A Braves Hall of Fame celebration

To put the Braves' star power in perspective, their pending surge of Hall representation matches or surpasses some of the most hallowed franchises in history. The Orioles have sent five representatives to Cooperstown (Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.) since their move from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954 -- or six if you count Frank Robinson, who entered the Hall in a Cincinnati Reds cap. The Dodgers also have produced six Hall of Famers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Walter Alston, Tommy Lasorda and Walter O'Malley) since their arrival in Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958.

Not that they dwell on such distinctions, but the Braves are finding some validation and love through the Hall of Fame electorate that they might have missed because all their first-place finishes produced only one World Series victory.

"I think it's nice because, the way the roll of the dice went in the postseason, we tend to forget how great those Braves teams were because they weren't winning a bunch of championships," said Craig Wright, a longtime baseball author, statistician and historian. "They really were a fabulous team, but you know how it can be in a short series. I really appreciate that we can recognize how great those stars were, and the longevity involved."

That sense of respect for the Braves was evident in the opposing dugout, as well as the press box and the stands.

"I know everybody likes to see the bottom line -- you know, 'How many World Series did you win?'" said Torre, who managed the Yankees past the Braves in the 1996 Series. "But getting in the position to be in the World Series is not easy. For them to compete every single year, change personnel every single year and still be there, I always admired that."

Building continuity

It would take more than the space allotted here -- even on the Internet -- to relive the memories that defined the great Atlanta teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. Their string of indelible moments included Francisco Cabrera's single and Sid Bream's slide against Pittsburgh in the 1992 National League Championship Series and McGriff's arrival the day the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium press box caught fire in 1993. Maddux won four straight NL Cy Young Awards, and Glavine dominated the final game against Cleveland in the 1995 World Series.

The images still linger of pitching coach Leo Mazzone rocking incessantly in the dugout, and Cox, cap askew and anguished look on his face, arguing with yet another umpire on his way to a record 159 career ejections. David Justice, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Ryan Klesko and Javier Lopez were among a slew of other players who made significant contributions.

To gain a true appreciation for what the Braves achieved, it's instructive to reflect upon the late 1980s, when the losing at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was almost as oppressive as the heat and humidity. In 1988, the Braves went 54-106 under managers Chuck Tanner and Russ Nixon. The following year, they posted a 63-97 record and hit rock bottom when coach Roy Majtyka and reliever Joe Boever lost a cow-milking contest to Cincinnati's Tom Browning and Joe Oliver during Farmer's Night at Riverfront Stadium.

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