Baseball has its stars, but baseball also has its great duos of players. It seems many good teams have a pair of position players who can define an era.
The Braves have had great duos in the 51 years the franchise has been in Atlanta. The first was Hank Aaron and Rico Carty, who played together from 1966 through 1972. Carty missed two of those seasons with injuries, but he was a very consistent bat to complement the greatest home run hitter of all-time.
Joe Torre, Ralph Garr and Darrell Evans also joined Aaron in the first decade of Atlanta Braves baseball.
It wasn’t until the 1978 season that Atlanta got another great duo. Dale Murphy was a struggling catcher the same spring the Braves took third baseman Bob Horner with the first pick of the June draft. Horner skipped the minor leagues and immediately went to Atlanta.
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Murphy and Horner, Horner and Murphy, were the faces of “America’s Team.” Yes, that’s what the Braves were called back in the 1980s. The games were beamed all over the country on TBS, and Murphy and Horner became household names.
Murphy and Horner were the first real stars of the Atlanta Braves. No offense to Aaron, but he did play 12 years with the Milwaukee Braves. Murphy and Horner were young players who were adored, as they couldn’t go anywhere in this state without being mobbed by fans.
Murphy and Horner were together for nine seasons. Then in 1990, the Ron Gant-David Justice era started. Justice actually replaced Murphy, while Gant had come up a few years earlier.
Gant and Justice were together when the Braves became special, in the early 1990s. They would have been together for more than four years if Gant had not gotten injured on a motorbike in 1994, which ended his career in Atlanta.
Then in 1997, the Jones boys took over the Braves. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones became the faces of the franchise as the century turned. They were together for 11 full seasons. We know Chipper will end up in Cooperstown, and don’t be shocked one day if Andruw joins him.
When the “Baby Braves” burst onto the scene in 2005, they were led by Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, two Atlanta players who quickly became fan favorites. They were best friends, and for five seasons, they were in the middle of the Braves’ lineup.
Two more good friends took over in 2011, when Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman became the core of the Braves. They were together for four seasons before Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals 19 months ago.
The Braves are now searching for their next big duo. Freeman is still around, but he’s the only star. Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are expected to be up soon, and they could man the middle infield for years to come. But will they fall in line with the others as stars, or will they be complementary players?
Pitching has been the focus of the rebuilding, and that’s the best way to go. But now the Braves must find their next duo of position players. Perhaps it’s someone to join Freeman, and maybe Swanson is that player. Swanson is also an Atlanta product, and when he takes the field at SunTrust Park in April, he’ll be only a few miles from where he grew up.
The Braves need to get that next special group of position players who can be in the middle of the lineup into the 2020s. There are good players on the way, including Austin Riley, Dustin Peterson, Albies and Swanson. But more are needed.
It seems the best way to get those special players is to take ace pitcher Julio Teheran and trade him. Teheran can probably fetch two great position player prospects in return, and that would greatly help Atlanta’s rebuilding process.
Whether they sign free agents, make trades or get prospects to develop, the Braves need that next duo of stars. It could define the team into the next decade.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” — 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.