A who’s who of Atlanta Braves Opening Day history
Opening Day brings with it the renewed optimism of a brand new season. All 30 clubs get a blank slate and embark a journey they hope will lead them to October baseball.
The Atlanta Braves opened their 53rd season since relocating from Milwaukee prior to 1966. That means they’ve trotted out 53 Opening Day lineups, with a host of names rotating on an annual basis.
Some of these men are synonymous with Braves baseball. Others require a much sharper mind to recall their time in Atlanta.
Catcher (27 different players)
Despite having two of the best catchers in franchise history play for Atlanta, the Braves have still seen some serious turnover behind the plate as well. In fact, six different men have started at catcher on Opening Day in the last six years alone. Tyler Flowers kept it from being seven is as many years, but his injury forced Kurt Suzuki into action in the second inning.
Inaugural season: In 1966, Joe Torre became the first man to crouch behind the plate for the Atlanta club. He went on to a great career as a player and even more success as a Hall of Fame Manager.
Most OD starts at catcher: Javy Lopez (7) Brian McCann (7) Joe Torre (4) Biff Pocoroba (4) Bruce Benedict (4)
Did you know: Dale Murphy was Atlanta’s Opening Day catcher in 1979. That’s the same year he’d transition out from behind the plate permanently at the behest of Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox.
1st Base (28 different players)
Freddie Freeman made his eighth consecutive Opening Day start for Atlanta, the most in franchise history at the position. Prior to that, Atlanta had 11 different 1B in a 12-year span from 1999-2010.
Inaugural season: Lee Thomas was a former All-Star slugger with the Boston Red Sox, but his stay in Atlanta was brief. It lasted just 39 games before he was traded away. Thomas went on to a successful second career as a front office executive and was the general manager of the 1993 Phillies team which beat a 104-win Atlanta team in the NCLS that season.
Most OD starts at first base: Freddie Freeman (8), Chris Chambliss (5), Fred McGriff (4), Orlando Cepeda (4)
Did you know: Dale Murphy was Atlanta’s Opening Day first baseman in 1978. Though he was still primarily a catcher, the Braves were looking for ways to get his bat in the lineup. Throw in all three outfield spots and Murphy started at five different positions in his career on Opening Day for the Braves.
2nd Base (23 different players)
Glenn Hubbard is the standard bearer for Opening Day at the keystone position in Atlanta. He started seven straight from 1981-1987 and eight overall. Ozzie Albies, who just turned 21 years old in January, just became the 23rd different second baseman to start a season opener for Atlanta and the youngest ever to do so.
Inaugural season: Frank Bolling was the first second baseman in Atlanta history. The two-time All-Star and 1958 Gold Glove Award winner retired after that 1966 season.
Most OD starts at second base: Hubbard (8), Lemke (5), Giles (5), Millan (5), Uggla (4)
Did you know: Davey Johnson went on to a long managerial career, but in 1973 he was Atlanta’s Opening Day second basemen and went on to sock 43 home runs, a franchise record for the position. He was one of three Braves teammates to eclipse 40 home runs that season. Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans were the others.
3rd Base (20 different players)
When it comes to the hot corner, no man in Atlanta history started more games at the position than the Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. He got the Opening Day call a dozen times and would have been far more had he not missed the first few games in 1996 and later moved to left field for a three-year stretch from 2002-2004. That contuity helped make third base one of the positions with the least amount of turnover. Ryan Flaherty joined the Opening Day club in 2018.
Inaugural season: Eddie Mathews became the only man in team history to play for Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. This was his final season with the Braves. He holds the franchise record for Opening Day starts at third base, appearing there for 15 consecutive seasons from 1952-1966.
Most OD starts at third base: Chipper Jones (12), Bob Horner (7), Clete Boyer (5), Terry Pendleton (4)
Did you know: Third base belonged to Ron Gant on Opening Day in 1989. It was a position he’d never played in the minors and only done so sparingly during his rookie season the year prior. It did not go particularly well for Gant at the hot corner. He was demoted to A-ball at midseason in order to learn to play the outfield. That move paid off. He went on to become an All-Star outfielder and two-time member of the 30 home run, 30 stolen base club.
Shortstop (22 different players)
The Braves have enjoyed pretty regular play their Opening Day shortstops, despite some turnover in recent years. Dansby Swanson is hoping to cement his status at the position after making his second consecutive season-opening start there.
Inaugural season: Denis Menke was Atlanta’s first Opening Day shortstop. A versatile infielder who enjoyed a 13-year career, Menke spent just two years in Atlanta before being traded to the Astros in 1967. In Houston, Menke moved to second base and filled in for an injured Joe Morgan in 1968. He moved back to back to shortstop, becoming a two-time All-Star for the Astros. He and Morgan were then traded to the Reds prior to the 1972 season as the Big Red Machine was being assembled in Cincinnati.
Most OD starts in shortstop: Rafael Ramirez (6), Jeff Blauser (6), Rafael Furcal (5)
Did you know: Certainly not the biggest name, but one of the more popular men to earn an Opening Day start at shortstop was the light-hitting Rafael Belliard. He came over from the Pirates and earned the season-opening starts in 1991 and 1992. Sliding into a reserve role for the six seasons that followed, Belliard broke a decade-long home run drought with a two-run shot off Brian Bohanon of the Mets on September 26, 1997.
Left Field (35 different players)
If there is any one position that has become a revolving door in recent years, left field may be the place. While the trend won’t end this season, it could find an everyday guy filling the void sooner than later. Top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. won’t be the guy to take over on Opening Day, but his arrival is nigh. Preston Tucker got the nod on Opening Day 2018.
Inaugural season: Rico Carty was one of the team’s first dynamic Latin American ballplayers. Though injuries kept him from potential Hall of Fame caliber career, Carty made the most of what playing time he got. He won the National League batting title in 1970 and set the Atlanta record with a 31-game hitting streak, later surpassed by Dan Uggla in 2011.
Most OD starts in left field: Ryan Klesko (4), Ralph Garr (4), Dale Murphy (3), Chipper Jones (3)
Did you know: When the Braves won those 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, they employed nine different Opening Day left fielders, and that’s with Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones making seven of those starts. Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders got the title streak started in the worst-to-first year of 1991.
Center Field (26 different players)
The Braves sent Ender Inciarte into the middle pasture again to open 2018. He patrols it well. A two-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, Inciarte has carved out a spot at the top of the order as well. Last year, he became the first Braves player since Marquis Grissom in 1996 to record a 200-hit season.
Inaugural season: Felipe Alou came to Atlanta and immediately enjoyed the best season of his career in 1966. He batted .327, led the NL with 218 hits and belted a career-high 31 home runs. A three-time All-Star, Alou went on a to a lengthy managerial career after his playing days were done.
Most OD starts in center field: Andruw Jones (10), Dale Murphy (5)
Did you know: No one held down center field better and for longer than Andruw Jones. He took over full-time in 1998, following the departure of one-year rental Kenny Lofton. Over the next decade, Jones won 10 consecutive gold glove awards and established himself as one of the best defensive players in baseball history.
Right Field (19 different players)
The veteran Nick Markakis made his fourth straight Opening Day start in right field for the Braves. He follows a long line of notable right fielders. MVP’s, a Rookie of the Year, Gold Glovers, Silver Sluggers and even Hall of Fame players have suited up at the position for Atlanta. He celebrated the occasion by belting a game-winning three-run homer against Philadelphia, the first walk-off home run of his 13-year career.
Inaugural season: Who better to christen right field and the new ballpark in general than the future home run king, Hank Aaron. He arrived in Atlanta and tied his career-high with 44 home runs in that 1966 season.
Most OD starts in right field: Hank Aaron (8), David Justice (6), Jason Heyward (5), Claudell Washington (5)
Did you know: Hank Aaron also holds the franchise record for most starts at the position, totaling 16 dating back to the Milwaukee days. He made eight consecutive Opening Day starts in right field before sliding over to left, where he was playing when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in April of 1974.
Starting pitcher (19 different players)
Julio Teheran is joined elite company in the franchise’s history as he made his fifth consecutive Opening Day start. He became one of just four pitchers to start at least five season openers and the first in Atlanta history to do so five straight years.
Inaugural season: Tony Cloninger was on the mound when the Braves opened their time in Atlanta. It was April 12, 1966 and Cloninger pitched a 13-inning complete game and struck out 12 batters, but lost to the Pirates by a 3-2 score in the first game in Atlanta history.
Most OD starts: Greg Maddux (8), Phil Niekro (8), Rick Mahler (5), Julio Teheran (4), John Smoltz (4)
Did you know: That franchise history Teheran just made dates all the way back to Milwaukee and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. The lefty made six consecutive opening day starts from 1957-1962. Spahn still holds the franchise record of 10 season opening starting assignments.