ATLANTA -- Nearly three decades after fueling the most unexpected and successful run in Atlanta sports history, Terry Pendleton is still humbled by the fact that a picture of him hangs within the Braves' clubhouse at SunTrust Park.
"I just don't see myself that way," Pendleton said. "I was blessed and honored to be surrounded by a lot of great people and teammates here in Atlanta. I know I wouldn't have accomplished all that I did without them."
Chipper Jones is among the former teammates who will be present Friday night when the Braves induct Pendleton and Hugh Duffy into the team's Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will take place during the Chop Fest Gala, which will also honor current team members. Details for the event can be found at www.braves.com/gala.
"I was shocked and surprised when I got the call from [Braves chairman Terry McGuirk]," Pendleton said. "This wasn't something I was thinking about. But I'm certainly honored."
Though John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox, John Schuerholz and Jones might be recognized as the men responsible for extending Atlanta's record division titles streak to 14, Pendleton was arguably the most valuable pioneer of this unprecedented run, which he influenced as both a player and a coach.
It's best to go back to Pendleton's St. Louis days to best understand his journey toward becoming the 1991 National League MVP Award winner and the runner-up in '92, when the Braves made a second straight World Series appearance. The former third baseman's final season with the Cardinals began in February 1990, when he arrived for Spring Training and heard a team official tell him, "Congrats on winning your arbitration case, but this will be your last year with the team."
Unhappy with his situation, disenchanted with his general manager and saddened by Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog's midseason resignation, Pendleton hit just .230 with a .601 OPS during that 1990 season. His discouragement grew in August, when his new manager, Joe Torre, told him he'd spend the season's final weeks essentially serving as Todd Zeile's backup.
Pendleton responded by taking extra ground balls with Zeile before most every game played over the remainder of the season. This mentoring practice continued when he readied Jones to become the Braves' third baseman and throughout his 16-season tenure (2002-17) on Atlanta's coaching staff.
"My uncle lived in Kansas City, but was a huge Cardinals fan," former Braves second baseman Mark Lemke said. "When we signed TP, he told me you can't just look at the numbers to know how good this guy is. TP was the game's best [defensive] third baseman and he truly embraced that chance to be a leader."
When the Braves fell 9 1/2 games behind the Dodgers after losing the final game before the 1991 All-Star break, Pendleton went up and down the bench at Dodger Stadium telling his discouraged teammates that the race wasn't over. The rest of the story is well known: Los Angeles faded. Atlanta caught fire and came within one win of winning that year's epic World Series against the Twins.
Many Braves fans might remember Lemke hit .417 with three triples and a double during the 1991 Fall Classic. But only a few might realize that he did so while utilizing Pendleton's 36-inch bat, which was referred to as "The Log" by Ron Gant, Otis Nixon and some other Braves teammates. Lemke had switched to the longer bat upon the suggestion Pendleton made after watching the former second baseman consistently produce weak ground balls against pitches that tailed away.
"He's the reason the bat I used in that World Series is in the Hall of Fame," Lemke said. "We were young like the current team. Having a guy like him around was so valuable."
When the 1990 season was over, Pendleton cried on his way out of Busch Stadium and moved to Los Angeles thinking he would almost certainly sign with the Dodgers. The Yankees made the greatest offer, but his wife said, "You'll be going to New York alone [if you take that deal]." So Pendleton assessed the young talent assembled in Atlanta and made the influential decision to become a Brave.
Nobody was surprised to see Pendleton's glove enhance the value of Atlanta's young starters -- Smoltz, Glavine and Steve Avery. But few could have predicted he'd prove valuable enough offensively to produce the NL's third-best fWAR (11.4) over the 1991 and '92 seasons.
Two great seasons do not make a Hall of Fame career, but given where the franchise had been during the latter half of the 1980s, those two NL pennant-winning seasons will forever be special in Braves lore. Pendleton mentored Jones while continuing to produce on the field during the two seasons that followed. He impacted the organization during his 16 seasons on the Major League coaching staff and he continues to do so now as he serves as a special assistant, a role that allows him to works with Austin Riley and some of the club's other top prospects.
"You could try to write a script where you win the World Series every year," Pendleton said. "But we all know baseball doesn't work that way. To think back and remember what this city was like in 1991 and those years that followed is special. You still hear people tell stories about what it was like being at the ballpark those years. I'm very blessed to have been a part of it."