Barring a big ballot comeback by Andruw Jones, we gathered at Sunday’s Hall of Fame induction to close a book on the best years of the Atlanta Braves.
As John Smoltz, who contributed just a bit to the late 1990s-early 2000s as both starter and closer put it: “People around (Cooperstown) are tired of hearing about the Braves coming in – but it’s been incredible. It’s kind of full circle now.”
Closing the circle, really, on those best of times, Chipper Jones took his rightful place Sunday alongside all the others most responsible for the 14 straight division titles and the one lonely World Series championship. Likely the last Brave of that golden era to take his bows in Cooperstown. It’s an even six-pack of immortality now, comprising the front office, the manager, the mound and the heart of the batting order. Those Braves had it all covered.
One franchise during one thick slice of time producing six Hall of Famers. Their names: John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, John Schuerholz and now Chipper Jones. It’s an amazing collection, practically board-of-directors in scale.
Ah, but I hear what you’re muttering: But only the single World Series title. What a waste. Should have been more.
It is the eternal conundrum concerning those Braves – trying to balance what was an all-time collection of Hall of Fame talent against winning fewer World Series over that 14-season stretch than the Florida (Miami) Marlins.
Can we be satisfied measuring the greatness of that era in number of bronze plaques in Cooperstown rather than number of Commissioner’s Trophies in Atlanta?
On the day before his induction, Jones was asked if all these Hall of Famers could be a window to the greatness of those Braves teams, even though the championship bottom-line was relatively modest.
“I’m a little biased. Yeah, I would say so,” he said.
“Obviously you have to be pretty good. You can sit here and think about the Buffalo Bills – they had to be pretty darn good to have the opportunity to just lose four straight (Super Bowls). We feel the same way. We were awfully good. A year or two we were playing good at the right time and the rest we weren’t.”
“Even the guys from other teams go, 14 straight, it’s unfathomable. Now you stick your chest out a little more. Yeah, we only won one, but man we had a sustained run of success,” he said.
When Jones got to the part of his induction speech Sunday where he began talking about all the other Braves Hall of Famers from his time, he served a reminder of how special that collection was. The final reminder likely on this stage.
To his manager Cox: “I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone who donned a Braves uniform during your tenure, I’m so glad you were the man leading us on the field every night.”
To front-office Schuerholz: “He showed me kind of trust you don’t usually see between player and general manager.”
To pitcher Maddux: “While being the king of the practical joke – most of which I can’t recite in front of all these kids today – he was to me the greatest pitcher or our era. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to watch you carve up a lineup every fifth day, Doggie.”
Glavine, he said, “epitomized toughness, pitched on guts, guile.”
“There was nobody more fitting to have on the mound for our crowning moment in 1995 (World Series clincher) than him.”
Finally, the third of the pitching troika, Smoltz. “Nobody I’d rather have the ball in a big game more than Smoltzy,” Jones said. “The brighter the lights, the better John Smoltz was.”
Jones’ induction in a way marked the last hurrah for that bunch. The Braves and their fans have owned Cooperstown lately (they once again showed up in force Sunday). These have been their multiple victory parades, in lieu of more down Peachtree.
There is no choice. That will have to be enough.