

He hit only .236/.315/.407 during his three seasons with the Braves, but many of the hits he did have – including 23 homers – had meaning. None had more meaning than his second-to-final postseason plate appearance in Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS. With the Braves down 1-0 and the series tied at one a piece, Hinske hit a pinch-hit two run homer that barely stayed fair. He did it with the count 0-2. Turner Field may have never been louder.

Make An Amazing Catch in LF – Willie Harris

Okay, I’m just making up categories at this point. Take a look at this video comparing an Ender Inciarte game-saving catch with one from Harris.

Best Team By Letter: Team G vs. Team H

Does Team H have enough firepower? The pitching match-up of Tom Glavine vs. Hudson will be an exercise of two stubborn pitchers. But I have to hand this one to Preparation-H. Both teams have star-studded outfields and big fly threats at first base, but the addition of Rogers Hornsby and Buck Herzog’s tenaciousness give Preparation-H the edge, I believe. Plus, Fred Haney vs. Fredi Gonzalez? Come on…

What do you guys think?

1 Comments

I would have included a special H category for one-season lefthanded hitting outfielders who were instrumental in winning a Braves pennant — Jeff Heath (whom you did mention) and Bob “Hurricane” Hazle. Spahn and Sain were important, but Heath was the 1948 team’s sparkplug (they might have beaten Cleveland in the World Series but for his injury suffered just after the pennant was clinched). The 1957 Braves were an excellent team, but the offense tended to sputter against strong pitching in mid-seaon. Enter the Hurricane! Essentially a career minor leaguer, Hazle went from 25th man to the World Series because he walked on water for the last 10 weeks of the season, seemingly providing a critical hit every time he came to the plate; his .403 batting average and OPS over 1.000 barely capture the thrill of his sustained batting assault that put Milwaukee over the top that year.

And here’s an aside about Fred Haney: perhaps he was a players’ manager, but his strategic decisions dated from the dead ball era. With a power-hitting lineup, the 1956
-1959 Braves were often sacrifice bunting in the first inning and rarely played for the big inning! The club likely would have won four consecutive pennants with any competent manager born in the 20th century.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *