Local

National Baseball Hall of Fame

trio transformed Atlanta Braves

For the better part of their early Atlanta history, the Braves were lovable losers. And sometimes they were not so lovable, they were laughable they were so bad.

In the mid-1980s, the Atlanta Braves came up with a plan to turn a loser into a winner.

Today, in Cooperstown, N.Y., nobody is laughing at the Braves. And that success story that includes a 1995 World Series championship, five National League pennants, 14 consecutive division titles and a host of individual honors.

Three key pieces of that puzzle will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame during a 1:30 p.m. ceremony. They are:

Bobby Cox was the general manager in the 1980s when the club began to draft, cultivate and stockpile talent in the farm system, and became the manager who put it all together on the field.

Left-handed pitcher Tom Glavine was one of the talented draft choices taken in 1984 and groomed in the minor leagues.

Right-handed pitcher Greg Maddux was a 1993 free-agent acquisition that paid huge dividends.

It is a proud moment for Cox and the entire organization, which chartered a plane to bring a healthy travel party to rural New York for the celebration.

Cox managed the Braves from 1978-'81, and returned in 1986 as the general manager.

"When I got there, we made a decision to develop a strong farm system," Cox said Saturday in Cooperstown. "All of our budget went into scouting, and there was little for the big club."

That was the first step to changing the Loserville image. But it did not happen immediately.

"We spent a lot of money on that plan," Cox said. "A plan can be a great plan and fail. Fortunately, our plan worked."

Boy, did it.

With players like Glavine coming off the farm, the Braves did something that had never been done in the history of the game. In 1990, Atlanta had the worst record in the major leagues. In 1991, the Braves went from worst to first, winning the National League West and the NL pennant. The fairy tale ending fell just short when the Braves lost to the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the World Series.

One of the key pieces of the plan was John Schuerholz. He came over from Kansas City in 1990 as general manager, and Cox moved from the front office back to the dugout.

"What Bobby started and John finished brought winning baseball to Atlanta and the Braves," said current General Manager Frank Wren. "They transformed this franchise."

Schuerholz is here this week, and he is as proud as the inductees.

"We brought a plane load of people to celebrate," Schuerholz said. "We would have liked to have brought more, but we have these games back in Atlanta to play. We need some people to take tickets and put people in their seats."

It is unprecedented for three central figures from the same team in the same era to go into the Hall of Fame together. And that is not lost on Glavine.

"I am not a historian and know some teammates gone into the Hall of Fame," Glavine said. "But not together, like this on the first ballot. I know this is a big deal. And from a personal level, to have the others here is pretty cool."

Glavine pointed to the division title run and stated the obvious.

"We were really good," he said. "And we were good for a long time, and we had good players."

One of those was Maddux. And Schuerholz said the 1993 signing of Maddux was confirmation that the plan was working. Maddux selected the Braves over the Yankees.

"He wanted to be a Brave," Schuerholz said. "He actually looked at what we were doing and saw the commitment to winning. He said I want to be a part of this."

Wren believes Atlanta will have more reunions in the Leatherstocking Region of upstate New York before this is done.

"This won't be the last time," Wren said.

John Smoltz, a pitcher acquired in a trade from Detroit in 1987, is eligible for selection to the Hall of Fame next year. He has a Cy Young award and is the only pitcher in the history of the game with more than 200 wins and 150 saves.

Chipper Jones, the top pick in the 1990 draft who played his entire 19-year career in an Atlanta uniform, is eligible in 2018. And Schuerholz could also earn selection for his role as architect of the turn around.

Cox said the question should not be if, but when will the three be tapped for Cooperstown.

"I expect it," Cox said. "I think both Johns -- John Smoltz and John Schuerholz -- will both get in. And I think Chipper is a lock. There is no doubt about that in my mind."

  Comments