As a tribute to Bobby Cox, this is the first of a nine-part series that will analyze the players who have been lucky enough to play for Bobby Cox as Atlanta Braves. At the end of each article, you will have the opportunity to vote and provide your opinion of who truly was the ultimate player at each position during the Bobby Cox era. At the end, we'll have constructed the ultimate lineup of Cox's Braves.
Of course, I must lay some ground rules in taking on this daunting task.
- We will only consider players that played during Cox's current run as Manager of the Atlanta Braves (June of 1990 - Present), not those that played under him during his first time around as the Braves Manager (1978 - 1981).
- For a player to be eligible, he must have been an everyday player for the Braves for at least two seasons. No rental players will be granted the honor of being part of the Ultimate Braves Lineup of the Cox Era.
- Readers will vote to make the determination of who wins the coveted roster spot. I will lay out my analysis and leave it up to you to decide the outcome.
- I reserve the right to add any more "ground rules" that may assist in the process.
With the rules out of the way, we will start at the nine spot: right field. By my tally, between 1990 and 2010, the Braves have had 10 everyday right fielders. Of those 10 players, the following meet the two year threshold and qualify for consideration of being Bobby Cox's Ultimate Right Fielder:
Soon after Bobby Cox took over as the Braves manager in 1990, the 80's Icon, Dale Murphy, was traded to the Phillies. I am sure that I was devastated at the time, as Murphy was not just my personal favorite player, but a product of the Braves organization and the face of the franchise. From an objective viewpoint, it was clearly the right move to make. Similar to today's Chipper Jones, Murphy's offensive production had dropped off dramatically from his All-Star days. This move allowed rookie David Justice, another internally developed prospect, to take over the starting right field job.
Mr. Justice took full advantage of his opportunity and ended his rookie season hitting .282/.373/.535, putting up 28 home runs, and knocking in 78 RBIs. Justice was voted Rookie of the Year in 1990 and baseball fans everywhere began collecting every David Justice rookie card they could get their hands on, knowing that one day the cards would be worth a fortune in Beckett Magazine. These investors are still waiting, as said cards are currently available in the $0.50 - $2.00 range via Ebay.
In 1991, Justice confirmed that his rookie season was not a fluke; he was the real deal. He hit .275/.377/.503, went yard 21 times, and drove in 87 runs, as he played an integral part in the Brave's amazing "Worst-to-First" season. Justice had a mediocre postseason offensively and was marred by miscommunication on the defensive side of the ball, but he still received the honor of playing against the Minnesota Twins in the "greatest World Series in history."
In 1992, Justice's numbers fell to .256/.359/.446, he again knocked 21 long-balls, and he drove in 72 runs. David had a solid NL Championship series, but struggled against the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series, hitting just .158/.360/.316 in the Braves' eventual loss. Perhaps his struggles related to all of the extracurricular activities he was involved with during the year. In 1992, Justice made his professional acting debut on The Young and the Restless and also married Catwoman.
In 1993, at the age of 27, David Justice was voted an All-Star for the first time in his career. He went on a rampage offensively, hitting .270/.357/.515, blasting 40 bombs, and knocking in 120 runners. Justice was also awarded his first Silver Slugger award in 1993. Despite Justice's career year, the Braves disappointingly fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Champtionship series. Justice's postseason struggles continued as he hit .143/.231/.190 in the series.
1994 was the year Atlanta apparently had a falling out with Suge Knight, 2Pac, and Dr. Dre, as the team moved from the National League West to the National League East. Justice did not let his new division rivals derail his focus as he hit .313/.427/.531, blasted 19 home runs and drove in 59 runs during the strike-shortened season.
1995 was the year David Justice became a hero to Braves fans. It did not matter that he was hindered by a nagging shoulder injury throughout the season and only able to hit .253/.365/.479, with 24 home runs and 78 runs batted in. It did not matter that he still generally struggled in postseason play. What mattered was the one home run Justice hit during the 1995 postseason. That one home run happened to be the series clinching home run in game six of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Justice's home run gave the Braves a 1-0 lead, and that would go on to be the final score as the Braves picked up their fourth win of the series and became World Series champions. Although DVRs had not yet caught on, we are lucky enough to have the video below of someone recording their TV when Justice's shining moment arrived. Parades were held, Justice waved and smiled, all was good. Justice also waved and smiled while he charged me $20 for an autograph that offseason.
David Justice Home Run 1995 World Series Game 6 (via mcerilli222)
David Justice Home Run 1995 World Series Game 6 (via mcerilli222)I'd prefer to pretend Justice's Braves career ended after 1995, at its pinnacle, but it did not. In 1996, Justice played in only 40 games, as he had a season (and Braves' career) ending shoulder injury in May... or was he just struggling from a broken heart as a result of his divorce from Halle Berry? Either way, Jermaine Dye went on to take over in right field for the rest of the season and Justice was traded along with Marquis Grissom to the Indians during the following Spring Training for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree.
David Justice came up through the Braves farm system, blasted 160 home runs over the course of six seasons, and was central to the Braves winning the 1995 World Series. He also was part of the "Worst-to-First" season and helped create a whole new generation of Braves fans. These are the reasons Justice was inducted into the Braves' Hall of Fame. On the downside, Justice was marred by injuries throughout his Braves career. As a result, he tallied 500-plus at bats in only one season during his tenure as a Brave. Also, other than his heroic home run in the 1995 World Series, Justice never performed particularly well during the postseason. He also never seemed to be fully appreciated by the fans. Perhaps he was resented for replacing a fan favorite like Dale Murphy, for marrying a movie star like Halle Berry, or for having a bit of an attitude with reporters and fans. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that David Justice is one of the all-time great Braves players.
Super Fun Fact: In 1994, Justice was named to People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" list.
Who? Oh, I mean, now on to Michael Tucker, the Braves' right fielder during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Tucker joined the Braves, just two days after David Justice was traded to the Indians. Michael Tucker became a part of the team through a deal that sent Jermaine Dye to the Kansas City Royals (probably not one of Schuerholz' top moves). At that point in time, Tucker was 26 years old and had played in the big leagues for a couple of seasons with the Royals.
1997 saw the opening of the Braves new home, Turner Field. On April 4, 1997, Michael Tucker helped open the stadium with a bang, as he cemented his place in Braves history by being the first person to hit a home run in Turner Field. Michael had close to career numbers offensively in 1997, as he hit .283/.347/.445, knocked 14 home runs, and drove in 56 runs. The Braves clinched the National League East, nine games ahead of the Marlins, only to go on to lose to those Marlins in the NL Championship series. Tucker was not able to offer much assistance in the postseason as he went 2 for 16 with a single in the Houston series and a home run against the Marlins.
In his second year with Atlanta, Tucker dropped to .244/.327/.418, 13 home runs, and 46 runs batted in. Despite his weak numbers, the Braves managed to beat out the Mets for the top position in the NL East by an astonishing 18 games. Tucker had a much better postseason in 1998, going 7 for 21 with a pair of home runs. If he had played at that level on a regular basis, maybe more people would remember him today. After the Braves ended the 1998 season by losing in the NL Championship series to the San Diego Padres, they went on to sign free agent Brian Jordan, signaling the end of the Michael Tucker…era.
Super Fun Fact: Mr. Tucker was last seen playing the 2009 season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.
Brian Jordan was an Atlanta area professional athlete at the beginning of the Bobby Cox era, playing as a safety for the Atlanta Falcons between 1989 and 1991. After giving up football to concentrate on baseball, Jordan played seven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals becoming a solid hitter with quickness on the base paths. In November of 1999, riding possibly the best season of his career into free agency, Jordan inked a three-year deal with the Braves worth approximately $21 million.
In his first season as a Brave, Jordan had an excellent first half hitting .295/.357/.507, knocking 17 home runs and driving in 71 runs. Brian was awarded for this performance with a trip to Fenway Park for the All-Star game, the first and only All-Star appearance of his career. Jordan slid a bit after the break and ended the season with 23 home runs, 115 runs batted in, while hitting .283/.346/.465. The Braves once again won the National League East and went on to plays the Houston Astros in the first round of the postseason.
Everyone jumped on the Brian Jordan bandwagon as he carried the Braves on his back through the Houston series. Brian hit .471/.474/.706 and drove in seven runs during the four game series, including a two-run game winning double in the 12th inning of the third game of the series. After Jordan and the Braves made it through the Astros, they faced off with the New York Mets in the NL Championship series. Jordan cooled off for this series, hitting .200/.310/.440, but still knocked out a couple home runs along the way to the Braves winning the series and heading to the World Series. Jordan became "cooler than a polar bear's toe nails" during the World Series, going one for thirteen. The Yankees swept the Braves and became champions of the world, once again.
Jordan fell off a bit in 2000, hitting .264/.320/.421, discharging 17 home runs, and driving in 77 runs. The Braves won the National League East by one game and went on to face Jordan's former team, the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division series. The Cardinals brought their brooms and swept the Braves in three games, marking the first time since 1990 that the Braves did not make it to the NL Championship series.
In 2001, Jordan returned to form, hitting .295/.334/.496, knocking 25 balls out of the park and driving in 97 runs. In the middle of a tight race with the Mets and Phillies for first place in the National League East, Jordan hit a grand slam home run off of John Franco in a come from behind win for the Braves. So, guess what? Mets fans don't like Brian. Jordan had a lackluster post-season, going 6 for 32 as the Braves lost to Arizona in the NL Championship series.
During the offseason, the Braves made a blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves sent Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez, and Andrew Brown to the Dodgers for Gary Sheffield. This trade was bittersweet, as bringing in one of the top offensive players in the game excited the Braves fanbase, but it was also disappointing having to see Brian Jordan go. Jordan had a solid run with the Braves and helped the team keep the Division Championship streak alive. Brian returned to the Braves to play in a backup role for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, compiling mediocre numbers.
Jordan seems to be a well-liked guy with a love for the city of Atlanta. Outside of baseball, Brian has been involved with developing real estate communities throughout Atlanta (that may or may not have gone bankrupt) and he established the Brian Jordan Foundation. Jordan also joined the Gwinnett Braves announce team in 2009 and has also done some commentating on Braves' spring training games. Jordan took some heat in the Atlanta media in April of 2010 for comments he made regarding the uncriticizable Chipper Jones. Jordan opined that he thought Chipper Jones was getting hurt so often in frequent seasons because he had not been working hard enough. Sadly, no doctors were available to sort out the cat fight. Oh, and the British apparently think he is the greatest musical mind you ever could know.
Super Fun Fact: Brian wrote a children's book titled I Told You I Can Play!
The blockbuster deal that brought Gary Sheffield to Atlanta rejuvenated Braves fans' excitement for the team. The move proved that the front office was still looking to field the best possible team. Sheff's Chefs, Sheffield's personal cheering section, was quickly established. Sheffield grew up like many of us, learning to hit a baseball being thrown by older family members. The only difference is that in Sheffield's case, the person pitching to him was his uncle, Dwight Gooden. Sheffield learned to hit Gooden's fastball and that set him up for a great career. By the time he became a Brave, Sheffield was a 33-year old perennial triple-crown threat with a supposed attitude problem.
Gary began his tenure in Atlanta by hitting a home run in each of the first three games of the 2002 season. He came out with a bang, but was quickly quieted, as he did not hit another home run for over a month and also recorded a 29 at-bat hitless streak during that time. Sheffield got back on track and at one point during the season, set a Braves record for reaching base 52 games in a row. Sheffield finished his first regular season as a Brave hitting .307/.404/.512, slamming 25 home runs, and driving in 84 runs. The Braves won the National League East and went on to face the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division series. Sheffield fell apart going 1 for 16. The Braves ended up losing the series to the Giants.
In 2003, Sheffield was playing for a contract. He knew he would be a free agent after the season and he played as if he was counting his future paychecks at each at bat. He hit a monstrous .330/.419/.604, blasted 39 home runs, and drove in a career high 132 runs. Heck, he even stole 18 bases! During 2003, Sheff made the All-Star team for the seventh time in his career, won a Silver Slugger award for the third time in his career, and came in third-place in MVP voting. Everything sounds fantastic, except one small problem… Sheffield once again fell apart in the postseason. The Braves won the National League East and faced the Cubs in the Division Championship series, where Sheffield went 2 for 14. With Sheffield once again not pulling his weight, the Braves were booted from the postseason without making it to the National League Championship series. Sheffield was a free agent after the season and seeking out the most money available, of course, became a New York Yankee.
Gary put up extremely impressive regular season numbers during the two seasons he spent in Atlanta, but fell apart in the postseason each year. Sheffield, throughout his career, has been seen as someone who is confrontational and has an attitude, but Bobby Cox claimed that "Gary, for two years, was pleasant. He's a manager's player. He was terrific. He came to play." Some of the criticism Sheffield receives comes from fans feeling that he only viewed baseball as a job, and that he didn't have a love for the game. That sounds about right for his time in Atlanta. Sheffield spent two years in Atlanta, putting up amazing offensive numbers and collecting large paychecks. Once his contract was up, Sheffield moved on to the deeper pockets of the Yankees.
Super Fun Fact: Gary Sheffield played in the 1980 Little League World Series.
On July 6, 2005, the future of the Braves arrived from the farm system to take over. In his first Major League game, Francouer knocked a ball out of the park and electrified Braves fans everywhere (don't all Braves rookies do that these days?). Atlanta met Jeff Francoeur, and Atlanta instantly fell in love. Francouer, a local boy who graduated Parkview High School, had made it to the big leagues and was in a position to take over Chipper Jones' role as the face of the Atlanta Braves. Like Gary Sheffield, Frenchy even had his own food-related cheering section, Francoeur's Franks.
Francoeur finished the 2005 season with 257 at-bats, hitting .300/.336/.549, with 14 home runs and 49 runs batted in. In addition, Francoeur used his gifted arm to pick up 13 outfield assists during his first half-season. Off to a great start, everyone overlooked the little things, such as the fact that it took Jeff until August 21, 2005 to obtain his first career walk. He was a rookie; of course he wasn't perfect! Meanwhile, Francoeur merchandise sold like a modern day vampire novel, catching on especially well with the ladies. The Braves went on to once again win the National League East, and were tasked with taking on the Houston Astros in the Division Championship series. The Braves were not up for the task and fell to the Astros in four games. Francoeur hit .235/.350/.412 in the only postseason appearance of his career.
Francoeur became an iron-man in 2006, playing in all 162 games of the regular season. He hit .260/.293/.449, with 29 home runs and 103 runs batted in. While his power numbers surged, Jeff showed he was a free swinger, compiling 123 strike outs and only 23 walks. The Braves streak of 14 straight Division titles ended in 2006, as the team posted a sub-.500 record and finished the season in third-place in the National League East.
Jeff once again played in all 162 of the Braves regular season games in 2007. He also adjusted his focus at the plate, backing away from swinging for the fences and focusing on contact. Francoeur hit .293/.398/.444, with 19 home runs and driving in, a career high, 105 runners. Jeff also led the league in outfield assists in 2007, with 19. This feat helped Frenchy earn his one and only Golden Glove award. The Braves returned to winning baseball in 2007, but still finished third in the National League East, thus, not making the postseason.
Prior to the 2008 season, the Braves attempted to negotiate a long-term deal with both Francoeur and fellow "Baby Brave" Brian McCann. McCann and the Braves worked out a 6-year deal worth $26.8 million, while the Braves could never come to an agreement with Francoeur and his agent. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Jeff began the 2008 season in typical fashion, but after the first month, he dramatically faltered offensively. When July came around and Francoeur was still struggling, the Braves sent him down to double-A for a few days to work with his old hitting coach and to try to find his swing. The minor league experiment did not work and Francoeur's downward spiral continued for the rest of the season. Jeff ended up hitting .239/.294/.359 on the year, with only 11 long-balls and 71 ribeyes.
Jeff spent the offseason working to reinvent his swing with Texas Rangers' hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo. Predictably, this rubbed the Braves' hitting coach, Terry Pendleton, the wrong way. With Francoeur still popular with the fans, and the Braves not having any other viable options, Jeff was given one more shot to turn his game around. Did he make the most of the opportunity and return to form? Well, you know the answer to that one. No, he certainly did not. He started the year well enough, with a batting average around .280 into early May, but soon thereafter it dropped and stayed closer to .250 until the Braves traded him to the New York Mets on July 10, 2009. The Braves' opinion of Francoeur as a ballplayer had dropped so much that they were not hesitant to trade him to a division rival. The Braves didn't even think about the impact this trade would have on the Francoeur filled closets of casual Braves fans!
Francoeur flew out of the gate as a Brave, raising all expectations of what he would mean and what he would become as part of this organization in the future. Then Jeff's offensive game fell apart, all the hoopla surrounding his potential came crashing down, and he ended up a freaking Met. Was it Jeff's fault that the Braves postseason streak ended soon after his arrival? Well no, I don't think so. But, he could make a capable scapegoat.
Super Fun Fact: Jeff has his own website and blog!!! I can't wait to find out how he is doing these days.
Well there we have it. These are our qualified contestants for the coveted title of Bobby Cox's Ultimate Right Fielder. It is a tough decision, but someone has to make it, so get your vote in (no, you cannot write-in Jason Heyward) and let the landslide begin.