Here’s our Braves Mount Rushmore — feel free to differ

The challenge, dear bored, stay-at-home sports fans, is to use this wealth of down time as frivolously as possible.

Sure, you could shock the neighbors and work in the yard before getting the letter from the homeowners association. Learn a foreign language online. Build new, stronger bonds with the family. Maybe begin your memoirs.

But, first, let’s engage in a purely hypothetical exercise of designing monuments to the sporting deities that never will be built. Now that’s useful.

Begin with the Braves, and the four cornerstone contributors since the team’s move to Atlanta in 1966. Who might they be? More important, who do you leave out and forever leave behind with the Biff Pocorobas and the Rowland Offices, no matter how worthy they may be?

» VOTE: Top 4 Atlanta Hawks of all-time

It is so difficult to pare down to just four. By comparison, what a breeze it must have been to come up with four proper presidential mugs to be carved in granite in South Dakota because, let’s be honest, how many really good ones of those have we had?

It took 14 years to complete that Mount Rushmore. This project should take somewhat less time seeing how it’s sculpted out of air.

We asked readers to put down the remotes and vote for their Forever Four, their Braves Mount Rushmore (the Hawks and Falcons, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets are pending). The greatest of the greats. The crème de la tomahawk.

Then we took the views of 2,819 voters and ran them through the kind of subjective, you-can-get-stats-to-say-anything kind of analysis that only sports can offer. We agreed with the top three and made a bold editorial decision on the fourth member. Hey, fans don’t get to vote for every All-Star either.

There was a landslide at the top of this mountain, the first two Rushmoreans appearing on at least 90% of the ballots. Then it gets really close and contentious. Good. Because the whole point of this is to stoke a bonfire of unsettled debate.

No, it’s not scientific. Not all voters came up with four names EVEN THOUGH THAT WAS EXPRESSLY REQUESTED, PEOPLE. We’re fairly certain that no members of the old Eastern Bloc hacked the election since Al Hrabosky received zero votes. And as for the owner of one IP address that tried voting 30 times: Like the effort. Really question the life choices.

Hank Aaron connects on career home run No. 715 to break Babe Ruth's record.

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The Two Shoo-Ins

Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader among those not juiced to the gills, can’t be immortalized enough. This honor may not quite reach the level of his Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan) or the Hank Aaron Award given each year to the best overall hitter in each league. Still, his place on this make-believe mountain is bestowed with great affection.

And if we’re being honest here, he really should have a stadium in Cobb County named after him, too, if the team and the banking industry had any conscience.

That he was on only 93% of the reader ballots cast is a travesty, just as it was that only 97.83% of the Hall of Fame voters elected him in 1982. That speaks more about those casting the votes then the man not receiving them.

Yes, Aaron was Milwaukee’s best, too — see they even have a beer named after him. He played nine years in Atlanta compared with 14 in Milwaukee as both a Brave and a Brewer (his last two seasons, retiring at 42). He had 54% of his 755 career home runs, 65% of his 3,771 hits, and 61% of his MLB-record RBIs as either a Milwaukee Brave or a Brewer. His one MVP came with Milwaukee.

Yet, he gave us the night of April 8, 1974 — enough said. That's when his 715th homer, the one eclipsing the mythic Babe Ruth, the one that transferred baseball's most cherished record to the man who began his professional life with the Mobile Black Bears and the Indianapolis Clowns of varied Negro Leagues, left the yard at Atlanta Stadium and found Tom House's glove in the Braves bullpen.

Factor in his post-playing days as a Braves executive and as an important civic figure in his adoptive city for 44 years since his last at-bat, and Aaron is the ultimate Brave.

By the way, of the second player who made the biggest noise in the reader poll — Chipper Jones, with 90% — Aaron once said, “I knew he was gonna grow up to be a Hall of Famer if he didn’t get injured.” And Jones did get injured, tearing up a knee in a spring game in 1994, yet still was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Aaron was a Braves senior vice president overseeing the farm system when the team drafted Jones first overall in 1990. The general manager was Bobby Cox, who is up there on that Braves Rushmore, too. They’ll have plenty of old times to talk about.

Slugger Chipper Jones and manager Bobby Cox (right) spent parts of two decades together with the Braves.

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Born in the so-called “Fern Capital of the World,” Pierson, Fla., Jones became as much a part of Atlanta as traffic on The Downtown Connector and new stadium construction. In an age of player migration, he was a Braves lifer, in 18 years establishing the Atlanta-era Braves record in most every offensive category (468 home runs, 2,726 hits, 1,623 RBIs).

He was a shortstop moved to third. He played the outfield because the Braves briefly required him there. Whatever it took. And if you grew in the Atlanta area in the 1990s and early 2000s without a No. 10 Braves jersey, that was considered neglect.

Toward the close of his 2018 Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Jones paid homage to the home fans: “You’re the reason I never wanted to play anywhere else. I couldn't be prouder to go into the Hall of Fame today with an Atlanta ‘A’ on my cap.” The feeling was mutual.

Now it Gets Tricky

It was warming to see that No. 3 in the reader’s mind, appearing on 54% of the ballots was Cox. We concur, only more definitively.

Because the Braves won “only” one World Series during their unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles (1991-2005), many fans tend to believe Cox underachieved, especially given the starting triumvirate of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. At the same time, someone had to get them through the long haul of a season to all those Octobers.

Braves pitchers Tom Glavine (from left), John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were members of powerhouse 1990s teams.

Credit: Doug Mills

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Credit: Doug Mills

His is a complicated legacy, balanced between the postseason disappointments and the 14 times his Braves teams won 90 or more games in a season — six times more than 100. (Here we’ll mention that as a GM, he also swung the best trade in Braves history, landing a minor league pitcher named Smoltz from Detroit for Doyle Alexander in 1987).

Someone has to manage the Braves elite and keep them happy for posterity. And who else you going to go with, Luman Harris?

The fans’ fourth was Maddux (51%), but you may note that his crooked smile is not up there on this mountaintop. Nor was the fans’ fifth pick, Smoltz (42%). Nor the sixth, Dale Murphy (39%).

That spot was reserved for Glavine (on just 23% of the readers’ ballots), by virtue of the fact that he won the most important game in team history – his eight-inning, one-hit shutout of Cleveland in the World Series-winning game in 1995. That some fans turned on him when he became a prominent union man during the ’94 strike shouldn’t be held against him.

He can’t stand with Maddux for overall excellence and the three consecutive Cy Youngs he won here. But Glavine won 50 more games as a Brave than did Maddux (244 of Glavine’s 305 career victories were as a Brave). Glavine’s plaque in the Hall of Fame bears the Atlanta ‘A.’ Because of initial loyalties to the Chicago Cubs, Maddux went in with his bronze cap unlabled.

And Glavine didn’t possess the same dominant arm as Smoltz, nor did he have his varied resume of starting and closing. But there is room for a crafty craftsman in this collection.

That one game was just such a defining franchise moment. And as Jones once said, “There is nobody more fitting to have on the mound for our crowning moment in 1995 than him.”

That last spot was going to be a gnarly one, no matter how it went. Here we’re leaving out perhaps the most likable Brave ever, the two-time MVP Murphy. And if you appreciated Glavine’s guile, how could you not love Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro (268-230 with the Braves between 1966-83, throwing 4,220 innings over that time)? The architects in the audience no doubt will be howling for long-time GM John Schuerholz.

Such a frivolous and imprecise exercise. Let the carping commence.


Results of fan voting for top four Atlanta Braves. In all, 12,032 votes were cast by 2,819 voters in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online poll: • Hank Aaron, 2,612 votes, 93% • Chipper Jones, 2,549 votes, 90% • Bobby Cox, 1,530 votes, 54% • Greg Maddux, 1,441 votes, 51% • John Smoltz, 1,174 votes, 42% • Dale Murphy, 1,097 votes, 39% • Tom Glavine, 649 votes, 23% • Phil Niekro, 455 votes, 16% • Ted Turner, 331 votes, 12% • Andruw Jones, 194 votes, 7%