Guerry Clegg commentary: Loss or not, Braves baseball is back

April 1, 2014 

Braves Brewers Baseball

Atlanta Braves, left, and Milwaukee Brewers players stand for the National Anthem at the start of an opening day baseball game Monday, March 31, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

JEFFREY PHELPS — AP

Opening day. There's no regular season event like it in all of professional sports.

The Braves just completed their 49th Opening Day since moving to Atlanta in 1966. So they lost. Not even a loss can take away from the fact that baseball is back. Thanks to a random memory, a bit of free time spent on baseball-reference.com and overactive curiosity, I've come up with some utterly meaningless but interesting observations about opening day facts since the Braves moved here from Milwaukee.

Their first starting lineup was C - Joe Torre, 1B - Lee Thomas, 2B Frank Bolling, 3B - Eddie Mathews, LF - Rico Carty, CF - Felipe Alou, RF - Hank Aaron, P - Tony Cloninger. Notice something interesting, other than the fact that there were three future Hall of Famers (Torre, Mathews and Aaron)? There were three future big league managers -- Torre, Mathews and Alou, plus a future general manager, Thomas, who was hired by the Phillies in 1988 to replace … Woody Woodward, the Braves' opening day second baseman in 1967.

Mathews started against the Braves the next opening day, playing first base for the Houston Astros. Sonny Jackson was in the Houston starting lineup. He started for the Braves in the '68 opener.

The '73 lineup also had three future managers -- Davey Johnson, Dusty Baker and Johnny Oates.

• Cloninger pitched 13 innings and struck out 12 in that first game -- and lost.

• The Arizona Diamonbacks are the only National League team the Braves have not faced.

• The Braves have faced five future Hall of Fame pitchers. Four are not surprising -- Bob Gibson, Juan Marachal, Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. The fifth? Tom Glavine with the Mets.

• Orlando Cepeda started against them in '68 and for them in '69.

• Hank Aaron hit only one opening day home run for Atlanta. That was number 714 for his career, tying Babe Ruth.

• With Evan Gattis replacing Gerald Laird at catcher, the Braves still have not started the same lineup in multiple years since 1982-83. C - Bruce Benedict, 1B - Chris Chambliss, 2B - Glenn Hubbard, 3B - Bob Horner, SS - Rafael Ramirez, LF - Dale Murphy, CF - Brett Butler, RF - Claudell Washington.

But they did have an entirely new lineup one season … with an asterisk. The 1990 lineup was completely new position-by-position. Jeff Blauser moved from second base to shortstop, and Dale Murphy from center field to right.

• The '76 team was the most changed. Five of the starters were playing their first game ever as a Brave -- shortstop Darrel Chaney, second baseman Lee Lacy, third baseman Jerry Royster, left fielder Jimmy Wynn, right fielder Tom Paciorek. All but Chaney came to the Braves from the Dodgers, who finished 92-70, while the Braves finished 70-92. Advantage: LA.

• I remembered that Rick Mahler won on opening day three straight years. I had forgotten that the score was 6-0 in all three games.

• Counting outfield as one position, only two players have started in three positions -- Murphy (catcher, first base, outfield) and Martin Prado (second base, third base, outfield).

• Only eight players drafted by the Braves in the first round ever started for them. Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Jason Heyward, Brad Komminsk, Bob Horner, Mike Kelly and Pat Rockett. That might seem like a lot but do the math -- nine positions times 49 seasons comes to 441 starting assignments, and only eight of the 49 first-round draft choices made an opening day starting lineup. None of them were pitchers.

• Freddie Freeman made his fourth consecutive start at first base. Before Freeman, the Braves had 11 different first basemen start over the previous 12 years. Whatever became of Rico Brogna?

• From 1990 through 2000, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or John Smoltz made every start. The string was broken by John Burkett. Bonus points if you remembered that Zane Smith was the last starter before that string. Before Smith, only one other lefty drew the starting assignment -- Denny Lemaster in 1967. That turned out to be the only year Lemaster made the All-Star team.

• They have faced 11 lefties, including two who previously pitched for them, Odalis Perez and Glavine, and one who would later pitch for them, Terry Mulholland. Derek Lowe, Bryn Smith, Pat Dobson, Shane Reynolds and Livan Hernandez are other opposing opening day starters who also pitched for the Braves.

So what does any of this have to do with 2014 Braves? Nothing. But sometimes, it's just fun to talk baseball.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can right to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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