History of the Atlanta Braves
Milwaukee went wild over the Braves, who were welcomed as genuine heroes. The Braves finished .597 in their first season in Milwaukee, and drew a then-NL record 1.8 million fans. The success of the team was noted by many owners. Not coincidentally, the Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants all relocated over the next five years.
As the 1950s progressed, the reinvigorated Braves became increasingly competitive. Sluggers Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron drove the offense (they would hit a combined 1,226 home runs as Braves, with 850 of those coming while the franchise was in Milwaukee), while Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl anchored the rotation.
In 1957, the Braves celebrated their first pennant in nine years spearheaded by Aaron's MVP season, as he led the National League in home runs and RBI. Perhaps the most memorable of his 44 round-trippers that season came on September 23, a two-run walk-off home run that gave the Braves a 4–2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and clinched the league championship. The team drew over 2.2 million at home during the regular season, then went on to its first World Series win in over 40 years, defeating the New York Yankees of Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Whitey Ford in seven games. Burdette, the Series MVP, threw three complete game victories, giving up only two earned runs, including the seventh game in New York, a 5–0 shutout.
In 1958, the Braves again won the National League pennant and jumped out to a three games to one lead in the World Series against New York once more, thanks in part to the strength of Spahn's and Burdette's pitching. But the Yankees stormed back to take the last three games, the last two in Milwaukee, in large part to World Series MVP Bob Turley, the winning pitcher in games five and seven.
The 1959 season saw the Braves finish the season in a tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many residents of Chicago and Milwaukee were hoping for a White Sox–Braves World Series, as the cities are only about 75 miles (120 km) apart along the west shore of Lake Michigan. It was not to be, as Milwaukee fell in a best-of-3 playoff for the league title with two straight losses to the Dodgers, ending the Braves' pennant streak at two. Los Angeles defeated the Sox in six games in the World Series.
The next six years were up-and-down for the Braves. The 1960 season featured two no-hitters by Burdette and Spahn, and Milwaukee finished in second, seven games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won the World Series that year. Milwaukee's home attendance slipped under 1.5 million for the first time since the move from Boston. The 1961 season saw a drop in the standings for the Braves down to fourth, despite Spahn recording his 300th victory and pitching another no-hitter that year. The team's home attendance continued its decline; the last season exceeding one million was in 1961.
Aaron hit 45 home runs in 1962, a Milwaukee career high for him, but this did not translate into wins for the Braves, as they finished fifth. The next season, Aaron again hit 44 home runs and notched 130 RBI, and Spahn was once again the ace of the staff, going .767. However, none of the other Braves produced at that level, and the team finished in the lower half of the league, or "second division", for the first time in its short history in Milwaukee.
The Braves were somewhat mediocre as the 1960s began, but fattened up on the expansion New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s starting in 1962. The Milwaukee Braves are the only team in the modern era to play more than one season and never had a losing record.
Move to Atlanta
Lou Perini sold the Braves to a Chicago-based group led by William Bartholomay after the 1961 season and the ink was barely dry on the deal when Bartholomay started shopping the Braves to a larger television market. Keen to attract them, the fast-growing city of Atlanta, led by Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., constructed a new $18 million, 52,007-60,606 seat multi-purpose stadium in less than one year, Atlanta Stadium, (later on known as Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium from 1976 until 1996 with its demolition in 1997) which was officially opened in 1965 in hopes of luring an existing major league and/or NFL/AFL team.
After the city failed to lure the Kansas City A's (moved to Oakland in 1968), the Braves announced their intention to move to Atlanta for the 1965 season. However, an injunction filed in Wisconsin kept the Braves in Milwaukee for one final year, but the home attendance was less than 560,000. The Braves completed the move to Atlanta prior to the 1966 season, and drew over 1.5 million in the new stadium that first year.
The Braves were a .500 team in their first few years in Atlanta – 85-77 in 1966, 77-85 in 1967, and 81-81 in 1968. The 1967 season was the Braves' first losing season since 1952, their last year in Boston. In 1969, with the onset of divisional play, the Braves won the first-ever National League West pennant, but were swept in three games by the "Miracle Mets" in the National League Championship Series. Atlanta was not be a factor in the division in the next decade, posting only two winning seasons between 1970 and 1981 – in some cases, fielding teams as bad as the worst Boston teams.
In the meantime, fans had to be satisfied with the achievements of Hank Aaron. In the relatively hitter-friendly confines of Atlanta Stadium ("The Launching Pad"), he actually increased his offensive production. It also produced batting champions in Rico Carty (in 1970) and in Ralph Garr (in 1974). By the end of the 1973 season, Aaron had hit 713 home runs, one short of Ruth's record. Throughout the winter he received racially motivated death threats, but stood up well under the pressure. The next season, it was only a matter of time before he set a new record. On April 4 he hit #714 in Cincinnati, and on April 8, in front of his home fans, he finally beat Ruth's mark.
Ted Turner era begins
In 1976, the team was purchased by media magnate Ted Turner, owner of superstation WTBS, as a means to keep the team (and one of his main programming staples) in Atlanta. The financially strapped Turner used money already paid to the team for their broadcast rights as a down-payment. It was then that Atlanta Stadium was renamed Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium. Turner quickly gained a reputation as a quirky, hands-on baseball owner.
Turner used the Braves as a major programming draw for his fledgling cable network, a move that made the Braves one of the first Major League Baseball franchise to have a regular, nationwide audience and fanbase, along with the Chicago Cubs (distributed nationally via WGN). WTBS marketed the team as "The Atlanta Braves: America's Team", a nickname that still sticks in some areas of the country, especially the South, today. Among other things, in 1976 Turner suggested the nickname "Channel" for pitcher Andy Messersmith and jersey number 17, in order to promote the television station that aired Braves games. Major League Baseball quickly vetoed the idea.
On May 11, 1977, Turner appointed himself manager, but, because MLB passed a rule in the 1950s barring managers from holding a financial stake in their team, Turner was ordered to relinquish that position after one game (the Braves lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates to bring their losing streak to 17 games).
After three straight losing seasons, Bobby Cox was hired for his first stint as manager of the franchise for the 1978 season, and he promoted a 22-year-old slugger named Dale Murphy into the starting lineup. Murphy hit 77 home runs over the next three seasons, but struggled on defense, positioned at either catcher or first base while being unable to adeptly play either. However, in 1980, Murphy was moved to center field and demonstrated excellent range and throwing ability, while the Braves earned their first winning season since 1974.
Cox was fired after the 1981 season and replaced with Joe Torre, under whose leadership the Braves attained their first divisional title since 1969. However, the Braves were swept by the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. Strong performances from Bob Horner, Chris Chambliss, pitcher Phil Niekro, and short relief pitcher Gene Garber helped the Braves, but no Brave was more acclaimed than Murphy, who won both a Most Valuable Player and a Gold Glove award. Murphy also won a Most Valuable Player award the following season, but the Braves began a period of decline that defined the team throughout the 1980s. Murphy, excelling in defense, hitting, and running, was consistently recognized as one of the league's best players, but the Braves averaged only 65 wins per season between 1985 and 1990. Their lowest point came in 1988, when they lost 106 games.
1990–2004: Successes and stars
Cox returned to the dugout as manager in the middle of the 1990 season, replacing Russ Nixon. The Braves would finish the year with the worst record in baseball, at 65-97, and traded Dale Murphy to the Philadelphia Phillies after it was clear he was becoming a less dominant player. However, pitching coach Leo Mazzone began developing young pitchers Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and John Smoltz into future stars. That same year, the Braves used the number one overall pick in the 1990 MLB Draft to select Chipper Jones, who would go on to become one of the best hitters in team history. Perhaps the Braves' most important move, however, was not on the field, but in the front office. Immediately after the season, John Schuerholz was hired away from the Kansas City Royals as general manager.
The following season, Glavine, Avery, and Smoltz would be recognized as the best young pitchers in the league, winning 52 games among them. Meanwhile, behind position players Dave Justice, Ron Gant and unexpected league Most Valuable Player and batting champion Terry Pendleton, the Braves overcame a 39-40 start, winning 55 of their final 83 games over the last three months of the season and edging the Los Angeles Dodgers by one game in one of baseball history's more memorable playoff races. The "Worst to First" Braves, who had not won a divisional title since 1982, captivated the city of Atlanta (and, to a larger degree, the state of Georgia and the entire southeast) during their improbable run to the flag. They defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in a very tightly contested seven-game NLCS only to lose the World Series, also in seven games, to the Minnesota Twins. The series, considered by many to be one of the greatest ever, was the first time a team that had finished last in its division one year went to the World Series the next; both the Twins and Braves accomplished the feat.
During the Braves' rise to prominence in the early 1990s, their long-standing ethnic nickname came under much closer scrutiny, even being protested in Minneapolis when the Braves visited the Twins for Game 1 of the 1991 World Series. The team was especially criticized for selling plastic and foam tomahawks, encouraging the so-called tomahawk chop and the accompanying war cry emitted by the fans. The war cry and tomahawk chop are similar, if not identical, to what Florida State University fans do at their games. Initially, the war chant music was played by the Braves' organist, but in recent years, a recording of the FSU band has been used instead. This tradition can be traced back to the arrival of former Seminole Deion Sanders, who also played for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons at the time (he would go on to play both sports simultaneously in San Francisco for one year).
Despite the World Series loss, the Braves' success would continue. In the 1992 season, the Braves returned to the NLCS and once again defeated the Pirates in seven games, only to lose in the World Series to a dominating Toronto Blue Jays team.
In 1993, the Braves signed Cy Young Award winning pitcher Greg Maddux from the Chicago Cubs, leading many baseball insiders to declare the team's pitching staff the best at that time. The 1993 team posted a franchise-best 104 wins after a dramatic pennant race with the San Francisco Giants, who won 103 games. The Braves needed a stunning 55-19 finish to edge out the Giants, who led the Braves by nine games in the standings as late as August 11. However, the Braves fell in the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies in a six-game upset.
In 1994, in a realignment of the National League's divisions following the 1993 expansion, the Braves moved to the Eastern Division. This realignment was the main cause of the team's heated rivalry with the New York Mets during the mid to late 1990s.
The Braves returned strong the following strike-shortened (teams played 144 games instead of the customary 162) year and beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. This squelched claims by many Braves critics that they were the "Buffalo Bills of baseball" (January 1996 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly). With this World Series victory, the Braves became the first team in Major League Baseball to win world championships in three different cities. With their strong pitching being a constant, the Braves would also appear in the 1996 and 1999 World Series (they lost both series to the New York Yankees, however), and had a streak of division titles from 1991 to 2005 interrupted only in 1994 when the strike ended the season early. Pitching is not the only constant in the Braves organization – , Schuerholz remained the team's GM until after the 2007 season when he was promoted to team president. Pendleton did not finish his playing career in Atlanta, but has returned to the Braves system as the hitting coach.
A 95-67 record in 2000 produced a ninth consecutive division title. However, a sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals prevented the Braves from reaching the NLCS. In 2001, Atlanta won the National League East division yet again, swept the NLDS against the Houston Astros, then lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series four games to one. One memorable game the Braves played that year came on September 21, when they played rival New York Mets in the first major professional sporting event held in New York City since 9/11.
In 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Braves won their division again, but lost in the NLDS in all three years; 3 games to 2 to the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, and 3 games to 1 to the Houston Astros.
Cy Young dominance
Six National League Cy Young Awards in the 1990s were awarded to three Braves pitchers:
- In 1991, left-handed pitcher Tom Glavine received his first award.
- Right-handed pitcher Greg Maddux won three in a row with the Braves, from 1993 through 1995. His first award came in 1992 with the Cubs.
- In 1996, right-handed pitcher John Smoltz received his only Cy Young Award.
- In 1998, Glavine won his second.
2005: A new generation
In 2005, the Braves won the Eastern Division championship for the eleventh consecutive year from 1995 to 2005. This followed winning the Western Division championship three times from 1991 to 1993, prior to the 1994 player's strike. The 2005 title marked the first time any MLB team made the postseason with more than 4 rookies who each had more than 100 ABs (Wilson Betemit, Brian McCann, Pete Orr, Ryan Langerhans, Jeff Francoeur). Catcher Brian McCann, right fielder Jeff Francoeur, and pitcher Kyle Davies all grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta. The large number of rookies to debut in 2005 were nicknamed the "Baby Braves" by fans and became an Atlanta-area sensation, helping to lead the club to a record of 90-72.
However, the season would end on a sour note as the Braves lost the National League Division Series to the Astros in four games. In Game 4, with the Braves leading by 5 in the eighth inning, the Astros battled back with a Lance Berkman grand slam and a two-out, ninth inning Brad Ausmus home run off of Braves closer Kyle Farnsworth. The game didn't end until the 18th inning, becoming the longest game in playoff history at 5 hours 50 minutes. Chris Burke ended the marathon with a home run off of Joey Devine.
After the 2005 season, the Braves lost their long-time pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who left to go to the Baltimore Orioles. Roger McDowell took his place in the Atlanta dugout. Unable to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Braves acquired shortstop Édgar Rentería from the Boston Red Sox.
In 2006, the Braves did not perform at the level they had grown accustomed to. Due to an offensive slump, injuries to their starting rotation, and subpar bullpen performances, the Braves compiled a 6-21 record for the month of June, the worst month ever in the city of Atlanta, and just percentage points better than the Boston Braves of May 1935 (4-20).
The Braves made their move in July, going 14-10. However, the team remained in the bottom half of the NL East and trailed the Mets by a double-digit deficit for much of the season (13 games at the all-star break). However, despite their struggles, the Braves entered the break down by only six and a half games to the Dodgers for the NL Wild Card slot after winning seven of their last ten games.
After the break, the Braves came out with their bats swinging, setting many franchise records. They won five straight, sweeping the Padres and taking two from the Cardinals, tallying a total of 65 runs in that span. The 65 runs in five games is the best by the franchise since 1897, when the Boston Beaneaters totaled 78, including 25 in one game and 21 in another, from May 31-June 3; the 2006 Braves also became the first team since the 1930 New York Yankees to score ten runs or more in five straight games. The Braves had a total of 81 hits during their five-game run and 98 hits in their last six games, going back to an 8-3 victory over Cincinnati on July 9, the last game before the all-star break. Additionally, Chipper Jones was able to maintain a 20-game hitting streak and tie Paul Waner's 69-year-old Major League record with a 14-game extra-base hit streak. (The Sporting News Baseball Record Book, 2007, p. 29)
The Braves made their first trade of the season on July 20 to shore up the bullpen, sending Class A Rome catcher Max Ramirez to Cleveland for closer Bob Wickman. He served as the Braves' closer for the remainder of the season, taking over for an embattled Jorge Sosa, who was subsequently traded on the July 31 trade deadline for St. Louis minor league pitcher Rich Scalamandre.
On July 29, the Braves traded reserve third baseman/shortstop Wilson Betemit to the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Danys Báez and infielder Willy Aybar. The move came on the night that starting third baseman Chipper Jones went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. With Betemit gone, Atlanta called up infielder Tony Peña Jr. from AAA Richmond to supplement Pete Orr.
Before the expansion of rosters on September 1, the Braves acquired Daryle Ward from the Washington Nationals for Class A Myrtle Beach pitcher Luis Atilano, in hopes that he would be a valuable pinch-hitter in the postseason.
However, on September 18, the New York Mets' win over the Florida Marlins mathematically eliminated the Braves from winning the NL East, ending the Braves' eleven-year reign over the NL East. On September 24, the Braves' loss to the Colorado Rockies mathematically eliminated the Braves from winning the NL Wild Card, making 2006 the first year that the Braves would not compete in the postseason since 1990, not counting the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Also, a loss to the Mets on September 28 guaranteed the Braves their first losing season since 1990. Although the Braves won two of their last three games against the Astros, including rookie Chuck James besting Roger Clemens, Atlanta finished the season in third place, one game ahead of the Marlins, at 79-83.
After the season, the Atlanta coaching staff underwent a few changes. Brian Snitker became the third base coach after Fredi González left to become the manager for the Florida Marlins. Chino Cadahia replaced Pat Corrales as bench coach and former catcher Eddie Perez became the new bullpen coach, replacing Bobby Dews.
Sale to Liberty Media
In February 2007, after more than a year of negotiations, Time Warner agreed to a deal that would sell the Braves to Liberty Media Group (a company which owned a large amount of stock in Time Warner, Inc.), pending approval by 75 percent of MLB owners and the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig. The deal includes the exchange of the Braves, and $1 billion cash, for the large block of Time Warner stock held by Liberty Media. Team President Terry McGuirk anticipated no change in the current front office structure, personnel, or day-to-day operations of the Braves. Liberty Media is not expected to take any type of "active" ownership in terms of day-to-day operations.
2007: A good start....
The Braves made their first moves by re-signing Bob Wickman to a one-year deal and picking up John Smoltz's option in September 2006. Then they traded starting pitcher Horacio Ramírez to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Rafael Soriano, an American League reliever with a solid 2.20 ERA in 2006. They also denied arbitration to pitcher Chris Reitsma and second baseman Marcus Giles. Then the Braves signed utility-man Chris Woodward to fill a spot on the bench. The biggest trade in the offseason involved first baseman Adam LaRoche and a minor league player for Pittsburgh Pirates closer Mike González and a minor league infielder, Brent Lillibridge. Gonzalez, who converted 24 of 24 save opportunities in 2006, joined Soriano as a set-up man for Wickman in the bullpen. The team then signed first baseman Craig Wilson to a one-year deal to platoon with Scott Thorman. The Braves also had solid relievers in Macay McBride, Blaine Boyer, and Tyler Yates. In addition, the majority of the Braves' offense, which was second in the NL in runs scored in 2006, returned in 2007. However, Mike Hampton was sidelined for the entire 2007 season with yet another surgery. Mike González was later sidelined for the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Braves' bullpen and offense came through in the clutch early on, helping the Braves to a 7-1 start, their best start since winning the World Series in 1995. The team finished April with a 16-9 record, but struggled during May, finishing 14-14. The Braves also struggled during interleague play, finishing with an NL-worst 4-11 record. On June 24, the Braves fell to .500 for the first time in the 2007 season, but rebounded by winning the next 5 games.
On July 5, Chipper Jones surpassed Dale Murphy for the Atlanta club record of 372 home runs by belting two against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On July 31, 2007, the Braves finalized the deal to acquire slugger first baseman Mark Teixeira and LHP Ron Mahay from the Texas Rangers for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and four minor-leaguers. The Braves also acquired Octavio Dotel from the Kansas City Royals for Kyle Davies and also traded LHP Wilfredo Ledezma and RHP Will Startup to the San Diego Padres for Royce Ring. On August 19, 2007 John Smoltz passed Phil Niekro for 1st place on the Braves' all-time strikeout list. After struggling during the second half of the 2007 season, Atlanta finished over .500 and missed the post season again. On October 12, 2007, John Schuerholz stepped aside from his General Manager position to take over as the team's president. Schuerholz's former Assistant GM Frank Wren will take over as the new Atlanta General Manager.
2008 off-season moves
Wren's first major transaction was the announcement that the team would not re-sign center fielder Andruw Jones (who later would sign with the Dodgers). The second major move was acquiring OF Gorkys Hernández and RHP Jair Jurrjens from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for SS Édgar Rentería and cash considerations. His third move was signing LHP Tom Glavine to a one-year contract.
The team's first new move for 2008 was acquiring OF Mark Kotsay from the A's (to replace Jones) in exchange for RHP Joey Devine, RHP Jamie Richmond and cash considerations. Days later, Wren traded Willy Aybar, outfielder Tom Lindsey, and infielder Chase Fontaine to the Rays in exchange for left-hand reliever Jeff Ridgway.
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- Bodley, Hal (September 16, 1993). "Pirates OK new realignment". USA Today. p. 1C.
The Pirates will switch from the East next season. They opposed the move last week when realignment was approved, but agreed to allow Atlanta to move to the East.
- Chass, Murray (September 16, 1993). "Pirates Relent on New Alignment". New York Times. p. B14.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, in a sudden turnaround, willingly have agreed to play in the National League's Central Division and have willed their Eastern Division spot to the Atlanta Braves.
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