Altanta Sports Franchises: Atlanta Braves
February 16, 2011 1 Comment
Retired Numbers: #3 Dale Murphy, #21 Warren Spahn, #31 Greg Maddux, #35 Phil Niekro, #41 Eddie Matthews, #42 Jackie Robinson (retired league-wide), #44 Hank Aaron
Rivals: New York Mets
Tracking the history of the Atlanta Braves would take one on a bit of an American road trip going back quite a ways in the history books, as the club began in Boston in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings, taking the name of the Boston Braves in 1912, then hopping over to Milwaukee in 1953 until the 1966 season, in which they moved to their current location in the ATL.
Staking their claim as Boston’s team, the Red Stockings (soon to be the Beaneaters in 1883) were somewhat devoid of talent in the first seasons of the National League (in which they played), but managed to win a number of pennants in the late 1800’s. However, the introduction of a Boston American League team (soon called the Red Sox) in 1901 made things a bit more complicated, as many of the star players jumped ship to join the new club, which offered more profitable contracts. Left in the dust, the Beaneaters took on the new name of the Boston Braves, and modeled their team symbol, identity, and playing style after the “brave” Indian chief who is still synonymous with the program to this day.
After ascertaining the new name and team identity, the Braves saw their fair share of successes, amidst competition with the red Sox within Beantown. The first program championship came in 1914, as the braves swept Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in what was the first unqualified sweep in the modern World Series (the 1907 series had one tied game). During this series, the Braves actually played in Fenway Park, as their own field, South End Grounds, was too small to accommodate all of the fans the World Championships would undoubtedly attract. Just some food for thought.
After the hype of the World Series era was over, the Braves only twice posted winning records from 1917 to 1932. It wasn’t until the signing of Babe Ruth in 1935 the excitement and faith was restored to Boston’s “other team.” Ruth’s season, which ended up being his last as a player, began strong, and many saw him as a shoo-in for a management position as early as 1936. However, even with the great Bambino, the Braves couldn’t seem to scrounge up a .500 season, and Ruth retired in June of 1935, and the team finished 38-115, the worst season in franchise history.
After a pennant win in 1948, competition in Boston became a little too much for the Braves, and they packed it up and moved to Milwaukee, where they were welcomed as long-awaited heroes. The 1950’s saw an invigoration of the Braves franchise, as sluggers Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron drove the offense, while arms like that of Warren Spahn anchored the team on the mound. In 1957, the high-powered club won its first World Series in over 40 years, defeating the Yankees, who were also sporting a not-too-shabby lineup that featured the likes of Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford.
In 1962, ownership transferred to that of a Chicago-based group, who immediately went on the hunt for a larger television market to move the club to. Atlanta was the hot ticket, as the city built a brand new stadium in just over one year in order to attract a team to their locale. The Braves took the bait, and bid adieu to Milwaukee after 1965. To this day, the Milwaukee Braves are the only MLB program to play more than one season but never with a losing record.
The Braves’ earliest seasons in Atlanta were relatively mediocre, but one thing that kept the fans coming back for more was the offensive powerhouse that was Hank Aaron. Living in a city where racial tensions were quite high, Aaron was miraculously unphased by such, and continued to awe fans, media outlets, and players alike, eclipsing the career home run record, originally set by Babe Ruth.
Money and media attention became the name of the game in the 70’s an era in which Ted Turner bought the team, and even tried to manage the club, a venture that lasted all of one game. He utilized his Braves as a platform to launch his superstation WTBS, making the Braves the first franchise to have a nationwide audience and fan base, something that continues to be present in baseball fan culture, as TBS broadcast all Braves games until the 2008 season.
The late 70’s into the 80’s saw the comings and goings of a number of managers, particularly Bobby Cox. Cox was originally hired in 1978, and then fired in 1981. Then re-hired as GM in 1986. Then given a change in job title yet again, as he returned to the dugout as manager in the middle of the 1990 season.
The 90’s saw divisional realignment, a heating up with the rivalry with the Mets, and the presence of incredible pitching in the Braves’ rotation. As a matter of fact, six National League CY Young Awards in the 1990’s were given to three Braves pitchers: Tom Glavine in 1991 and 1998, Greg Maddux from 1993 through 1995, and John Smoltz in 1996. Utilizing this pitching as an advantage, the Braves came back strong from a 1994 season cut short by a player’s strike, going on to win their third World Series Championship in team history in 1995. With their strong pitching as a constant, the Braves went on to appear in the 1996 and 1999 World Series, in which they lost both to the New York Yankees.
The 2000’s were dubbed a new generation in Atlanta, where a fair share of pitching highs and lows, injuries, and struggles plagued the club. The team had its collection of potential in stars such as Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, and Jeff Francouer, but trades and injuries kept the roster from producing to its full potential. As if that wasn’t enough, Bobby Cox apparently wasn’t too pleased either, as he broke the all-time MLB record for most career ejections by a manager in August 2007. Yikes.
Most recently in Braves history, off-season trades and a surge of decent pitching helped lead the Braves to a late-season comeback in 2009, coming within 2 games of the wild card leading Rockies, but falling to 4 games behind, relinquishing playoff ambitions to Colorado. In 2010, the Braves’ attempted to reclaim a postseason berth for the first time since 2005, led by Cox in his 25th and final season. Winning the NL Wild Card but losing to the Giants in the NLDS in four games, the post-Bobby Cox era is now on the horizon in Atlanta. Stay tuned tomorrow, as we discuss the issues at the forefront of recent Braves culture!