For the first 20 years of the history of the Atlanta Braves the team was all about hitting. They played in a stadium nicknamed ‘The Launching Pad,’ since home runs flew out of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium like they were planes leaving Hartsfield Airport.
But in 1986 a new general manager took over the Braves. He believed the strategy of building the Braves around hitters to accompany the home stadium’s reputation was misguided. Pitching and defense, he believed, would be the key to turning a bad Braves franchise into a winning team.
That man was Bobby Cox, who ironically will enter the baseball Hall of Fame Sunday with two pitchers that defined the Braves teams he guided as the manager for a 10-year period – Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
It’s bizarre, really. For so many of those first 20 seasons the Braves were in Atlanta, the only real pitcher the team had was Phil Niekro. There were others that were decent, but only a few. Niekro was pretty much it, and those steady seasons helped him get into Cooperstown as well.
Now Niekro will be joined by two pitchers that helped make the Braves what they are today – a pitching-first organization. Glavine was really the first player brought up in the Cox as GM era that signified a changing of the guard. Another irony – Glavine made his big league debut exactly 41 days before Niekro returned to the Braves to make the final start of his illustrious career.
Glavine was not very good for his first few seasons. Then again, neither were the teams he was on. Glavine even went 7-17 in his first full year in the big leagues. But as the Braves improved in 1991, so did Glavine, winning his first Cy Young award in the Braves magical season.
Then Maddux joined Glavine in 1993, a year after he had won his own first Cy Young award with the Cubs. Maddux would win the award in his first three years with the Braves, as he became the best pitcher of our generation.
In their 10 years together with the Braves, Maddux and Glavine made history. They combined for 347 wins and only 160 losses. Along with their five Cy Young awards in an Atlanta uniform, they would finish in the top three six other times. And most importantly, the Braves won a World Series and three NL pennants with Glavine and Maddux leading the way. Of course, with the exception of the strike season in 1994, the Braves won their division every year the two aces were on the roster together.
We will probably never see another righty-lefty duo like this ever again, at least not on the same team. Historically, Glavine and Maddux compare to only four other duos.
Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax appeared in a Dodgers uniform together for 11 seasons (1956-1966). They had a combined record of 340-219. Jim Palmer and Dave McNally were 293-164 in 10 seasons with the Orioles from 1965 through 1974. Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana were together for seven seasons with the Angels and were 221-183. And finally, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, of the old Boston Braves, pitched together in 1942 and then again from 1946 through 1951. In those seven seasons, Spahn and Sain (and yes they did pray for rain after those two) were 212-163.
Even the next best Braves duos’ numbers pale in comparison to Maddux and Glavine’s 10-year stint together. John Smoltz and Steve Avery were rotation-mates for seven seasons between 1990 and 1996. They had a combined record of 172-134. And, unfortunately, the next best righty-lefty duo in Atlanta’s history was Rick Mahler and Zane Smith, who were a combined 100-130 in five seasons together between 1984 and 1989.
So, even though he’s going in for his work as a manager, let’s not forget to thank Cox for his philosophical switch as the GM back in the mid-1980s. Instead of trying to find someone to put with Dale Murphy in the lineup, Cox decided to go with pitching. He probably would have never thought he’d enter the Hall of Fame with two Braves pitchers, much less the best righty-lefty duo in baseball history.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
The Braves will retire Tom Glavine's number 47 this August…