Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Best Ever: Boston Braves

Yesterday, I selected the greatest Atlanta/Milwaukee Braves players ever, and today I'm going to focus on the Boston Braves. (Surely you know that the Braves played in Boston from 1876 to 1952). 

Let's start with the easiest choice:


Contenders: Warren Spahn and... Johnny Sain maybe?

The winner: This is really no contest. Sain had a good run for a few years as the Braves' number two starter, but Spahn was an all-time great. He won 363 games in the majors, all but seven with the Braves. Most of his best years occurred in Milwaukee, but he came up with Boston and so I consider him a Boston Brave for this feature.


Contenders: Rabbit Maranville, Tommy Holmes, Wally Berger

The winner: If I really wanted to cheat, I'd choose Babe Ruth, who played his final season as a Boston Brave. But I'm going to stick with players who legitimately played many years with the Braves.

The three contenders are the top three players in terms of career hits as a Brave. Maranville is in the Hall of Fame, mainly for his shortstop defense, and he played a key role on Boston's surprise World Series championship in 1914. But his hitting was mostly woeful, even when you adjust for the Dead Ball Era.

Tommy Holmes played from 1942 to 1952, but he really had only one good season, and that came in 1945 when most of the best players were serving in the military. Holmes got an exemption from service.

Wally Berger is a forgotten star who put together one of the best rookie seasons ever: .310, 38 homers, 119 RBIs as a 24-year-old. The slugging outfielder smacked 30 homers two more times, and finished his career with 242. However, he played in the peak years of the Lively Ball Era, so the numbers aren't as impressive as they seem. Still, he was an All-Star four times and finished in the to 10 in MVP voting twice even though his Braves never seriously contended for any pennants.

The choice comes down to Maranville vs. Berger. I'm inclined to select Berger because I think sluggers are more valuable than defensive specialists. But Maranville won a championship, is in the Hall of Fame, and leads the franchise in a number of categories (including Games, Hits, Runs, and more). It's close, but I think those criteria push Maranville over the top.

Rabbit Maranville is the greatest position player in Boston Braves history.

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