Since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, fans have generally selected one player top be the “face of the franchise.” Every team has one of these players and he is usually the guy that fans look to to produce and lead the team. The Braves have had some good ones over the years and they have all fulfilled their assigned “big man” role very well.
Hank Aaron came with the Braves from Milwaukee and was an already established superstar and on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he first set foot on Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium sod. It was doubtful; however, if anyone predicted that this graceful performer with the powerful wrists would become the all-time home run king in April, 1974 and forever stamp himself as Atlanta’s baseball king. Aaron was Mr. Atlanta Braves’ baseball and Braves’ fans depended on him to supply the big hit until he was traded in November 1974 at the age of 40. A good trivia question here is who did the Braves trade Aaron to and for whom? Answer at the end of this column!
It took a few years for Braves’ fans to settle on their next favorite but he eventually appeared on the scene in 1976. His name was Dale Murphy! Murphy didn’t stick with Braves for a whole season until 1978 at which time the likeable center fielder became everyone’s favorite performer. The clean-cut Murphy had his up’s and downs, but Braves’ fans never soured on him and he became the center piece of the Braves’ surge to the division championship in 1982. He also won two MVP Awards along the way. The Braves eventually found him to be dispensable and he was traded in August 1990. OK, another trivia question. Who was Murphy traded to and whom did the Braves get in return? Answer later!
The next Braves icon was already on the roster when Murphy was traded. He first appeared in 1989 but played his first full season in 1990. This silky-smooth, left-handed hitter was named David Justice. Justice had a sometimes rocky relationship with Braves’ fans as he was not afraid to express what he was thinking. He was, however, a quality all-star performer who gave fans a strong shoulder to lean on as the Braves began their long reign of supremacy in the National League. He will always be remembered in Atlanta baseball lore for his home run in the 6th game of the 1995 World Series which gave the Braves a 1-0 victory and the only World Championship in Atlanta Braves’ history. Justice was shockingly and suddenly traded in March, 1997 along with Marquis Grissom. Again, who were they traded to and for whom? Yeah, answer later!
Justice’s replacement as Mr. Atlanta Baseball was a key part of the 1995 championship. His much anticipated arrival first took place in 1993 for only a few games and he missed 1994 with a knee injury. His name was Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones. This switch-hitter had a certain flair and was pre-ordained as the face of the Braves’ franchise. He was supremely talented, extremely confident, and a very determined player who stayed with the Braves until his retirement in 2012. Braves’ fans could always depend on Chipper to deliver the big hit and to be a stand-up guy in all situations and be the main key to their run of consecutive division title and World Series appearances.
A note here to say that some may contend that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz could be considered the face of the Atlanta franchise during their time in a Braves’ uniform. These great pitchers appeared only once every five days and I just can’t put them in the same category with the guys who played every day. That’s the main reason for my not including them.
With Chipper gone, the Braves now need to find that “face of the franchise” player that we depend on every night. With Brian McCann’s departure, I think we can look at a young guy who is already on the roster. His name is Freddie Freeman! This 24-year old, 6’5”, 225 lb. first baseman has already established him as an all-star performer in the NL and he has already shown Braves’ fans that he wants to be in Atlanta by signing an 8-year contract extension for $135 million.
Freeman was born in Fountain Valley, California on September 12, 1989 and was the Braves’ second round draft pick (78th player taken overall) in the 2007 major league baseball draft. He first came to Atlanta as a September call-up in September, 2010. He became the Braves’ starting first baseman in 2011 and finished second to teammate Craig Kimbrel for the National League’s Rookie-of-the-Year in that season.
Freeman was voted to the 2013 National League All-Star team and his final 2013 statistics were a very impressive .319 batting average with 23 home runs and 109 runs batted in. He is a very dependable hitter who can hit to all fields and seems to be at his best with runners on base. He is also an accomplished fielder at first base. Most people feel that he will get even better as he matures.
Yep, Freddie Freeman is the new leader of the Braves. He has already shown that he deserves the distinction and will follow nicely in the line of past Braves’ franchise faces!
OK, the trivia answers. Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Dave May. Murphy was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Jeff Parrett and 2 players to be named later who turned out to be outfielder Jim Vatcher and infielder Victor Rosario. Justice and Grissom were traded to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Kenny Lofton and pitcher Alan Embree.