Braves All-Time Team: Center Field

I’m going to declare voting closed in the left field race. It’s relatively close but I think we have a winner:

LF Hugh Duffy

I have had to cut more players from this list than I would have liked to. The final ten are:

Andruw Jones
Dale Murphy
Rowland Office
Dusty Baker
Felipe Alou
Mack Jones
Bill Bruton
Wally Berger
Billy Hamilton
Jim O’Rourke

I wound up cutting Dick Johnston, Ray Powell, and Johnny Cooney. All were old-timers I figured wouldn’t have figured in the vote, though they might have been better players than a couple I included. I cut a sixties player, Lee Maye, though he might have been as good as the man he shared the position with, Mack “Superfluous K” Jones. Otis Nixon missed the cutoff by about 400 PA, I think. Grissom, Lofton, and the rest of the men who manned center (barring Gant, whom I counted as a left fielder) during the Murph-Andruw interregnum were far short.

Hamilton and O’Rourke are Hall of Famers. The latter qualifies in part for his service in the National Association. Berger was an All-Star who could have gotten into the Hall with a little luck.


39 thoughts on “Braves All-Time Team: Center Field”

  1. Dale Murphy was the face of the Braves for a decade. AJ would be my #2 choice, but Murphy was the man.

  2. I went with Murphy also. Billy Hamilton had a nice career, but since most of it wasn’t with the Braves, I couldn’t overlook the longevity of Murph’s career. I think Andruw wins if he stays in Atlanta another four or five years.

  3. This is harder than I thought. To me, Murph’s decline years are a minus, rather than simply something to disregard. Given his age, his drop-off was unexpected and costly (not the same, to me, as an old player holding out just a little too long). That may be unfair… I don’t know. Anyway, Murphy still gets my vote, but I’m not sure Andruw needs to stay another four years. Two would do it if this year represents a new level of performance and not just an outlier.

  4. I’ll go with Murphy, but Andruw is a very close second and I think my view will probably change in the next few years.

  5. Murphy. For about 3 years in the 80’s he was the best player in baseball on some teams that were truly putrid. Its a tough choice becuase Andruw has been a good to very good player for 8 fulltime seasons.

  6. I voted for Andruw, but I’ll make my pitch for an old guy I didn’t vote for… Wally Berger was one heck of a player on one heck of a bad team in a park that was tough to hit in. In his rookie year (back before there was ROY voting) he hit 38 home runs. The rest of the team hit 28. The next year, he slipped to 19, but that was in part because they deadened the baseballs; the rest of the team combined for 15. Two years later, he hit 27, as did the rest of the team. When the Braves went 34-115, Berger hit .295/.355/.548 with 34 homers — winning the home run title. The team as a whole hit .263/.309/.362 with 75. Second on the team in homers was Babe Ruth, who hit 6 in 72 AB then retired. Berger finished sixth in the MVP voting playing for a team that won 38 games.

    You think Murph had it bad?

    Berger only played seven years with the Braves, and part of an eighth with the Bees (they changed the name for awhile after the 1935 disaster). But he’s still ninth on the franchise list in homers and total bases and eighth in doubles. He’s tenth in runs created; Andruw passed him this year. The only Braves with higher slugging percentages are Hank and Chipper; the only ones with higher OPS are those two and Mathews.

  7. I think Murphy is safely ahead of Andruw (for now). Andruw can’t match Murphy’s offense, and Murph won a few Gold Gloves too.

    Does anybody know Wally Berger’s defensive reputation? On offense he compares to Murphy with 7 straight years of at least 120+ OPS.

    If we were building a team by lineup, Billy Hamilton would be the all-time leadoff hitter.

  8. On strictly numbers Andruw wins, but Murph was (is?) the face of the Braves, and aside from Henry Aaron, probably the most popular, recognizable, and beloved Brave ever – that has to count for something.

  9. I lived in Germany from 1985 to 1991. When I left, Murph was a lock for the HOF. When I got back, he was done. The dropoff between ’87 and ’88 is tremendous. Please tell me what you think happened.

  10. Murph was the man. From 1980 – 1987 he was an all-time CF. But in the years after he had his lucky mole removed, the decline was swift and sure. Had he played in NY or LA, he would be a first ballot HOF. As it is, he will probably not get the Veterans Committee nod, unless the steroid issue prompts the election of kindler, gentler, nobler players like Dale.

  11. jones is the best pick. his defense is far superior and he has been very consistent on offense. how many years was murph considered the best defensive centerfielder in baseball? i was a huge murph fan, but murph didnt have the onfield instincts that andruw has. murph’s decline and slow incline also take away a lot of his points. who is going to be in the hall of fame, andruw or murph?

  12. In all the early season talk about Barry Bonds’s knee and infections, someone (can’t recall who) said that what happened to Murphy could happen to him. Apparently he had a knee injury, got an infection that ate away at the cartilage and such, and simply never was the same again. I think a lot of that was retrospective speculation though.

  13. lets just stop talking about andruw and furcal on steroids….if ne one is on steroids its a guy named Brian Jordan.

    ok let me get started where in the heck is our championship calibur team that mr John Sherholz promised us….is Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi considerded championship worthy…..Mondesi sucked all he did was strike out and Brian Jordan should have stuck with the Falcons and WHO IN THE WORLD SIGNED TRAVIS SMITH TO A DEAL LAST YEAR!! GOD THAT GUY WAS AWFUL BUT LIKE JORDAN DUDS ARE ALLOWED TO PLAY BASEBALL……BUT IM SO GLAD TO SEE THAT MONDESI IS BACK FROM WHEREVER HE CAME FROM GETTING FATTER CUZ HE SHOWED UP TO SPRING TRAINING FAT AND OUT OF SHAPE…HIS BAT SPEED WAS LIKE 2MPH AND ALL THOSE 0-4 WITH 4 K’S GAMES ARE GONE…..

    francouer is gold and Johnson needs work.

    im so glad to see us winning

    and im so glad that

    National lie is out the window
    thank you.

  14. I certainly love the Murph, I mean, without him and Bob Horner, I couldn’t have sustained being a Braves fan during those years, but I think Andruw has a real shot at eventually being a 500 HR hitter and he wins EVERY golden glove–not just a handful like Dale. Wally Berger has to be seriously considered in this equation too, however.

  15. Billy Hamilton was the best player on the greatest braves team ever. History did not begin in 1980, although from the voting patterns thus far most of the rest of you do not agree

  16. “Murph wasn’t Andruw defensively, but he did win five consecutive gold gloves.”

    Alot of people say now that Andruw isn’t ANDRUW defensively anymore. Until this year, Andruw hasn’t been Murphy with the bat. Still, Andruw has a good chance to pass Murphy; I just don’t think he’s done it yet.

    Also Mac, thanks for the link on Wally Berger. The fun part of this exercise is looking up all these guys that I don’t know much about. There is definately an argument to be made for Berger.

  17. I’m not going to say that Berger should be in the Hall of Fame — he didn’t play long enough. But he’s one of the great “if” players, because if he’d had any luck at all he’d be in. Not just “If he hadn’t hurt his shoulder”. But “If he’d played his prime years with the Giants”, or anyone else, his counting stats would be a lot better. If he’d been just a couple years younger, he might have extended his career into the war years and wound up with over 300 homers and 2000 hits. Similarly, if he’d come up at 22 rather than getting buried by the Cubs in the PCL. If the Braves had had any other offense at all, he would have had more than four 100-RBI seasons. I mean, in 1931 he played 156 games (in a 154-game schedule), slugged .512 for ninth in the league, and drove in 84 runs. His 1935 season (leading the league in homers and RBI for a team that won 38 games) is the Steve Carlton/1972 of hitters. I mean, four fewer homers than the team had wins!

  18. Murphy’s peak win’s my vote. Still can’t understand the decline. Killed me to watch him struggle. If Andruw has another year like this one I think he passes my favorite Brave.

  19. It’s bad enough that “Baseball” ends with that… do people have to keep bringing it up?!?

    :)

  20. I think this is one of the most interesting positions for the Braves. Berger was great on a horrible series of Braves/Bees team, but his career didn’t last a long time. Bruton was very good for a wonderful series Brave’s teams in the 50’s. Hamilton’s stolen base number were incredible, but should be taken in context of the times. If I remember correctly, taking an extra base, or going from first to third on a single, counted as a stolen base during that time.

    Andruw’s had a wonderful start to his career, playing awesome defense and putting up good power numbers. But Murphy WAS the Braves during the early 80’s and did post back to back MVP’s. I voted for Murphy, although I also think that if Andruw continues to play at this level for a couple more years he will surpass Murphy.

    Mac, some of your comments regarding Berger’s longevity and late start would also pertain to Bruton I think. He didn’t begin his major league career until 1953 at age 27, very late. If I remember correctly, he was African-American which probably accounts for the late start during that era. It’s interesting to speculate what his career numbers might have looked like if had had 3 or 4 more seasons in the majors at the beginning of his career, or for that matter, what the Braves teams of the early 50’s might have played like with him playing earlier.

    I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to reflect on some of the great, and not so great, players from the Brave’s past. Thanks Mac.

  21. Ryanc said: “jones is the best pick. his defense is far superior and he has been very consistent on offense.”

    Andruw Jones consistent on offense? LOL… BWAHAHA… LOL. I love Andruw as much as the next guy, but… LOL. Consistent my ass. Andruw’s hitting has always been as streaky as they come.

    I vote for Murph on character alone. My favorite book as a kid was his autobiography.

  22. Nate, Andruw’s consistency from year to year is remarkable, as I wrote in my preseason comment:

    See, according to quantum physics (as I understand it, which is not really) individual particles can behave all sorts of ways, and there’s no way to predict them — or even know where they are. But in the aggregate, they combine to behave in certain, predictable ways.

    Andruw is totally unpredictable, at-bat to at-bat, game to game, month to month. But at the end of the season, you’ll wind up with about the same, every year. His batting average will be from .260 to .275 (five of the last seven seasons), his on-base from .335 to .370 (five of the last six seasons). Slugging’s a little more spread out, but still in a range from .460 to .545 — every one of the last seven seasons. The frustrating part is that he does this by alternating hot streaks with terrible slumps. Last season, his batting averages were, by month, .291, .229, .239, .292, .283, .258, .111 — the last in nine October PAs, followed by a terrific Division Series in which he nearly matched Carlos Beltran. But it’s not like even that is predictable. May and June, his worst months in 2004, were his best in 2003, and he was awful in the playoffs. I don’t get it, I don’t think anyone else does, and if we could get him to hit his best all the time he’d probably win an MVP award or two.

  23. Year-to-year, yes, he is very consistent. But my exposure to the player comes as a day-to-day fan, and up to this point he has been one of the streakiest hot/cold players I’ve ever watched.

    Like you said, if he could stay hot all the time, he’d win MVP awards. I’m rooting for him all the way. It would probably take 3 MVPs as a Brave from Andruw for him to surpass Murph in my book. I’d love to see it, but until then, my vote stays with Murphy.

  24. Mac, thanks for the overview on Berger. I tended to undervalue him because of the era in which he played, but I didn’t really know about his park.

    FWIW, here’s the park adjusted OPS+ for these guys just for their Braves years:

    Hamilton: 131 in 3200+ PA
    Berger: 141 in 4500+ PA
    Murphy: 124 in almost 8100 PA
    Andruw: 114 in almost over 5000 PA

    Andruw’s does not include this year; it’ll obviously be higher, but I don’t think he’s yet into the neighborhood of these other guys strictly in terms of hitting. His defense might make it up, but as Mac points out, Dale Murphy was no slouch defensively, plus his stats have a lot more longevity behind them. Overall, my gut feel is that I’m reluctant to go with Andruw when he’s only just starting to peak. Show me a few sustained years at this peak and he’ll own #1 easily.

    Murphy was my gut feel when I started thinking about this. Based solely on their Braves years, I’d likely peg Murph ahead of Hamilton. I want to think Hamilton wasn’t that great defensively in CF (especially since he was in LF for most of his years at the start of his career, though that was playing alongside Ed Delahanty). Hamilton was a basestealing machine, though, which shouldn’t be ignored; but ultimately Hamilton’s Braves years came after his peak (148 OPS+ prior to his Braves years), and his Braves years weren’t as great as the rest of his career.

    I honestly have no idea about berger’s defense. he certainly had a great peak with the Braves. However, he played only 8 years with the Braves, vs. 15 seasons for Murph (including partial seasons), so Murph’s include some post-peak years. What if we take the best 8 year stretch of Murph’s Braves career? From 1980 to 1987 (coincidentally, the same age range of 24 to 31 as Berger’s Braves years), Murph had an adjusted OPS+ of 140, almost exactly the same as Berger’s 141, albeit in 700 more PA (courtesy of longer seasons, and almost never missing a game – 4 straight seasons of 162 games played from 1982 to 1985). Outside that 8 year span, though, Murph was pretty mediocre, with a 95 OPS+ in three full seasons and 4 partial seasons.

    I guess ultimately I go with Murphy, for having an 8 season peak that was as good as Berger’s, along with gold glove defense. It’s much closer than I thought, though, so thanks Mac, for giving me an interesting thought exercise.

  25. let me take up for myself. when i said consistent, i did not mean that it was consistent WITHIN the year(because we all know that is not true), but from year to year his offense has been consistent. he generally puts up close to the same numbers every year.

  26. it’s sad to see that mvp’s are almost always just offensive mvp’s, because andruw would be THE frontrunner for mvp this year IF it factored in his defensive influence. and for that being said, he would be a frontrunner almost every year (maybe taht takes it a little too far). i remember bobby cox saying that andruw saves the braves about a run per ballgame with his defense. add all those runs to his rbi’s and that would be some kind of an mvp.

  27. how many year’s was murph strictly a centerfielder? i think that would weigh in on the voting as well.

  28. I can see you making a case for Andruw as second (in my opinion it’s a close race between him and Hamilton for second-best), but to put him up top is a mistake.
    On First Looking Into Andruw’s Stats they look about the same as Murph’s. Good power, .265-.275 average, with respectable speed. The thing is that Murph’s career numbers already include his decline, while Andruw has yet to enter his fall (and hopefully won’t for a long time).
    Andruw’s second best high in average is .277. From 80-87 Murph only had two years lower than that.
    Furthermore, compare their eras, Murphy led the league in homers with 36 and 37 hr’s. Andruw has only finished in the top ten twice (9th & 10th). I sayin’ Murphy was consistently among the league leaders in many categories. Andruw puts up good numbers, but can’t say same.
    I think people are giving Andruw too many points for his D. I mean, his D is great, maybe the best ever, but Murphy’s was pretty good too. Dale wone five straight Gold Gloves which is well more than respectable.
    Look, as far as I’m concerned Dale Murphy is maybe the greatest player ever and no facts will ever change that for me, but for those of you who do rely upon reality, there’s still a clear case to be made for Murph here.

  29. The two dominant offensive players of 80-87 were Mike Schmidt and Dale Murphy. I don’t think outside of this year I could say Andruw was one of the top two offensive players in the NL. Murph was 1, 2 or 3 in HRs in 5 of those years. First or second in OPS 4 times and won 5 gold gloves. And 2 MVPs.

    That is some kind of peak. Not to mention he was one of baseball’s class acts in an era of widespread scandal over recreational drug use. (pirates being the most egregious example)

    Andruw will probably over take him in the next couple of years, but don’t let the fading murph of 89-90 be the one you remember and cast your vote based on. He was a tremendous player.

  30. Ha, got my connection working… James gives Berger an A- rating in Win Shares. Since Bill McKechnie was his manager with Boston, I’m sure he was perceived as a good defensive player.

    In the New Historical Abstract, Murphy is rated 11th all-time in CF, Berger 12th. Both would be largely rated on what they did with the Braves, but Berger had one good part-year with the Giants and one okay year with them and the Reds, while Murph was pretty much useless with the Phillies.

  31. Colin’s mention of Murphy’s durability reminds me of one spectacular similarity between Andruw and Murph… they rarely EVER miss a game.

    This makes me think of Francoeur, who says that the players he enjoyed watching most as a boy were Murphy and Ripken, the guys who were always in the lineup, day in and day out. I hope he internalized their durability!

  32. I voted for Hamilton. Certainly the greatest leadoff man the Braves have ever had. The PAs listed by Colin need to be taken with a grain of salt due to the length of seasons, moving Hamilton’s career length more in line with Berger & Andruw. Also, OPS+ basically weights OBA and SLG the same which unfairly penalizes Hamilton who was a OBA monster.

    I toyed with the idea of taking Murp because of his length of tenure, combined with about 5 monster seasons. But he threw in some crappers of years here and there and the beginning and end. Great player, apparently great person, but missed my #1 by just a hair.

    Berger was third on my ballot. Not much more to say about him than Mac eloquently said. One nitpick. Mac said “…if he’d come up at 22 rather than getting buried by the Cubs in the PCL …” Back then, the Pacific Coast League was not a dependent league; the Cubs couldn’t just “call him up.” His contract was owned by a team that saw itself as about 95% as good as the majors and was trying to win, not trying to develop prospects for the big leagues.

  33. Interesting points, Bamadan. I didn’t want to overcredit Hamilton with too much value on his OBP simply because the game in his years was apparently much more conducive to on-base.

    Getting more approximate here: As I look at their numbers closer, I see that for his 6 Braves years, Hamilton posted an OBP 25% higher than league average. For Murph’s 6 best Braves years he came in at 13% above league average on OBP. On SLG, Hamilton was 5% above league average for his 6 Braves years, and for his 6 year peak Murph was 32% above league average. (FWIW, the two had pretty similar park factors over these spans, though the numbers I’m using are the park-adjusted numbers from BR)

    So I guess it depends on how much value you place on OBP vs. SLG, but overall it looks like Hamilton has 13% more OBP relative to league than Murph, while Murph has 27% more SLG relative to league than Hamilton.

    I’m aware of the differences in season lengths for Hamilton also, but I also don’t think crediting Hamilton with more time would put him too much in line with the others, given that he still only played 6 seasons for the franchise. I think the on-base nature of the 1890s game gave him an ample number of PAs relative to his playing time – for instance, he managed 641 PA in only 131 games in 1897 – 8 more than Murph had in 156 games in 1980! So I think the era adjustment would be smaller than one might expect once you offset fewer games with more PA/game.

    What it keeps coming down to for me, I guess, is that Murph matches up pretty closely with Hamilton and Berger on offense; however, he also likely had better defense than I’ve heard reputed for either of them. The years outside of peak for Murph don’t terribly add to his case vs. Berger. For the years outside of the 6 year span vs. Hamilton, Murph posted a 103 OPS+ for the Braves, which probably doesn’t add much either.

    It continues to be a close position, but I think overall we need to be keenly aware of the eras here, because otherwise Hamilton’s numbers can seem truly mind-boggling. Hamilton played in an era of inflated OBPs, Murphy played in an era that was neutral at best, and perhaps even pitcher friendly in retrospect. Over Murph’s peak years the average runs/game in the NL was 4.17; over Hamilton’s years with the Braves, the runs/game in the NL averaged 5.23 – a number we haven’t even come close to in the NL in the steroid era (I think the highest runs/game of the last decade in the NL was 5.00).

    I’d likely go with Hamilton on career value, but I think in comparing his 6 years swith ATL with the best 6 year span Murph had to offer, I’d still give a slight nod to Murphy.

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