COMMENTARY | An extended All-Star break means an extension of the worst time of year for sports fans. When baseball pauses for its Midsummer Classic, there is little (if any) refuge for the fanatics, and the same goes for the writers.
But rather than speculate about trading for random Chicago White Sox relievers or talk about how whether Julio Teheran or B.J. Upton will finish the season with a higher batting average, I thought it'd be fun to play a game. If you were the general manager of the Atlanta Braves and could fill a roster with any player from the Braves franchise (all the way back to the Boston Red Stockings), whom would you choose?
Assume that every player is available to play; no need to narrow it down to a 25-man roster. How many catchers would you carry? How valuable are utilitymen? Do you just rely on Andruw Jones to cover the whole outfield so Chipper Jones and Eddie Matthews can be on the field at the same time? Whom would you choose?
I chose players based solely on their statistics with the Braves. I also favored players who spent long portions of their careers with Atlanta over players who just stopped by (Rogers Hornsby played one season for the Braves in 1928, but that doesn't make him the greatest second baseman in franchise history). After picking position players, an 11-man bullpen, and a 5-man rotation, I had one spot left. So I came up with a "GM's choice" position.
Here's the team I came up with:
C - Joe Torre, Brian McCann, Javy Lopez
As far as I'm concerned, there are four catchers that could be considered here: the three listed above, and Del Crandall. Torre and McCann both have good defensive and excellent hitting stats. The choice came down to Crandall vs. Lopez. Del Crandall was the superior defensive catcher, but I couldn't ignore the offensive prowess of Lopez.
1B - Fred Tenney, Joe Adcock, Fred McGriff
First base was a tough decision. It had been a long time since the Braves got steady contribution from a first baseman before Freddie Freeman came along. Many fans still cringe when they hear the names Robert Fick or Casey Kotchman.
Tenney played before the turn of the century and is credited with originating the strategy of a first basemen playing behind the runner, rather than standing at the bag. Adcock was a strong hitter, possibly best remembered for getting the game-winning home run that wasn't in the famous Lew Burdette-Harvey Haddix game in 1959.
2B - Bobby Lowe, Marcus Giles, Martin Prado
Bobby Lowe is another old-school player who played for the Boston Beaneaters in the 1890s. He was the first player in major league history to hit four home runs in one game, and at the time of his retirement he held the best fielding percentage ever for a second baseman. I was pretty surprised, to be honest, when I saw how highly Marcus Giles ranks among Atlanta second basemen through history. For players with over 2000 plate appearances for the Braves, he ranks first in slugging, second in WAR, and third in batting average. The beloved Martin Prado is not too far behind those marks. It seemed criminal to not include him somewhere on this list.
SS - Herman Long, Johnny Logan, Rabbit Maranville
Most of the Braves' success at shortstop is rooted in their past. The most recognizable name on this roster is probably Rabbit Maranville, the Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Braves for the majority of his career. Long was a predecessor of Maranville's playing short for the Beaneaters and holds the franchise record for WAR by a shortstop. Johnny Logan signed with the Braves just after World War II and was a four-time All-Star.
3B - Chipper Jones, Eddie Matthews, Bob Elliot
Choosing the top two third basemen in Braves history was the easiest job in this whole process. Chipper Jones and Eddie Matthews are among the best third basemen ever, for any team. Picking a third player to man the hot corner was a little tougher.
The Braves franchise has a long history of very good third basemen; players like Bob Horner, Billy Nash, Darrell Evans and Bob Elliot. I chose Elliot because of his completeness as a player. He retired among the National Leaders in a slew of defensive categories, had the highest career slugging percentage in league history to that point, was a seven-time All-Star, and won the 1947 MVP Award.
OF - Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, Andruw Jones, Wally Berger, Hugh Duffy, Felipe Alou, Billy Hamilton, Tommy Holmes
The Braves franchise has been the home to some great outfielders through its history. The two that I had a hard time leaving out were Rico Carty and David Justice. Both players put up great numbers but fell victim to roster-space limitations. When a team has the greatest home run hitter of all time, the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, and a beloved two-time MVP roaming the outfield, some very good players aren't going to make it.
RP - Gene Garber, Craig Kimbrel, Mark Wohlers, Greg McMichael, Steve Bedrosian, Mike Remlinger, Cecil Upshaw, Paul Assenmacher, John Rocker, Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters
Calculating the value of a relief pitcher, especially across eras, is a nearly impossible job. For the purposes of this exercise, I chose the 11 relievers with the highest WAR in franchise history, minus John Smoltz, who is included as a starter. I considered eliminating John Rocker on the grounds of being an idiot, but his numbers were too good to ignore; before Craig Kimbrel, Rocker had the highest K/9 ratio in franchise history.
SP - Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro, Kid Nichols, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux
The all-time starting rotation is my favorite part of this roster. I was tempted to go with the "Big 3" of the 1990s, plus Spahn and Niekro, and a lot of people probably would.
But with apologies to Tom Glavine, I couldn't ignore Kid Nichols. Nichols pitched for the Boston Beaneaters for 12 seasons, from 1890 to 1901. It was a different age of baseball, especially for pitchers, but the numbers he put up are absolutely insane. He won 20 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons, including a major league-record 7 30-win seasons. He retired with a sub-3.00 ERA and is 7th all time in victories with 361. Most impressively, Kid Nichols reached his 300th win faster than any other player ever; he reached that milestone by the time he was 30 years old.
GM's choice - Andres Galarraga
I went to game a few weeks ago with a friend of mine, and we spent time talking about Andres Galarraga. The Big Cat was his favorite player, and we spent time marveling at his abilities on the field, and about how he was able to return from a year of chemotherapy to hit over .300 and drive in over 100 runs.
I remember being sad that the Braves didn't bring him back after that; in hindsight, that may have been the first time I questioned a Braves personnel decision. And so, with my final roster spot, I'm doing what the Braves wouldn't do. Welcome back, Big Cat.
Manager - Bobby Cox
This was an easy call. Who else could you pick but Bobby?
Joe Thomas was raised and lives within shouting distance of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. He is the sports editor for The Sting, the student newspaper of Southern Polytechnic State University. You can find him on Twitter using the handle @jhqthomas.
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