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.
Jersey History series: Nos. 1-5
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 catalog 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. 6
Best player: Braves coach Bobby Cox (1978-81, 1986-2010)
Honorable mentions: Falcons P John James (1972-81), United MF Darlington Nagbe (2018-19)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 6: 39
Summary: This is not a strong number among former Atlanta athletes, but fortunately Braves manager Bobby Cox donned this aesthetically unappealing digit. Perhaps the greatest coach in Atlanta sports history, Cox’s legacy is legendary. During his first stint as manager, Cox made the notable move to put Dale Murphy into the outfield where he thrived. After being brought back to the club as a general manager, Cox brought in Tom Glavine, David Justice, John Smoltz, Ron Gant and Steve Avery. When he switched back to head coach in 1991, Cox oversaw the worst-to-first Braves that started the organization's run of World Series appearances. To put it simply, the Braves aren’t the dynasty they became without Cox.
Jersey No. 7
Best player: Falcons QB Michael Vick (2001-06)
Honorable mentions: United FW Josef Martinez (2017-present), Flames D Randy Manery (1972-77), Braves OF Jeff Francoeur (2005-09, 2016), Dream G Brittney Sykes (2017-19)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 7: 61
Summary: One of the most iconic players in Falcons history, Michael Vick set the league on fire during his time in Atlanta. Although it certainly didn’t end the way we all hoped it would, Vick’s impact on the game still remains. A three-time Pro Bowler, Vick became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in 2006 and was the focal point of the “DVD” offense with running backs Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett. It was impossible to attend any Falcons game in the early 2000s without seeing scores of No. 7 jerseys.
United forward Josef Martinez is actually making a real run at this spot, however. While it may be impossible for an MLS player to overtake an NFL quarterback in popularity, we shouldn’t discredit the attention Atlanta United has gotten both within the city and nationwide. Martinez has been the most dynamic player for the club and was named league MVP in 2018, a feat even Vick never accomplished. He’s truly a 1B in this category.
Jersey No. 8
Best player: Braves C Javy Lopez (1992-2003)
Honorable mentions: Falcons QB Matt Schaub (2004-06, 2016-20) Falcons QB Chris Redman (2007-11), Hawks SG Steve Smith (1994-99)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 8: 50
Summary: A three-time All-star and one of the key members of the Braves’ 1995 championship team, Javy Lopez was one of the best catchers of his era. During his 12 seasons in Atlanta, Lopez batted .287, hit 214 home runs and had 694 RBIs. While working with the holy trinity of Atlanta pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavin and John Smoltz), Lopez’s feel and command of the game made the Braves incredibly difficult to beat. His Atlanta legacy may have faded a bit since his time with the Braves came to an end, but Lopez was instrumental to the team’s success.
Matt Schaub also deserves a special shoutout for his run as arguably the best backup quarterback in Falcons history. What’s so notable about Schaub is that he only ever started three games for the Falcons, despite being with the organization for seven years. He spanned the Vick and Matt Ryan eras, and he was superb anytime he was called upon. His greatest success came in Houston, but Schaub will always be a Falcons favorite.
Jersey No. 9
Best player: Braves 3B Terry Pendleton (1991-94, 1996)
Honorable mentions: Falcons K Norm Johnson (1991-94), Thrashers C Marc Savard (2002-06)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 9: 40
Summary: Like the No. 6, there haven’t been a lot of notable No. 9s in Atlanta sports history, However, Terry Pendleton did with an MVP award during his first season with the Braves in 1991. He missed out on the Braves’ 1995 championship season, but Pendleton has been a big member of the organization as both a player and a coach. He finished as the MVP runner-up in 1992 and hit .287 with 71 home runs during his five seasons in Atlanta. Pretty, pretty good.
Jersey No. 10
Best player: Braves 3B Chipper Jones (1995-2012)
Honorable mentions: Falcons QB Steve Bartkowski (1975-85), Hawks PG Mookie Blaylock (1992-99) United MF Miquel Almiron (2017-18) Dream G Lindsey Harding (2011-12)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 10: 50
Summary: This was an easy choice, but only because Chipper Jones is easily one of the most iconic players in Atlanta sports history. In truth, there are a lot of worthy No. 10s. But Jones, an MVP and eight-time All-Star is a one-namer, which puts him in a different category. The best player on one of the best teams throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Jones was one of the faces of major league baseball. He spent all 19 of his professional seasons in Atlanta, a feat that’s becoming increasingly rare in sports, and ended his career batting .303 with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBIs. And, notably, he rescued Freddie Freeman from the #Snowpocalypse.
The honorable mentions are all a stacked group as well. Steve Bartkowski was the best quarterback in Falcons history until Matt Ryan came along and is remembered very fondly. Mookie Blaylock spent some time alongside Dominque Wilkins for the Hawks before becoming an All-Star for the team in his own right. Most recently, Miquel Almiron was the sparkplug for the championship United team. Although Martinez may be considered the better offensive player, “Miggy” was unquestionably the face of the upstart United club at the time.
Up next: Nos. 11-15
Who is the best player to wear a number 6-10
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