Full Hall: Inductions a stamp of Braves' greatness
Braves president John Schuerholz admits a major disappointment in his career -- one World Series championship in the Braves' professional record 14 consecutive first-place finishes.
"People talk about the great run we had, 14 consecutive division championships," said Schuerholz. "All my cohorts in the business say, 'What a remarkable accomplishment. No one will ever do that.' The media examines what we have done as productive, and the end of sentence is: 'But only one world championship.' That is frustrating. We've been so consistently competitive, and it's sort of the hallmark of our organization, right now -- one world championship.
"I am disappointed not for myself, but for the talented players -- some Hall of Fame-caliber players, certainly many All-Star-caliber players -- and for [manager] Bobby Cox and his staff members who didn't get multiple world championships, so that none of the sentences about the Braves ended with the word 'but.'"
The hallmark of the Braves is changing.
And it started last weekend with the induction of left-hander Tom Glavine, right-hander Greg Maddux and Cox -- three keys in that championship run -- into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It figures to continue over at least the next three years, when the trio will most likely be joined in Cooperstown by right-hander John Smoltz, third baseman Chipper Jones and Schuerholz.
Smoltz, who extended his career by one more year than Glavine and Maddux, will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in December. While it will be a ballot deep on Hall of Fame talent, Smoltz will be a prime candidate and without any questions should be voted to Cooperstown within his first couple of years on the ballot.
Jones' initial eligibility will be for the 2018 induction, which could be the year after Schuerholz gets his proper recognition. The Expansion Era Committee will next consider the most recent era of candidates -- which includes Schuerholz -- at the Winter Meetings in December 2016.
To have those six all enshrined in the Hall of Fame would underscore the greatness of what the Braves accomplished. Cox and Schuerholz were the constants throughout the 14 years. The tenure of the four players varied -- Glavine (1987-2002, '08), Smoltz (1988-2008), Maddux (1993-2003) and Jones (1993-2012).
All six, however, were prominently involved together for an eight-year stretch (1995-2002).
No other franchise has had six eventual Hall of Famers together over that long of a period of time. The closest would be the New York Yankees, who for the seven seasons from 1929-35 were owned by Ed Barrow, and had a roster that included Earle Combs, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Babe Ruth.
Those Yankees had only one World Series championship to show for their seven years (1932) and finished an average 10 1/2 games out of first place in the six other seasons.
The Braves, in their eight-year run, won their only World Series in 1995, but they did finish first in the National League East the seven other seasons. Despite the sustained success, Atlanta was able to advance to the World Series just two other times, losing to the Yankees in 1996 and '99.
The road to the World Series is more challenging today than it was prior to 1995, in that a team can finish in first place but has to win a best-of-five Division Series and a best-of-seven League Championship Series to even get to the World Series.
The Braves were eliminated in the NLCS by the eventual World Series champions two times in that eight-year run -- the NL Wild Card Marlins in 1997 and the NL West champion D-backs in 2001. Two other times they lost to the eventual NL pennant winner -- San Diego in the 1998 NLCS, and San Francisco in the 2002 NLDS. They also lost to St. Louis in the 2000 NLDS.
The three future candidates from that era in Atlanta do have legitimate Hall of Fame credentials.
Smoltz could be forced to wait a year because of such a strong ballot next year that includes the return of Craig Biggio, who came up two votes short of enshrinement in 2014, and first-time candidates Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. A voter can check off as many as 10 candidates, but the idea of four players being inducted by the vote of the Baseball Writers' Association of America is a long shot. It hasn't happened since 1963.
Smoltz, however, has a resume that includes being the only pitcher in history with 150 saves (154) and 200 wins (213). The Braves may have only won one World Series in those 14 years, but Smoltz was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in the postseason. He also was an eight-time All-Star and won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996.
Jones was an eight-time All-Star who won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1999, and he's the only switch-hitter to have a career average of .300 (.303), on base-percentage of .400 (.401) and slugging percentage of .500 (.529). And that switch-hitter list includes the likes of all-time hits leader Pete Rose and Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Roberto Alomar, Frankie Frisch and Veterans Committee inductee George Davis.
And Schuerholz may be the most underappreciated executive in the game. Overlooked in recent Veterans Committee ballots, Schuerholz not only oversaw the run of excellence in Atlanta, he was also was a key member of the Royals' front office when they advanced to the postseason seven times in a 10-year period from 1976-85, including a World Series championship in 1985 and an AL pennant in '80.
The eventual enshrinement of all six will put a stamp of greatness on an era in Braves history that cannot be denied.