Steve and I love baseball. And while we have visited other stadiums and cheered for other teams our hearts are with the Atlanta Braves. Our love for “America’s team” began when we were young. Steve is older than I am and he remembers when the Braves came South. I asked him to write about what it was like to watch the team from its beginning and cheer on one some of the best players in baseball. Kim
Back when I was a kid in the late 1960s, I was getting old enough to appreciate professional sports. The Atlanta Braves came South in 1966 and I began following the team on the radio. The Braves brought several popular players from Milwaukee including Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Torre, and Phil Niekro, who are all Hall of Famers today.
I became a serious fan and began to learn the rules of the sport of baseball, the names of the players, the announcers, the other teams of both leagues, the standings and the finer points of the game.
The Atlanta Braves won their division at the time–the National League West–in 1969. The 1969 Braves were that kind of team that captures the imagination of youngsters looking for heroes and role models. I was so excited I clipped pictures of the game where they clinched the division from the Atlanta Journal that my dad brought home and took them to school the next day to pin to the bulletin board in my sixth-grade class. I was so excited! I can still remember…they beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-2. What I did not know until later was that was the very first year of divisional play in Major League Baseball ever! Wow!
By Monday of the next week, I was majorly disappointed that the Braves were swept by the New York Mets in three games. The Mets later defeated the Baltimore Orioles in five games to win the World Series. They were the Amazin’ Mets of ’69.
Through the 1970s the Braves had several disappointing seasons. But there were some great moments. In 1970, Rico Carty batted .366 to win the NL batting title. He also made the All-Star team as a write-in candidate. He was not officially on the ballot, but because of his performance that year and his comeback from tuberculosis in 1969, he was a sentimental favorite and won enough votes from the fans to earn a spot in the outfield along with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
The Braves best finish in that decade was in 1974 when they finished in third place in the NL West. That was the same year that Hank Aaron tied and broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record with his 714th and 715th home runs of his career. It was famously called the “shot heard round the world,” as a parody of the start of the American Revolution. President Richard Nixon called him personally to congratulate him on the milestone. They were his first two round-trippers of the 1974 season, and he finished with 20 at the end of that year.
At the age of 40, his career was winding down, and “The Chase” as the media called it, had taken its toll on him. His home run production was down. Racism was still rife in the South at that time and Aaron had received death threats because he was a black man chasing a white man’s record. This put a lot of pressure on Aaron about the record and the safety of both he and his family. The decision was made at the end of the 1974 season to trade Aaron to the Milwaukee Brewers for first baseman Dave May. Many fans were disappointed to see Aaron depart from the only major league team for which he had ever played.
Aaron served as a designated hitter for the Brewers for two years and compiled 22 home runs in that span to complete his career total of 755 home runs before his retirement in 1976.
During the remainder of the 1970s, the Braves had a lot of lackluster seasons with no division titles and some fifth and sixth place finishes. The team was owned by the LaSalle Corporation and the hometown support was really dwindling until the owner of a small TV station who had a vision of expanding the communications industry decided to buy the team. The man’s name was Ted Turner.
Turner was the son of an advertising executive in Atlanta whose company put up billboards. Ted inherited the company after his father’s death and bought a TV station, WTCG-TV, channel 17 on the old UHF band. Cable television was expanding and Turner needed a market for his team and his visionary idea of a station that could broadcast nationwide.
He also envisioned a “cable news network” that would eventually go worldwide. As the cable industry grew in the late 1970s, Ted found markets for his “Superstation.” He started putting the Braves games on the Superstation with new call letters, WTBS. Before long, the Cable News Network (CNN) was born. All he needed now was a team that could be competitive.
In 1982, he hired Joe Torre to be the manager of the Atlanta Braves. What happened next was unexpected. The Braves had players like Dale Murphy, Chris Chambliss, Pascual Perez, Glenn Hubbard, as well as the old knuckleballer himself, Phil Niekro. And there was Brett Butler, Bob Horner, Al Hrabosky (the Mad Hungarian), Rafael Ramirez, and Bruce Benedict.
These seemingly unknown, ragtag players led off the 1982 season like no other Braves team has ever done before or since. They won their first 13 games in a row! They were on fire and the Atlanta fans were on fire and excited about their team for the first time over 12 years. They ended up winning the NL West with a record of 85-77. But again, the lost 3-0 in the NL Championship Series to the eventual world champion St. Louis Cardinals. The following year the Braves chased the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division title but fell short at the end. Dale Murphy won the National League MVP award for both 1982 and 1983. By the way, Murphy should be in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, that will happen somehow.
Joe Torre was fired as Braves manager after the ‘83 season. The team then went back into the doldrums for about 7 years. In 1990, Bobby Cox became the general manager of the Braves after a successful stint as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. 1990 was also the year that Larry “Chipper” Jones, Jr. was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. He began his tour of the minor leagues.
The Braves finished in last place that year and the decision was made to let Cox return to the field manager position while searching for an executive to take the GM slot. A call was made to Kansas City and a meeting was set up with John Schuerholz, who was GM with the Royals. Schuerholz came to terms with the Braves, and they were off and running towards the next great chapter of their history.
The Braves acquired players such as Terry Pendleton, David Justice, and pitchers such as Tom Glavine. The Braves traded Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz. They acquired a first baseman, Sid Bream, from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Schuerholz and Cox, together with Director of Player Personnel Hank Aaron and some of the best scouts that could be found, cobbled together a team for the ages.
In 1991, the Braves started out the season rather slowly but caught fire in the middle of the year. By season’s end, they were 94-68 and had won the National League West by 2 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Terry Pendleton garnered the MVP trophy that year and the team went from “worst to first.” All the trades and draft picks were paying off and the organization had adopted a winning attitude. Bobby Cox was a big-hearted guy and a “player’s manager” but he could be a disciplinarian when the need arose. And he took up for his players, keeping them in ball games by getting ejected himself on close calls by umpires.
After defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS, the Braves went on to play the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. This was the Braves first World Series appearance since the team moved to Atlanta and since 1958. It went to seven games, with the Braves losing a 1-0 heartbreaker in Game 7, which went 10 innings.
The Braves returned to the World Series in 1992 on a base hit by Francisco Cabrera in Game 7 of the NLCS against a returning Pittsburgh team. Cabrera’s bases-loaded single drove in 2 runs, with the winning run being scored by a sliding Sid Bream on a wide throw by left-fielder Barry Bonds.
The Braves lost the ‘92 Series 4 games to 2 to the Toronto Blue Jays.
In 1993, the Braves won their division for the third time in a row on the last day of the season, squeaking by the San Francisco Giants by one game. But they lost the NLCS to Philadephia, who lost the World Series to Toronto on a Series-ending home run by Joe Carter.
There was no postseason in 1994 because of a players strike which lasted from August 1994 to April 1995. The Braves played a 144 game season in a new division, the National League East, which was brought about by divisional realignment in 1994. The Braves won the East in 1995 by 22 games over Philadelphia. After beating Colorado in the new Division Series brought about by playoff expansion they moved on to play Cincinnati in the NLCS. They swept the Reds 4-0 and found themselves in the World Series again, this time against the Cleveland Indians.
The Braves made history once again by beating the 100-game winning Indians in six games. Tom Glavine pitched a one-hit shutout, 1-0 in Game 6 to win the Braves first world championship in Atlanta. Glavine was selected the World Series MVP.
Since then, the Braves have been to 2 World Series, 7 league championship series, 13 division series, and one wild-card playoff game. Last year, team won the NL East. Let’s hope for a repeat this year and maybe a return to the World Series!