What is the best jersey number in Atlanta sports history?
That simple question led me on a journey through time to find the answer. Icons can come packaged in every feasible way. Whether it be in a crisp clean single digit like No. 7 (Michael Vick), a classic like No. 21 (Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins) or a relatively unassuming numeral like 31 (Greg Maddux), each of these numbers means something in Atlanta sports lore.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be unveiling my findings five jersey numbers at a time. I looked at each of the major sports franchises in the city’s history, from the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dream, United, Thrashers and Flames, all in order to catalogue the definitive list of jersey numbers and whose worn them.
Before we get to the list, a few rules: A player had to play multiple seasons in Atlanta to be considered. I did not include any player who played for a franchise while it was located in another city, they had to have played in Atlanta.
To determine value and talent, I used a value-related stat for each sport such as Wins Above Replacement (baseball) or Point Share (hockey). Sometimes, I will make a subjective call. You may disagree, but that’s the fun of all of this, right? So, feel free to debate in the comments and let’s have a fun walk down memory lane. Let’s go!
Jersey No. 1
Best player: Braves SS Rafael Furcal (2000-05)
Honorable mentions: United GK Brad Guzan (2017-present), Braves 2B Martin Prado (2006-12), Dream C Elizabeth Williams (2016-present), Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (2017-21)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 1: 50
Summary: The jersey number most often associated with first-round draft picks hasn’t actually been a huge boon for Atlanta sports. Atlanta’s best No. 1 jersey belongs to Rafael Furcal, who accounted for 21.9 wins above replacement for the Braves during his six-year run with the club. The shortstop won Rookie of the Year in 2000 for his outstanding play, and Furcal was named an All-Star in 2003.
While with the Braves, Furcal batted .284 with 57 home runs and 292 RBIs. Furcal isn’t the only notable Brave to wear No. 1, as former utility ace Martin Prado sported the jersey and second baseman Ozzie Albies is currently rocking that number. A small shoutout must also be given to United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who could easily own this title in a few short years, as well as Dream center Elizabeth Williams.
Jersey No. 2
Best player: Falcons QB Matt Ryan (2008-present)
Honorable mentions: Hawks SG Joe Johnson (2005-12)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 2: 54
Summary: It’s going to be hard for anyone to knock Matt Ryan off this spot, and he’s in the mix for enshrinement on Atlanta sports Mount Rushmore. The potential Hall of Famer is the lone MVP in Falcons history and already owns every major record at the most important position in football for Atlanta.
But you don’t need me to tell you how good Ryan is. Instead, I’ll offer this declaration: The 2021 season could be the bellwether for Ryan’s eventual run at the Hall of Fame and his future with this organization. If he and Arthur Smith click, the sky is the limit.
Another shoutout goes to Iso Joe, himself. If not for Ryan, Joe Johnson would be the clear pick here. A six-time All-Star with the Hawks, Johnson never led Atlanta to prosperity, but he was a star for an organization that hasn’t had too many.
Jersey No. 3
Best player: Braves OF Dale Murphy (1976-90)
Honorable mentions: Falcons K Matt Bryant (2009-19), Flames D Pat Quinn (1972-77), United DF Michael Parkhurst (2017-19), Hawks SG Kevin Huerter (2018-present)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 3: 41
Summary: This is both the most competitive number yet and not a tough decision at all. Dale Murphy, the two-time MVP during his 15-year run with the Braves, was an easy choice. A seven-time All-Star, Murphy played every single game for the Braves during a four-year stretch and ended his time in Atlanta batting .268 with 371 home runs and 1,143 RBIs. Murphy is one of the icons of one of the most iconic baseball franchises and the forefather of players like Chipper Jones and Freddie Freeman; he’s also the only member of the Atlanta Braves to wear No. 3, as it was retired from the rotation.
It’s impossible not to mention “Money” Matt Bryant here, one of the most clutch players in franchise history and one of my favorite players I ever covered. Atlanta Flames defenseman Pat Quinn is also someone who was a staple and a terrific player in the ‘70s, and United defender Michael Parkhurst played a big role in the team’s championship run. Following his massive Game 7 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers, Kevin “Red Velvet” Huerter is now on the short list of all-time No. 3s. This is a good jersey number for the city.
Jersey No. 4
Best player: Braves SS Jeff Blauser (1987-97)
Honorable mentions: Hawks PF Paul Millsap (2013-17), Falcons K Jay Feely (2001-04), Hawks PG Spud Webb (1985-91, 1995), Braves IF Omar Infante (2008-10)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 4: 51
Summary: This is another number that’s not super strong in Atlanta sports history (thanks, Brett Favre). The most notable among the No. 4s is Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser. A mainstay during the Braves’ glory years, Blauser was a two-time All-Star who batted .268 with 109 home runs and 461 RBIs during his 11-year run in Atlanta. Blauser played a number of positions but was primarily a third baseman for Atlanta.
A strong case can be made for Paul Millsap, and had he spent more time with the Hawks, he likely would have been the choice here. Nevertheless, we owe Millsap a debt of gratitude for the role he played on the 2014-15 Hawks team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Jersey No. 5
Best player: Braves 1B Freddie Freeman (2010-present)
Honorable mentions: Falcons K Morten Andersen (1995-2000, 2006-07), Braves OF Ron Gant (1987-93), Braves IF Bob Horner (1978-86), Hawks PF Josh Smith (2004-13), Falcons P Matt Bosher (2011-16), United DF Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (2017-19)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 5: 53
Summary: This might get some people upset with me, but I’ve chosen Freddie Freeman over Morten Andersen simply because of the time spent in Atlanta. Freeman has been with the Braves for 12 seasons and earned an MVP award, which gives him the nod over the NFL Hall of Famer. It’s likely Freeman ends up enshrined in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done, so that is also worth noting. Like Chipper Jones before him, Freeman has been the face of multiple successful iterations of the Braves, and he is as consistent as they come.
The Braves have actually had several awesome No. 5s, including Ron Gant and Bob Horner, but Freeman is in a class of his own. Still, “The Kick” is hard to overlook and Andersen is an icon in Atlanta sports history. I’d vote to give them co-honors for this number, but, hey, I don’t make the rules.
Up next: Nos. 6-10.
Who is the best player to wear a number 1-5?
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