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The 29 Most Important Braves during the Streak: Intro & 26-28

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For me, the Atlanta Braves should be defined as two separate franchises: the post 1990 Braves who won 14 straight division titles and enjoyed very little meddling from owner Ted Turner, and the pre 1990 Braves who reached the postseason just twice in 24 years and were constantly being harassed by an overbearing and meddlesome owner. These are also Braves teams from two different eras in baseball: the 1990's and beyond steroids era, and the non-steroids pre-1990 era. To try and make sense between the two epochs of the Braves seemed uneven, so I decided to just take the last two decades (the 90's and the 00's) and list the top 29 players whose overall contributions as Braves were most important to the team's success.

I considered stats, postseason performance, award hardware, perceived presence in the clubhouse, and probably just my general recollection of each player (which is obviously biased). Feel free to disagree, wildly if necessary. I will be presenting the list three players at a time throughout the next few weeks and over the holidays as it is bound to be a slow news time, and this will give us something to discuss. I'm not going to go into wild detail about each player, but I will try to give you the reasoning behind why I ranked a player where I ranked them. Take this opportunity to post any nostalgic thoughts about these players, or relate any stories about certain players.

Here are the first (or bottom) three.

  1. Kent Merker - Merk is a tough one to measure. He always seemed to have more talent than the box score showed. Maybe it was because he was our most valuable swing man during the early years of the streak; able to fill in as closer when needed in the bullpen, or pitch a no-hitter when needed in the rotation. Okay, he wasn't that amazing, but as we saw for all those years, pennants are won as much by the quality of the players who simply fill out the roster (Cabrera, Devereaux, Franco) as much as the stars who headline the starting lineup. By having a pitcher with the talent of Merker at the end of your rotation or in the pen, the Braves were able to win a lot more games during the season that other teams could not.
  2. Greg McMichael - He may be the prototypical early 90s reliever that Bobby Cox loved. A guy who was equally comfortable saving games as he was setting up for another closer. He was as valuable a member of the bullpen as any for the four years he was in Atlanta, including a solid performance in the '95 National League Championship Series. A guy like McMichael would probably get a four-year $24 million contract if he were in his prime as a free agent this off-season. As it was though, he never made more than $2 million in any single season.
  3. John Rocker - Seriously, don't laugh. He stepped up in 1999 when Kerry Ligtenberg went down and Mark Wohlers was still unable to get it together, only a year after being one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in the game. He continued to be a very valuable closer for the next two years until his mouth got him into trouble.