In the late 20th Century, TBS liked to call the Braves “America’s Team.” Well, they are America’s oldest team with continuous operation since the inaugural 1871 National Association season. And they are tied with the Athletics for America’s most wanderlusting team, having now called three different cities home. They are certainly America’s Atlanta baseball team. Maybe Ted Turner and the gang simply meant that they belonged to America. In which case each of the then 26 or 28 teams could be duly carry this sobriquet. With the Canadian teams expanding the definition to North America, perhaps. But let’s not get technical.
So you’d figure that with such a long history, the Braves’ Mount Rushmore would have the faces of many, many famous “local” heroes. Depending on what local means to whichever city you rooted for them in. Of course there’s Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, John Smoltz, all lifetime members of los Bravos. Where will we chisel all their faces? Que? You say none of those guys played their entire careers for the Boswaunta Brave Red Bean Dove Rustlers? Don’t be ridiculous….
Of course this hypothetical interlocutor I’m jabbering with is right. All of those fellows played elsewhere. If we had a Rushmorian monument for the Braves, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Phil Niekro would grace its face. But they didn’t. In fact, by our rules which require a one-team career, our maximalist relief sculpture would include:
- Chipper Jones (1993 to 2012): A 2018 first-ballot admittance to any Hall whose mission is to elect the best players. Hooters’ waitresses have no comment.
- Freddie Freeman (2010 to 2017): Still building his legend. Who knows when his contract runs out whether he’ll be asked to return? O whether the Braves will suggest he not let the flap of the teepee hit him on the buns on the way out.
- Julio Tehran (2011 to 2017): See Freeman above.
- Rick Camp (1976 to 1985): Yes!!!!!! Camp, near hero of the famous 1985 Atlanta fireworks-night fiasco. Blasting an 0-2 homer (the only one of his career) at 3:30 in the morning he tied the game in the bottom of the 18th inning. That blast sent it to the 19th, which Camp then ended as a strikeout victim, sealing the hard-won deal for the Mets. Then the fireworks went off as promised. After his career, Camp became a lobbyist and was jailed for diverting contract money ear-marked for mental health programs toward friends who hadn’t earned the contracts.
This somehow doesn’t seem befitting whichever version of “America’s Team” you prefer. But here’s something we can do. This is the Mount Rushmore just for the Milwaukee Braves. Anyone who played all their games from 1953 through 1965 as a Brave in Brewtown is eligible. Here’s your winners:
- Eddie Mathews (1953 to 1965): He’s pretty good.
- Hank Aaron (1954 to 1965): He’s pretty gooder.
- Joe Torre (1960 to 1965): We’d put him in the Hall of Miller and Eric except he’s already there as a manager.
- Lee Maye (1959 to 1965): If Maye is remembered anymore it’s because of his homophonic relationship to fellow slugger Lee May. No-e-Lee had the better overall career: 354 homers, 116 OPS+, 27.1 WAR versus e-Lee, a 107 OPS+ hitter with much less power and only 15.7 career WAR. If we include the homophones together, we can make a pretty good softball team from these guys.
- C: Milt May, Lucas May
- 1B: Lee May
- 2B: Jacob May
- 3B: Lee Maye
- SS: Pinky May
- LF: Carlos May
- CF: Dave May
- RF: Jacob May
- DH: Jerry May
- P: Rudy May
- P: Trevor May
- P: Darrell May
- P: Jackie May
- P: Scott May
- P: Buckshot May
Of course, that’s all the Mays/Mayes out there since Willie, Joe, and Carl are Mayses, not Mays. And we have Jacob May, a young outfielder playing second, Lee Maye at third with all six of his career games there, and Pinky May at shortstop thanks to his one career game there. But these are the tough hypothetical choices we must make. And our co-managers, Eddie Mayo and Mayo Smith, might want something different.
But getting back to the Braves, who would be on my personal Braves Rushmore? Pascual Perez heads this list for sure. He was that rare breed, a zany righty starting pitcher. You never knew whether he might have no-hit stuff, nothin’ stuff, or just might pull some crazy stunt like throwing between his legs to pick off a runner. Of course, there’s Rick Camp whose exploits we mentioned above. I’m also something of a Wally Berger fan. He wasn’t just the only star of the 1930s Bees, he was the sun around which the team revolved. He was the only offense they had, and he was exceptional. Sadly his career ended too early thanks to shoulder woes, but just another All-Star level season or a few more years as a regular might have pushed him into the HoME. Lastly, there’s George Wright. The one who is in the HoME. Entirely forgotten by nearly everyone except the 8,000 or so people in the country who are rabidly in love with baseball’s long and curious history. The first great player in the sense that we identify it today as someone worthy of a plaque. A player with great individual seasons, a great (if in his case short) career, and widespread acclaim as the game’s top-most shelf talent.