Atlanta Braves Information
The Atlanta Braves are the oldest Major League franchise in continuous existence today. It began in Boston in 1871, when several star players from the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly professional team in baseball, moved to Boston and formed a team there in the National Association called the Boston Red Stockings. The team was led by Harry and George Wright, the driving forces behind the Cincinnati team. The team became one of the National League's charter franchises in 1876, changing their nickname to the Red Caps. They became the Beaneaters in 1883.
The Red Caps/Beaneaters were one of the league's dominant teams in the 19th century, winning eight pennants. For most of that time, their manager was Frank Selee, the first manager not to double as a player as well. The 1898 team finished 102-47, a record for wins that would stand for almost a century.
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Two years later, the Braves put together one of the most memorable seasons in baseball history. After a dismal 4-18 start, the fanbase was turned off, as it looked like the Braves were headed for another bottom-feeder season. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. After losing both games of a Fourth of July doubleheader to the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers, the Braves were in last place at 26-40, 15 games behind the league-leading New York Giants. The only man left believing was the team's manager, "Miracle Man" George Stallings. Slowly, the team began to turn itself around. It had solidified around the phenomenal double-play tandem of Rabbit Maranville and Johnny Evers (of "Tinker to Evers to Chance" fame), and a strong starting rotation led by Lefty Tyler, Dick Rudolph, and Bill James. When the team rallied to sweep the Cincinnati Reds in a doubleheader on July 19, Stallings declared that the team was playing ball better than any other in the league, and was ready to catch New York. From there came a romp unmatched in baseball history. When the Giants came to Boston for a three-game series on September 7-8, the Braves had won 41 of 53 games since July 4. Boston won two of the three contests to take sole possession of first place. From that point, the Braves won 25 of their final 31 games, while the Giants went 16-16. The Braves went 68-19 after July 4 to win their first pennant since 1898. Incredibly, they finished 10.5 games ahead of the second place Giants. They are still the only team to win a pennant after being in last place on the Fourth of July.
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As the 1950s progressed the reinvigorated Braves became increasingly competitive. Sluggers Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron drove the offense (they would hit a combined 863 home runs as Braves), whilst Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl anchored the rotation. In 1957, the Braves celebrated their first pennant in nine years led by Aaron's MVP season, leading the National League in home runs and RBIs. The postseason culminated in the Braves' first World Series win in over 40 years, defeating the New York Yankees of Berra, Mantle and Ford in seven games. Burdette, the Series MVP, threw three complete game victories, giving up only two earned runs.
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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, in large part to World Series MVP Bob Turley's pitching. The 1959 season saw the Braves finish the season in a tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Milwaukee fell in a three-game playoff with two straight losses to the Dodgers. The Dodgers would go on to defeat the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. Many residents of Chicago and Milwaukee had been hoping for a Sox-Braves Series, as the cities are only about 75 miles apart, but it was not to be.
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The Braves were somewhat mediocre as the 1960s began, but fattened up on the expansion New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. To this day, they are the only major league team who played more than one season and never had a losing record. Perini sold the Braves to a Chicago-based group led by William Bartholomay in 1962. 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 constructed a new ballpark, Atlanta Stadium, which was officially opened in 1965. The Braves announced their intention to move to Atlanta for the 1965 season, but a lawsuit filed in Wisconsin kept the Braves in Milwaukee for one final year. In 1966, the Braves completed the move to Atlanta.
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The Braves were a .500 team in the 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. They won the 1969 NL West pennant, before being swept by the "Miracle Mets" in the NLCS. They would not be a factor for the rest of the decade, only posting two winning seasons between 1970 and 1981--in some cases, fielding teams as bad as the worst Boston teams.
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In 1976 the team was purchased by media magnate Ted Turner, owner of superstation WTBS. It was then that Atlanta Stadium was re-named Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Turner quickly gained a reputation as a quirky, hands-on baseball owner. On May 11, 1977, Turner appointed himself manager, but was ordered to relinquish that position after one game (the Braves lost 2-1 to the Pirates to bring their losing streak to 17 games). This is because MLB passed a rule in the 1950s barring managers from holding a financial stake in their team.
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After three straight losing seasons, Bobby Cox was hired for his first stint as manager of the franchise for the 1978 season. Cox 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. 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 1985-1990. The 1986 season saw the return of Bobby Cox to the Braves organization as general manager.
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In 2001, Atlanta won the National League East division, swept the NLDS against the Houston Astros, then lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS. 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, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros, respectively. In 2005, the Braves won their 14th consecutive division title. This pennant marked the first time any MLB team made the postseason with more than 4 rookies who each had more than 100 ABs.