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 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. 46
Best player: Braves P Craig Kimbrel (2010-14)
Honorable mentions: N/A
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 46: 35
Summary: We are halfway through our journey now, so I’ll give you a brief peek behind the scenes. At this point on the spreadsheet, it’s really only Falcons and Braves players showing up. Why is that? Well, those are the two major sports whose players wear numbers past the 30s. Sure, there are still a few notable Hawks players and a Dream player or two left, but this is about to be a fairly consistent stream of Braves and Falcons.
Fortunately, there are plenty of iconic players from those two teams, and Craig Kimbrel was a true fan-favorite from the last decade. Think back to a close Braves’ lead in the top of the ninth inning. The lights dim, the field is empty. The unmistakable guitar notes of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses begins to play, and out comes the flame-throwing closer ready to rifle fastballs past the plate. Not since John Rocker did the Braves have a closer as fun as Kimbrel, and he had the stuff to back up the reputation. He led the MLB in saves during four consecutive seasons from 2011-14, his first true four years in the majors. They don’t make many like Kimbrel.
Jersey No. 47
Best player: Braves P Tom Glavine (1987-2002)
Honorable mentions: Thrashers C Rich Peverley (2008-11), Falcons LS Josh Harris (2012-present)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 47: 26
Summary: The final member of the Braves’ Holy Trinity to make this list, Tom Glavine was for many fans the favorite member of Atlanta’s iconic rotation. Drafted by the Braves in 1984, Glavine made his Atlanta debut three years later. It took a while for Glavine to really find his stride – he finished with more losses than any pitcher in 1988 – but once he did, he never looked back. Glavine broke out in 1991, playing a major role for the “worst to first” Braves and winning the Cy Young Award after going 20-11 with a 2.55 ERA. He also led all NL pitchers in wins from 1991-93, earning at least 20 wins in each of those seasons. The Hall of Famer was named World Series MVP in 1995 after going 2-0 in his starts, including a 1-0 shutout win in the deciding Game 6. Glavine finished his Braves career with a 244-147 record, a 3.41 ERA and 22 shutouts.
Rich Peverley was a pretty decent player for about two and a half seasons for the Thrashers. He arrived in Atlanta midway through the 2008 season but quickly provided a spark, scoring or assisting on 35 goals in 39 games. He set career highs in goals (22) and assists (33) the following season. Josh Harris is a player who deserves mention here. Harris has missed just five games in nine seasons for the Falcons, proving to be as reliable in health as he is in his craft. A key part of one of the most memorable decades for field goal kicking in Falcons history, Harris is the team’s top No. 47.
Jersey No. 48
Best player: Braves OF Ralph Garr (1968-75)
Honorable mentions: Falcons RB Woody Thompson (1975-77), Braves P Tommy Hanson (2009-12)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 48: 50
Summary: There probably aren’t many who remember Ralph Garr, but that’s part of the point of this list: Diving into history. Garr was drafted in the third round of the 1967 draft, and he made his first major league appearance the very next year. It wasn’t until 1971, however, that Garr really became a Braves regular. Garr finished second in the NL in batting average in both the 1971 and 1972 seasons, hitting .343 and .325, respectively, and earned MVP consideration each year. Garr’s best season came in 1974 when he led the league with 214 hits, 17 triples and a .353 batting average, earning the one All-Star Game appearance of his career.
Jersey No. 49
Best player: Braves P Julio Teheran (2011-19)
Honorable mentions: Falcons DB Al Lavan (1969-70)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 49: 36
Summary: Perhaps this is just me, but I never really felt Teheran got the credit he deserved. Maybe that’s because he never quite reached the level we all hoped he would, but that’s really hard to do when you’re pitching against the best hitters in Major League Baseball all the time. The two-time All-Star only had an ERA above 4.00 in two of his seven main seasons, and he ended his run in Atlanta with a 3.67 ERA. Teheran was extremely durable as well, starting at least 30 games in every season after becoming part of the starting rotation, and he won at least 10 games five times. Teheran wasn’t a successful postseason pitcher, and he may have never become the true ace Braves fans had hoped he would, but he was a solid top-end starter.
Jersey No. 50
Best player: Falcons LB Greg Brezina (1968-79)
Honorable mentions: Braves P Kent Mercker (1989-95)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 50: 56
Summary: Tommy Nobis’s primary wingman for nearly his entire career, Greg Brezina was a very good linebacker in his own right. The 11th-round draft pick earned his way into a major role on a defense that included Nobis and future Hall of Fame defensive end Claude Humphrey, and he was a key part of Atlanta’s “Gritz Blitz” defense that allowed just 129 points in 1977, an NFL record for a 14-game schedule. Interestingly, the end of Brezina’s career was quite strong. He had twice as many sacks in his final three years (17.5) as he accumulated over the first eight (8.5). Brezina played in an era before they recorded tackle statistics, but he ended his career with 26 sacks, 14 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions. Sounds like exactly what a No. 50 should do.
Kent Mercker is a pretty interesting figure in Braves history. He started his career as a fairly reliable member of Atlanta’s bullpen, switching between late-game and middle reliever roles. Before the 1994 season, Braves manager Bobby Cox made Mercker the fifth starter in baseball’s best starting rotation. He immediately rose to the occasion in the biggest possible way, pitching a no-hitter and striking out 10 batters in his first start of the season. Mercker was a starter for only one more season before the Braves traded him, but his run with the franchise is worth looking into more.
Next up: Nos. 51-55
Who is the best player to wear a No. 46-50?
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