The Atlanta Braves franchise has retired 10 numbers in its incredible 141 years in baseball. As interesting as that list, six of those 10 numbers played with the Braves in the 1990’s. It makes one wonder if the reason the Braves have not retired other numbers is that the franchise has retired so many in such a short amount of time. Let’s take a look at the numbers the franchise has retired and compare with the numbers of others, who belong to the same group.
For the argument in this article, I will use WAR (wins above a replacement value player) as the basis. Here is the WAR for the numbers that the Braves have already retired during their tenure with the Braves franchise:
No. 44 Hank Aaron – 142.6 (21 years)
No. 41 Eddie Mathews – 94.4 (15 years)
No. 21 Warren Spahn – 92.0 (20 years)
No. 35 Phil Niekro – 90.0 (21 years)
No. 10 Chipper Jones – 85.0 (19 years)
No. 29 John Smoltz – 67.0 (20 years)
No. 31 Greg Maddux – 66.0 (11 years)
No. 47 Tom Glavine – 58.7 (17 years)
No. 3 Dale Murphy – 46.9 (15 years)
That’s a stout list, no doubt. But what about guys like Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson, and Javy Lopez? What about old timers like Kid Nichols, Rabbit Maranville, and Tommy Holmes? We will take a look at each case and discuss whether each one should have their number in the ring of honor, or not.
Andruw Jones (61.0 WAR in 12 seasons)
Jones seems like an easy bet for me, but it is odd that the Braves have continued to issue No. 25 since Jones departed. Jones won 10 Gold Gloves, was a five-time All-Star and took home a Silver Slugger Award during his 12-year tenure with the Atlanta Braves. He also holds the franchise record for most home runs in a season with 51, a record he set in 2005. Jones was a member of 10 seasons in which the Braves went to the playoffs and perhaps the biggest sign of his greatness was the revolving door that was centerfield until Ender Inciarte arrived in 2016 (remember Mark Kotsay, Nate McLouth, Jordan Shaefer, Melvin Upton, et al).
Jones was a pivotal part of the Braves success in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but his defense alone sets him apart from nearly every other player in major league history. He had a 37.1 oWAR (offensive WAR) during his tenure in Atlanta, but his 26.2 dWAR (defensive WAR) is second to none. Many will quote Jones when they are asked about who the best defensive outfielder was of all time. Consider this list of great defensive outfielders and their career dWAR:
Willie Mays – (18.1 during 15 years with Giants)
Ken Griffey Jr. – 8.5 (during 13 years with Mariners)
Mays and “Junior” won a combined 22 gold gloves during their major league careers and yet neither comes close to what Jones did during his tenure in Atlanta. And those stats for the two Hall of Famers were during their prime years. Their later years were not factored in, as Jones’ weren’t during his tenure in Atlanta.
Not only was he a great player, but he was a fan favorite. He spent 12 seasons wearing a Braves jersey; a jersey that many fans still don to this day. The fact that Jones’ number remains in play for future Braves is certainly saddening. As great as Dale Murphy, whose number is retired, was he couldn’t hold a candle to what Jones did. The only thing Murphy can claim on Jones is the fact that he won back-to-back MVP awards when Jones never finished higher than second in MVP voting.
Tim Hudson (24.4 WAR in nine seasons)
Post-Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, “Huddy” was the ace in Atlanta. He only had one All-Star nomination in Atlanta and never finished in the top-3 in the NL Cy Young race, however, and to be quite honest Hudson was never better than average aside for four of his nine seasons in Atlanta when you look at his WAR in Atlanta. It is worth noting that his 2007 and 2010 seasons were very good.
Hudson spent nine years in a Braves uniform, which might not really be long enough to be considered to have his number retired, especially when you look at his WAR, which was actually better in six seasons with the Oakland Athletics. If you got to stats to decide if Hudson should have his number retired, the answer is no. If you go to your emotional side to decide if Hudson’s number should be retired, the answer is maybe. Unfortunately for Huddy, his number won’t be and shouldn’t be retired, but his contributions should certainly be celebrated by Braves fans.
Javy Lopez (24.1 WAR in 12 seasons)
Lopez was the Atlanta Braves catcher for the duration of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Braves won a World Series with Lopez and won many division titles with him behind the dish. Lopez slashed .278/.324/.493 in the playoffs and .287/.337/.491 in the regular season with the Braves, so he was pretty consistent during both parts of a typical Braves season. He set the single-season home run mark for a catcher in 2003 with 42 (one home run was a pinch-hit home run that did not count towards the record) and some argue that he might be the best catcher in Braves franchise history, though Joe Torre, Del Crandall, and Brian McCann may have something to say about that.
Unfortunately for Javy, being “maybe the best” doesn’t get your number retired. Sometimes being the best doesn’t get your number retired. Lopez was certainly the catcher you’d point to when you looked at the Braves 1990’s team, but his injury history and four paltry seasons do not hold up well when you look at other names in this group. Emotionally, you want to say that Lopez deserves to have his number retired, but the heart-wrenching truth is that he simply doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with wearing your Lopez jersey to SunTrust Park because his contributions certainly helped the Braves be a consistent winner with a consistent face behind home plate.
The Old Timers
Kid Nichols (108.5 WAR in 12 seasons)
Kid Nichols might be the best player in Braves franchise history. In just 12 seasons with the Braves, he averaged a WAR of 9.0. Aaron tops the list of retired players for the Braves in that same category with an average WAR of 6.8 per season. So why isn’t his number retired?
Well, that’s because Nichols played from 1890 to 1906. That was a time period when uniforms did not have numbers on them. So how do we fix it? It’s sort of complicated and the Braves feel that they have done something with putting Nichols into the Braves Hall of Fame. But there are members that are in the Braves Hall of Fame that do not have any business being in the same breath as Nichols, who was the youngest player in MLB history to get to 300 wins at the age of 30. That was also a time period in which pitchers threw over 420 innings each year, so it’s pretty certain that his mark will stand the test of time. He won 329 games as a member of the franchise in Boston and had an ERA+ of 143; both are franchise marks.
So how can the Braves honor a number that he never wore? I’ve got a pretty easy answer. Why not 30? He was the youngest pitcher to win 300 games at the tender age of 30, why not celebrate that mark? He needs to have his name in the same conversation as others who have had their numbers retired because he was probably better than all of them. It would have probably already been done, but there were no uniform numbers during his playing days. The easy answer is to retire No. 30 and give the man that gave so much to the franchise his seat at the table.
Tommy Holmes (34.7WAR in 10 seasons)
Holmes might have had the best season in Braves franchise history in 1945 when he had an OPS+ of 175. He slashed .352/.420/.577 that year with 47 doubles and 28 home runs. That was in 1945 when he finished second in MVP voting, though according to WAR he should have taken home the grand prize. He had to playoff runs with the Braves but never won a World Series.
Holmes is often spoken about when you think about great Braves players of the earlier years. He started out later than most as he made his MLB debut at the age of 25 and he experienced his decline at the age of 34 when he posted a season WAR of -0.2. During his 10 years with the Braves, he averaged a WAR of 3.5 per season. That’s where it gets interesting.
Murphy is often heralded as one of the franchise’s best, yet he averaged a WAR of just 3.1 per season during his 15 years with the Braves. If you want to get technical, you can use Murphy’s WAR from his age 25 to age 34 seasons, in which his WAR was 4.1 per season. That’s still pretty comparable, though. Perhaps the separation would be Murphy’s back-to-back MVP awards and Holmes was only a two-time All-Star during his Braves tenure.
It’s a pretty close match and if the Braves decided to retire No. 1 one day in honor of Holmes, I could see the justification of it, when you compare his career to Murphy’s.
Rabbit Maranville (29.7 WAR in 15 seasons)
Maranville has always been one of my favorite players to research because it honestly baffles me that he is in the Hall of Fame. He certainly belongs in the Braves Hall of Fame, but his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction remains puzzling.
Maranville was a fantastic defensive shortstop for the Braves, who put up a dWAR of 19.2 during his 15 seasons. He wasn’t bad offensively either, as his oWAR was 22.7. All that being said, it leads to Maranville having a career WAR of 29.7 in 15 seasons with the Boston Braves. In his prime years with Boston which were from 1913 to 1920, he put up 27.6 WAR, which comes out to 3.5 per season. That’s certainly not too shabby, especially for an offensive player during that time. He also finished second in the Braves World Series season in 1914 and third a season before that. Maranville had six seasons in his 15-year tenure with the Braves in which he finished inside the top 17 in MVP voting, and there was no MVP vote from 1915 to 1921.
There is some bad, however, as in Maranville’s final six seasons with Boston, he put up 2.4 WAR in 748 games. That’s not very good.
So what about his number being retired? That’s where it is tricky. He played 15 seasons and most of his career with the organization, which I think is an easy checkmark, but he wasn’t that productive in the final six seasons. So where does that leave him on the list? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think I’d put Holmes in before I put in Maranville, but they both wore No. 1. It would seem sort of silly to retire one number for two guys, but the argument could be made that if one goes in, then the other should as well. If it were up to me, Holmes and Maranville would be honored into the elite group and the organization would make an exception and have one number represent the two players, and the argument I make is that if Murphy is in, the other two should be as well. But perhaps the organization feels that Murphy’s two MVP awards should separate him from the others, which is an argument I also understand.
Out of the six players, I pointed out, four have legitimate reasoning for having their numbers retired, except for Nichols who should have a representative number retired. Jones and Nichols should already have their numbers (or representative number) retired, as they are easily two of the best Braves to ever put on the uniform in franchise history.
Holmes and Maranville were very successful during their Braves tenures, but are closer to Dale Murphy, than Hank Aaron when you look at career WAR numbers. Sure, the argument can be made for them, but the argument can also be made against them.
As for Hudson and Lopez, their contributions should be noted, but they have no business being in this illustrious ring of honor amongst other names that are already there. While they were fan favorites, that’s the only thing they should be remembered for. Lopez is already a member of the Braves Hall of Fame and Hudson, in my opinion, should one day join him there.
The bigger thing is that Nichols and Jones should be recognized. It’s time for the Braves organization to do the right thing.