Most Atlanta Braves fans have taken in games at both Turner Field and SunTrust Park, have fond memories of the team's pitching dominance in the '90s, and proudly watched Chipper Jones get inducted into the Hall of Fame. But only real fans have traveled to Florida to watch the Fire Frogs, can recall all 14 of the franchise s no-hitters, and can tell you the only man to play for the Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta Braves. 100 Things Braves Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the ultimate resource guide for true fans of the Atlanta Braves. Whether you're a die-hard booster from the days of Hank Aaron or a recent supporter of Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson, these are the 100 things all fans need to know and do in their lifetime. Veteran sportswriter Jack Wilkinson has collected every essential piece of Braves knowledge and trivia, as well as must-do activities, and rank them all from 1 to 100, providing an entertaining and easy-to-follow checklist as you progress on your way to fan superstardom.
About the Author
Jack Wilkinson is a retired journalist who covered sports for more than 30 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other newspapers around the country. A three-time Georgia Sportswriter of the Year, he has written several other books, including Of Mikes and Men: A Lifetime of Braves Baseball, co-authored with Pete Van Wieren.
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A+, as in Aaron
The ball, like the Hammer himself, is larger than life. Much, much larger. How much? Try 100 feet in diameter. Try looking up, up, four or five stories up. Those are the measurements of an enormous color photograph of a baseball. The very ball Henry Aaron lined over the left-field wall one long-ago April evening and into the Atlanta Braves bullpen, into the record and history books, and on into posterity.
It's the 715 ball. The one that broke the Babe's career home run record. In terms of sheer size and significance, the photo is baseball's ultimate tape-measure shot.
Much like that photograph, which adorns the back side of the scoreboard at SunTrust Park, Henry Louis Aaron still hovers over his franchise and his adopted hometown. He is a towering presence in Atlanta, and remains so more than four decades after breaking baseball's most hallowed record.
Aaron played here, brilliantly. He made history here, heroically. He continues to live and thrive here, financially and personally. More than any other citizen of the South's flagship city, Aaron and Atlanta are conjoined at the A. No one else comes close. Not Ted Turner. Not Jimmy Carter. Not Bobby Cox or Beyoncé. Someone says Atlanta, you think Aaron.
The dimensions of the photograph, of course, are just that: merely dimensions. And Aaron, the very best of all Braves, one of baseball's greatest all-around players and now once again the peoples' choice as the legitimate home run king, was anything but one-dimensional as a player.
His greatness is spread all over baseball's hit lists. Aaron holds more major league batting records than any player in the game's long history. He drove in 2,297 runs. He lashed out 1,477 extra-base hits. He amassed 6,856 total bases. He finished in the top 10 in six other major career categories and compiled a lifetime batting average of .305. Yet Aaron also won four RBI titles, three Gold Gloves, two batting titles and the 1957 National League MVP Award, and led the NL in homers four times.
"About the only thing I didn't do," he once said, "is win a stolen base title."
However, it's his home runs we immediately think of when we think of Henry Aaron.
He hit this historic 715th off the Dodgers' Al Downing on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta to surpass Babe Ruth, and endured hell en route to that milestone. The 755th and last he belted back in Milwaukee, where Aaron began his big-league career in 1954 and ended it in 1976. The 109, in September of 1957, which Aaron later acknowledged was his most satisfying, even more so than the 715th. That 11th-inning walk-off blast, one of the young Aaron's National League–leading 44 homers that season, that clinched the pennant for the Braves. Milwaukee went on to win its only World Series championship.
"I galloped around the bases, and when I touched home plate, the whole team was there to pick me up and carry me off the field," Aaron later reflected. "I had always dreamed about a moment like Bobby Thomson had in '51, and this was it."
We know where we were when "Bad Henry," as Don Drysdale, the late Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher, admiringly called Aaron during their playing days, hit No. 715. Much like we recall where we were when JFK was assassinated, when Neil Armstrong took a small step for man on the Moon, or when the Berlin wall came tumbling down. We remember 715. Long gone. Never forgotten.
It wasn't until Aaron surpassed Ruth, though, that the awful truth eventually came out: the racism he'd endured, the pure hatred and vitriol, the hate mail and death threats aimed squarely at the color of a man's skin. It began in the 1972 season and built throughout '73 as Aaron, at age 39, hit 40 homers to finish the year with 713, one shy of Ruth's record.
"All I've got to do this winter," he said at season's end, "is stay alive."
Of course, long before he challenged Ruth, Aaron had encountered racism in baseball. As a teenager, the young infielder from Mobile, Alabama, briefly played for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. One weekend, their doubleheader in Washington, D.C., at Griffith Stadium — home of the Washington Senators — was rained out. As Aaron recalled in his autobiography I Had a Hammer, written with Lonnie Wheeler: "We had breakfast while they were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the Clowns in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing [restaurant employees] break all the plates in the kitchen after we were finished eating. What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they'd have washed them."
A quarter-century and untold anguish later, at 9:07 pm on a Monday night, 715 finally took flight. In his second at-bat, when the rain subsided as if on cue, Aaron lined the historic homer into the Braves' bullpen, into the glove of teammate Tom House. The reliever ran toward home plate and hand-delivered the historic ball to Aaron. His father, Herbert, hugged his son. Then his mother, Estella, finally embraced him. A crowd of 53,775 roared its approval. Henry Aaron could finally exhale and say, "Thank God."
Vin Scully, the Dodgers' iconic broadcaster, said this to his Los Angeles audience: "Fastball ... there's a high drive to deep left-center field. Buckner goes back to the fence, it is ... GONE!"
Scully paused, for one minute, 44 seconds. The only sounds: the cheering of the crowd and fireworks exploding in the night air. Then: "What a marvelous moment for baseball! What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia! What a marvelous moment for the country and the world! A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking the record of an all-time baseball idol."
And later, tellingly, this: "Aaron is being mobbed by photographers. He's holding his right hand high in the air. And for the first time in a long time that poker face of Aaron's shows the tremendous strain, and relief, of what it must have been like to live with for the last several months."
Watching the telecast that night was a young Atlantan named Arington Hendley. Twenty-three years later, by then an accomplished photographer, Hendley was hired by a design firm to shoot the 715 ball for use at Turner Field. He drove to Aaron's home in southwest Atlanta, and wound up in the slugger's trophy room in the basement.
"He introduced himself as Henry Aaron," Hendley said. "I've shot the top golfers and some movie stars. Those guys, I couldn't have cared less about. But Hank Aaron was entirely different. I was shaking like a leaf."
Not that it was Aaron's fault. On the contrary, "He was just this quiet, unassuming, and accommodating gentleman," Hendley said, "and he was just treated like dirt [during the home run chase]. I mean, I felt guilty being white. I just desperately wanted to apologize to him for the entire white race."
Hendley said nothing, then did something regrettable. "I was so intimidated," he said. "Here it was, I was with the guy who I thought hung the Moon, and I screwed up the job. I blew it. I didn't expose the film properly.
"The photograph's a picture of a baseball. Almost anybody could've done it, and they probably wouldn't have screwed it up the first time. It became this piece of art I was trying to make. I wanted to hit a home run with his ball."
The first shots weren't detailed enough, and the significance of the 715 shot is not just in its size but in the details. "You could see where the ball was hit, which I discovered when we took the ball out of its case," Hendley said. "I showed it to Hank, and he said, 'Yeah, that's it.'"
Aaron agreed to let the ball be photographed once more. This time, Hendley hit his homer. Now anytime anyone comes to SunTrust Park, they can see the ball and precisely where Aaron's bat launched No. 715. It's not bad for Hendley's business. "In advertising," he said, "people ask what I've taken pictures of, and I say, 'Hank Aaron's ball at the stadium.' They go, 'Ooooh!'"
And the photo also befits Aaron's stature in his sport, his city, and history, especially now that steroids are no longer baseball's dirty secret. McGwire. A-Rod. Does anyone believe Bonds or Clemens? But people can still believe in Aaron. And they do.
As Dwight Garner wrote in his May 2010 New York Times book review of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant's superb biography: "In an era in which home runs are now a discredited commodity, Henry Aaron looms larger than ever: a nation has returned its lonely eyes to him."CHAPTER 2
It was a sign of the times and nigh perfect. Rarely has one sign captured a moment, a city's psyche and sense of joy and relief, a team and a time so perfectly. All in just one word:
That's how the homemade sign read, the one a fan held aloft on the evening of October 28, 1995 — the night the Atlanta Braves won the World Series at blessed last.
"Guys, that says it all right there," Joe Morgan, the Hall of Famer–turned-broadcaster, told his on-air TV partners at game's end. "Finally."
"The team of the '90s has its world championship," play-by-play man Bob Costas declared after the Braves beat Cleveland 1–0 in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, behind Tom Glavine's eight-inning, one-hit pitching masterpiece and a solo homer by the lightning rod David Justice. With that, the Atlanta Braves joined their 1957 Milwaukee and 1914 Boston forebears as the only clubs in franchise history to win the Fall Classic.
This, after so many seasons of atrocious baseball in Atlanta. This, after losing 106 games in 1988, then back-to-back 97-loss seasons. This, after the worst-to-first wonder of '91, only to suffer Kirby Puckett's 11-inning walk-off homer in Game 6, then a 1–0, 10-inning heartbreak to Jack Morris and the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the greatest World Series ever. The Francisco Cabrera–Sid Bream miracle in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS was trumped by Dave Winfield's 11-inning double to give Toronto the World Series title. In '93, after prevailing in a magnificent NL West pennant race with San Francisco, an exhausted Atlanta was no match for Philadelphia in the NLCS.
"So many disappointments," Tom Glavine said.
Not after the strike-shortened 1994 season. In 1995 the Braves won the NL East by a staggering 21 games. They dispatched wild-card Colorado in the initial NL Division Series then swept Cincinnati. In the World Series Braves pitchers would hold Cleveland's potent lineup to a .179 batting average. Despite losing Game 5 at Jacobs Field, the Braves returned home up 3–2.
On the off day, Justice teed off on Atlanta fans. "They'll probably burn down our houses if we don't win," he told reporters. "They're not behind us like the Cleveland fans, who were standing and cheering even when they were three runs down."
This infuriated Atlanta fans. Justice was booed fiercely, angrily when the starting lineups were announced, and again before his first at-bat. All that changed with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning, when Justice led off with a home run. This, after Glavine had surrendered a bloop single to Tony Pena in the top half, Cleveland's only hit of the night.
"Just get me one!" Glavine screamed as he walked into the dugout. One run. Justice obliged. As he crossed home plate, Bob Costas said, "Dave Justice, all is forgiven in Atlanta."
That was all the run support Glavine needed. That, and ninth-inning relief help from closer Mark Wohlers, who began by getting speedy Kenny Lofton to foul out to Pac Man — aka shortstop Rafael Belliard, who'd gobbled up everything all year. Paul Sorrento flied out, and that brought Carlos Baerga to the plate and the Braves to the brink.
"In the ninth inning, Mark [Wohlers] is in, and I just remember sitting there in the dugout, knowing we were on the verge of doing what we wanted to do — finally winning the World Series," Glavine said. "It's just an eternity for that inning to end. It's taking forever: Come on, hurry up! I thought to myself.
"I think the key to that inning was Raffy running down the line to get Lofton's ball. The key was to keep Lofton off base. We get the next out, and then there's that fly ball ..."
"When Baerga hit it," Justice said, "I thought, Oh my God! I thought it was out." He was not alone.
The late Skip Caray's call said it all: "Fly ball, deep left-center ... Grissom on the run ... Yes! Yes! YES! The Atlanta Braves have given you a world championship!!!"
Each "Yes!" reverberated with an echo courtesy of Caray's colleague Joe Simpson, who was standing behind him in the broadcast booth and yelling "Yes!" in concert with Skip. Simpson wasn't working the ninth inning. But like all of Atlanta, he was celebrating. Finally.
"It was like the weight of the world was off of our shoulders," Justice said. "We'd finally won the World Series!"
"In the short time it took for that ball to settle into Marquis' glove, there were so many emotions," said Glavine. "I played it out from the start of the season. This is what we came to spring training for, to win the World Series and to run out on the field with my buddies.
"We'd had so many disappointments. We had this group of guys, all these guys who'd played together and been around each other in the system and then the major leagues, and we'd finally tasted success after so many disappointments. That's what made it so special."
Frankie, Sid, and Skip
With genuine respect and all due apologies to Henry Aaron, the most dramatic moment in Braves franchise history was not his record-breaking home run. No. 715 was a foregone conclusion by that point, a matter of when, not if. But no one could have foreseen what unfolded on the evening of October 14, 1992.
For the second straight season, the Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates met in the National League Championship Series. Once again, it came down to a decisive Game 7. John Smoltz, who'd beaten the Bucs in Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS, had already defeated Doug Drabek twice in this series. Yet it was Drabek, not Smoltz, who carried a 2–0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning as he walked to the mound in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
In NLCS play Terry Pendleton had gone 0-for-15 against Drabek. But he led off with a double to right. This, after all, was Pendleton, the 1991 NL Most Valuable Player who later admitted, "I thought I had a better year in '92." An All-Star Game starter that year, the third baseman finished second in the MVP voting despite batting .311 with 21 homers, a career-high 105 RBIs and 199 hits (including an Atlanta-record 39 doubles). Still, he didn't repeat as the MVP.
"Pittsburgh had this guy named Barry Bonds," Pendleton said, smiling.
Pendleton advanced to third base when, on a ground ball by David Justice, Pirates second baseman Jose "Chico" Lind made a very uncharacteristic error. "I backed up on the ball," confessed Lind, who won a Gold Glove Award that year after making just six errors during the regular season. When Drabek walked lumber-legged Sid Bream on four pitches to load the bases, manager Jim Leyland brought in side-winding reliever Stan Belinda.
Ron Gant's sacrifice fly put Atlanta on the board, down 2–1. Although Damon Berryhill walked to reload the bases, Brian Hunter popped up softly. The Berryhill walk included a tight call on one pitch by umpire Randy Marsh. He had moved behind the plate early in the game after John McSherry — a superb ball-strike umpire — hyperventilated and had to be taken to Piedmont Hospital.
One out from elimination, with reliever Jeff Reardon due up, Braves manager Bobby Cox made the easy choice of pinch-hitting Francisco Cabrera. Never mind that Cabrera spent most of the year in the minors and played in just 12 big-league games during the regular season. In his lone career at-bat against Belinda, the Dominican homered on July 29, 1991.
"I remember it was very loud, so loud that [third-base coach] Jimy Williams had to walk up and almost kiss my ear to tell me what he was saying," Justice later told me. "He wasn't really saying anything. Just pretending, where they might think a squeeze was on."
After Cabrera ripped a line drive foul down the third-base line, Justice remembers what he was thinking. "Exactly: He's going to hit a home run right here," he said. "He was one of the best fastball hitters ever."
So with two out and Atlanta still trailing 2–1, Skip Caray called the next pitch: "A double, an error, and a walk, and the bases are full of Braves. Bream carries the winning run ... two balls, one strike. What tension ... the runners lead. A lotta room in right-center. If he hits one there, we can dance in the streets. The 2–1 ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "100 Things Braves Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"
Copyright © 2019 Jack Wilkinson.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 A+, as in Aaron 1
2 "Finally!" 6
3 Frankie, Sid, and Skip 10
4 715 14
5 Worse to First 17
6 "Thanks, Bobby!" 20
7 Spahn 26
8 Long Ball, Literally 29
9 Chipper 32
10 "Just Get Me One!" 35
11 The Fire 39
12 Game 161 in "91 41
13 The Key? T? 44
14 The Only Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta Brave 48
15 Smoltzie 52
16 Knucksie 55
17 A Shocking Development 58
18 Going, Going, Going, Going…Gone Again! 61
19 Coxie Gets the Call 65
20 The Miracle Braves of 1914 70
21 "Bushville Wins!" 73
22 13 and 0! 76
23 The Brief Reign and Long Rain of '82 80
24 Ave 82
25 Miracle Braves II 87
25 The SuperStation 90
27 The One That Got Away 92
28 Hello, World…Series 95
29 Mad Dog: A Three-Part Appreciation 98
30 Those '69 Braves…and Mets 102
31 The Game at Shea after 9/11 104
32 "The Last Great Pennant Race" 106
33 Lou or Lew? 109
34 The Night Ted Managed 112
35 Walter Banks 116
36 Huddy 119
37 On the Move 123
38 Toasts of the Town 125
39 Stopping Pete's Streak 128
40 14 in a Row 130
41 The Dibble Homer 133
42 "We're Losing Our Vin Scullys" 135
43 40-40-40 138
44 Glav 140
45 Spahn and Sain 144
46 Lonnie 148
47 30-30 150
48 The '96 Comeback 152
49 Ronald Acuna 155
50 The Lemmer 157
51 On the Move…Again 160
52 Fun at the OI' Ballpark 162
53 SunTrust Park 165
54 Joltin' Joe 168
55 It's a No-No-No! 171
56 The Catch 174
57 Tony C…as in Cloninger 176
58 ROYs…and Wally 178
59 Skip's Longest Day 183
60 The Chop and the Chant 186
61 Bill Lucas 189
62 The Unlikeliest Walk of All 191
63 The Unlikeliest Homer 194
64 The Unlikeliest Win 196
65 El Oso Blanco 199
66 Unlikely Heroes 203
67 Monuments, Memorabilia, and Statues 205
68 The Turner Field Turnaround 209
69 Charlie Leibrandt…Reliever? 211
70 The Eric Gregg Game 213
71 Disappointment: October 2013 217
72 Help Revive Sid & Frankie Day 219
73 Alex Antbopoulos 222
74 Make a Pilgrimage to Poncey 224
75 Ernie 228
76 Head to Florida for Spring Training 231
77 438 233
78 They're Baaack 235
79 Gold and Silver 238
80 The Longest Night 242
81 The Homeric Odysseys…and Oddities 244
82 Braves Hall of Fame 248
83 The Brave Who Belongs in Cooperstown 254
84 The Pearl of the Braves 257
85 I-285 Perez 259
86 The Great Defender 261
87 No-Hit Wonders 264
88 The Managing Judge 268
89 The Natural 270
90 Mound Rushmore 273
91 Oly 276
92 The Catcher's Box Brouhaha 278
93 The Babe a Brave? 281
94 Go on a Braves Field Field Trip 286
95 Brian Snitker 289
96 Why Love a Parade? 292
97 Meet Matthew, the Music Man 294
98 The Mann on the PA 296
99 Off His Rocker 299
100 Bravo! 303