The Braves Country Caravan is coming through the Southeast later this month, but the ultimate Atlanta Braves’ caravan will head further north in July. Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame together on July 27.
The flock of Braves fans that will likely descend upon Cooperstown, N.Y., will be sizeable, and rightfully so.
Cox was everybody’s grandpa, the players’ manager that led the Braves to 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005. His win totals are impressive, but perhaps the most symbolic number for his career is 156, the number of times he was ejected from games, usually to keep players on the field after a questionable call. As a Braves fan, I loved watching Bobby trot out of the dugout to get between an irate hitter and an umpire, jawing and doing whatever it took to make sure the ump was looking at him instead of the player.
There are times to this day, three full seasons after Cox hung up his cleats, that I find myself thinking, “Bobby would be three steps onto the field already,” when a player is eying the home-plate ump.
Glavine and Maddux, Maddux and Glavine, I almost always same their names in tandem. To me, they were always different than even the other Braves pitchers like John Smoltz, the last of a breed that didn’t have to throw much more than 90 miles per hour or even rely on drastic break.
They were surgeons.
Both 300-game winners, I never expected the righty Maddux or lefty Glavine to lose. If they were pitching, that’s two wins. Watching them pitch spoiled Braves fans because they didn’t miss their spots. Sure, Glavine struggled in the first inning for whatever reason – something that has made me more understanding of pitchers – but after that, the Braves offense didn’t need to do much work.
The fact that no Brave has won a Cy Young Award since 1998 didn’t seem possible then. From 1991 to 1998, only two players won the award without wearing a Braves jersey, and one of them was Maddux when he was a Chicago Cub. The next year, he was a Brave and won three more.
This trio’s enshrinement in the Hall will almost seem like a national celebration of that era of Atlanta baseball, which regrettably only included one World Series in 1995. But it should also serve as a reminder to Braves fans.
That era is over.
The last real bridges to those pitching greats were Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, who never played with Maddux and only briefly with Glavine. They did play with the third member of the Braves’ big three starters, Smoltz, but they’re gone now, both leaving via free agency.
Seven current Braves – Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Jonny Venters – played for Cox in 2010. But only Heyward and Venters logged substantial innings. Another, Eric O’Flaherty, is still a free agent but was a contributor in the Braves bullpen that year. By the time the rest had secured their places at the core of the Braves’ success, Cox was retired, replaced by Fredi Gonzalez.
What does that mean?
It’s time for a new era.
The Braves likely won’t be able to keep all of those players – plus Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and others – for the long-term. But now is the time for Braves management, and those players, to prove that last year’s NL East championship is the start of something.
Lock up a couple of those young starters. Make sure Freeman and Heyward are Braves for the future. Decide if you’re going to invest in baseball’s best closer or trade Kimbrel for maximum return. Go sign or trade for an ace.
Whatever the decisions are, make them. We’ve got 13 more division titles to win.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.