LEFT BEHIND: THE 18 GREATEST ATLANTA BRAVES NOT ON MAC’S LIST

Bledsoe taking his turn…

It has been my pleasure to have been proving Mac wrong for over a decade. I claim long acquaintance. Mac and I first met in a Compuserve baseball forum probably in the mid 90s, back when the internet was a wild and woolly place. Mac pretty much ruled the roost, as his encyclopedic knowledge and sabermetric approach quickly made him the go-to guy to resolve disputes, etc. We were the two resident Braves fan, and thus defeated all comers.

I left the Compuserve forum when one of the participants accused another forum member of bestiality. Like I said. So I was delighted to find Mac setting up his own blog devoted solely to America’s Team. And have continued to be delighted. My children too. (My son thinks Mac is hysterical. He’s 10.)

The 44 Greatest Braves is one of those great back of the envelope, bar argument things that I’ve been playing around with for years. I am pleased that Mac has started the ball rolling with his usual bang-up analysis.

But, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Mac is wrong again. He’s left off some real contributors to Braves teams, while paying homage to some high-priced rentals who did little to nothing for us. So, once again, it’s time for a little woodshedding.

So, without further ado, I present Left Behind: the 28 Greatest Atlanta Braves Not on Mac’s 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves:

A NOTE ON QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE LEFT BEHIND 28

1. Criteria: I’ve accepted all Mac’s criteria regarding eligible candidates, length of Braves’ service, etc. except as noted below.

2. Career v. Peak: In general Hall of Fame type arguments, I tend to be a peak value guy, not a career value guy: I will take the superstar with an shortened career over the good player who just hung around. Dale Murphy, the scariest hitter in the league for 7-8 years, 5 gold gloves, 2 MVPS back to back (still unprecedented, I believe, for a player who didn’t buy his HRs from BALCO) clearly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Harold Baines, a very good but never great player for 18-20 years, doesn’t. Thus, not a big fan of the “counting” stats.
Here’s it’s a little different. We’re talking about the contributions of these players to the franchise. So I’ve taken a little different approach and tried to evaluate their careers as a Brave overall. A shorthand version would be to evaluate them based on their Career Win Shares earned as a Brave only.

3. Good Team vs. Bad Team: Mac has admitted a bias to guys that were on playoff teams. I agree: if you are playing on a good team, you are contributing to it being a good team. Thus, guys who were integral cogs of good teams get promoted at the expense of guys who were statistically better players for bad teams.

4. Braves vs. Non-Braves: One of my minor beefs (beeves?) with Mac’s list is that there appears to be a bias, conscious or unconscious, toward players who had 3-4 decent but not great years in a Braves uniform but have very good career stats, mostly acquired elsewhere. But we’re not talking about the best players ever to wear the Tomahawk. We’re talking about what the players did WHILE they were wearing the Tomahawk. Thus, I’ve assumed for my list that each player’s first year with the Braves (Milwaukee or Atlanta) was their rookie year, and that the day after they left the club, they were each hit by a MARTA bus. Thus, don’t care about Jeff Burroughs’ MVP or Sarge’s years with the Cubs. They never happened. (What is this American League of which you speak?) Only their Braves stats are considered. Lonnie Smith? Buh-bye.

5. Sabermetrics vs. Anecdotal: Mac is a diehard disciple of Bill James. I am interested in sabermetrics and find them very useful. However, Mac, the true scientist, tends to follow the sabermetric analysis, wherever it leads. I will quickly throw them out when they lead to absurd results. My list therefore by nature will be much more anecdotal and arbitrary than Mac, even though Mac also admits he picks guys he likes over guys he doesn’t. Hey, it’s his list. This is mine. I’ve been a Braves fan since 1967. I’ve seen all these guys play.

6. My list will be served up, non-suspensefully, in descending order. It’s easier for me to rattle off the obvious oversights than figure out who is No. 72.

Leading off for your Left Behind 28, is Cletis Leroy Boyer.

Clete Boyer.jpgClete Boyer
Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Third Baseman
Seasons with Braves: 1967-1971
Career Braves Stats: 1913 AB, .243/.304/.384, 66 HR, 251 RBI, 193 RS

In the Battling Boyer Brothers, Clete was the Dom DiMaggio, overshadowed by his older brother Ken, who was a mashing outfielder/3B for the Cardinals and Yankees. Ken apparently got most of the food in the house, bulking up to 200 pounds, while Clete always seemed somewhat frail by comparison. Another brother, Cloyd, had a cup of coffee as a pitcher with the Cardinals.

While he never equaled Ken with the bat, Clete was peerless with the glove. Brooks Robinson said that Clete was the best fielding third baseman he had ever seen. That may be Brooks being modest, but one thing was sure: Clete could flat-out pick it. Clete only won one Gold Glove in 1969, but probably would have won another in 1970 if he hadn’t got hurt. Before 1969, most went to Ron Santo, a nice guy/good glove but not in Clete’s class, and after 1969, most went to Doug Rader, ditto. Neither could throw the leather like Clete. Clete’s career FP of .965 is better than Rader’s (.957) or Santo’s (.954); Brooks is the only contemporary 3B I could find who had a better one (.971), and he’s the all-time leader. Mike Schmidt, whom some of you youngsters might consider the best to play the hot corner, managed only .961. Darrell Evans, Mac’s dream date, comes in at .946.

Clete would barehand anything if it would get a batter out. It was death to bunt on him; they never seemed to stop trying. He played third the way that Ozzie Smith played short. Heck, he was drafted to play short when the Braves needed him to. I won’t say Clete was better defensively than Brooks. I will say that they were peers.

Clete was less successful at the plate, but still had some pop. He batted mostly fifth, sometimes sixth behind Aaron and Torre, or Aaron and Carty, or Aaron and Cepeda. His best year was his first year in Atlanta in 1967, when he hit 26 homers and had 96 rbis. That seems to be an aberration, and he never reached anything like those numbers again. But to put this in pre-steroid perspective, when Clete hit 16 homers in 1970, that made him a masher. Clete’s 16 taters were good enough for fourth on the Braves (behind Hank, Cepeda, and Carty). He hit 14 homers in 1969. The totals of all NL starting third basemen were 29 (Santo), 37 (Perez), 14, 11, 14, 1, 3, 8, 12, 13, 2, and 18. Throw out Perez’s 37(a loaded team’s misplaced first baseman with an iron glove) and he’s tied for third in the league among true third basemen.

I am quite certain that if Mac had seen him play, Clete would have made the 44 with the Lemmer and Hubbard as guys who made it on the strength of what they did with the glove, and indeed would have ranked above them. Clete’s glovework was far beyond even those two guys.

But to take guys like Lonnie Smith and Burroughs over him, puh-leese.

Clete Boyer Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

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8 thoughts on “LEFT BEHIND: THE 18 GREATEST ATLANTA BRAVES NOT ON MAC’S LIST”

  1. Thanks AAR. To avoid tedium, I won’t try to reduplicate others’ post re players who make the Left Behind 28, but just refer to those posts. Thus, Otis Nixon’s entry by Sam will suffice, and I will just note that he’s in the group.

    One thing I omitted in Clete’s bio: Bill James ranks only one post WWII third baseman as an A+ defender. It’s Clete. Brooks is A-.

  2. I think that’s partially because Brooks played a lot longer than Clete, coming up at 18 and playing full-time until he was 38. He played nearly twice as many games at third base. On the other hand, Boyer’s range factors are really good, even better than Robinson’s, even if you discount the fringes of Robinson’s career.

  3. Anyway… My primary working document for the hitters on this project was simply a list of the 100 players who created the most runs for the Braves from 1966-2005, with their RC above average and PA noted to the side. Pretty much the hitters who are listed, as I noted in the Claudell Washington comment, are guys who played at least four seasons with a positive RCAA.

    There probably is a bias towards short-career players — players, in other words, whose time with the Braves lacks a decline phase. On the other hand, there simply aren’t very many players who piled up a lot of RC with the team while being below average. Rafael Ramirez and the three second basemen are the notable exceptions.

  4. As a long time Brave’s fan, (since the 50’s)I would agree with Bledsoe on this pick. A great defensive third baseman who contributed with the bat in a definite pitcher’s era.

  5. Agree wholeheartedly with bmac and Bledsoe on Clete, he was an outstanding player in a completely different era. Great post!!

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