(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)
The Atlanta Braves give the Baltimore Orioles a good run for their money when it comes to avoiding Retired Number Bandits. The Braves have retired ten numbers, and a combined total of two games have been played in those numbers since the star players took them off:[table “” not found /]
Dale Murphy, 3
Murphy was generally considered a future Hall of Famer throughout the 1980s, winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards and five straight Gold Gloves in center field. But his last great season came when he was 31, and he was near replacement level by the time he was 33.
Between his quick decline and the offensive era just after his career taking some of the shine off his 398 career homers, his Hall of Fame chances never materialized. But he is revered in Atlanta, and the Braves never issued his number after trading him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1990. They officially retired his number in 1994.
Chipper Jones, 10
Jones was a key member of the Braves when they were winning their division every year. He won the 1999 National League MVP Award after batting .319/.441/.633 with 41 doubles, 45 home runes, and 110 RBIs. He also stole 25 bases in 28 attempts, both career highs. Jones led the league with a .364 batting average in 2008 and finished his career with a batting line of .303/.401/.529, 2,726 hits, and 468 home runs.
Jones spent his entire 19-year career with the Braves, and in two years he will become the second former first-overall draft pick to be elected to the Hall of Fame (after Ken Griffey Jr. became the first this year). The Braves retired Jones’s number 10 in 2013.
Warren Spahn, 21
Spahn pitched 20 of his 21 seasons for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves before splitting his final season between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. He had a career record of 363-245 with a 3.09 ERA, and it seems likely that he would have had 400 wins if not for World War II (he did not play from 1943-45).
Spahn had a record 13 seasons of 20 or more wins, and his 363 career wins are more than any other left-hander. The Braves retired his number 21 in 1965, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
John Smoltz, 29
Smoltz was part of the three-headed pitching monster that made the Braves such a formidable force in the 1990s. He went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 1996 to win the NL Cy Young Award. After Tommy John surgery in 2000, he came back as a closer in 2001, recording 154 saves with a 2.65 ERA from 2001-04. He then went back to starting and led the National League in wins in 2006.
Smoltz played 20 years with the Braves, then split his final season between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. He retired in 2009 and the Braves retired his number in 2012. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Greg Maddux, 31
Another part of the three-headed monster was Maddux, who signed with the Braves as a free agent after winning the 1992 Cy Young Award for the Chicago Cubs. He then proceeded to win three more NL Cy Young Awards in a row for Atlanta. During his Cy Young streak from 1992-95, he went 75-29 with a 1.98 ERA.
Maddux bounced around at the end of his career, going back to the Cubs for three years, two stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and most of two seasons with the San Diego Padres.
The Braves officially retired his number in 2009 after his retirement, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015. His number was also retired by the Cubs.
Phil Niekro, 35
Not many players get the chance to wear a retired number while they are still active players, but Niekro did.
After winning 268 games in 20 seasons with the Braves, he signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent when he was nearly 45 years old. The Braves retired his number 35 the next year, not knowing that in 1987, the 48-year-old Niekro would return to Atlanta and pitch one last game for the team. That game did not go well — he allowed five runs on six hits and six walks in three innings — and then his career was over. That game did not go well, but his departure was a sight to see:
Despite not making the big leagues until two weeks after his 25th birthday, Niekro pitched 24 years in the majors. Notwithstanding his 324 wins and 3,342 strikeouts, he was not elected to the Hall of Fame until his fifth year of eligibility in 1997.
Eddie Mathews, 41
Hall of Fame third baseman Mathews hit 493 home runs for the Braves before being traded to the Astros after the 1966 season. He hit his 500th home run for Houston in 1967. That same season, his number 41 was worn by Braves rookie Jim Britton for two games. It was then taken out of circulation and was officially retired in 1969.
Mathews finished his career with 67 games for the Detroit Tigers, retiring with 512 home runs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his fifth year of eligibility in 1978.
Other than the one blip when the Braves inexplicably let a rookie wear Mathews’ number, they have an impeccable record of putting the numbers of their stars on ice immediately.
Hank Aaron, 44
Aaron is one of a few players to have his number retired by multiple teams. He spent the vast majority of his career with the Braves, 12 of them in Milwaukee and nine in Atlanta. He then spent his final two seasons back in Milwaukee with the Brewers.
While all of Aaron’s many great moments came as a member of the Braves, the Brewers also retired his number as a tribute to his ties to the city of Milwaukee. The Braves retired his number in 1977 after his retirement, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 with 97.8 percent of the vote.
Tom Glavine, 47
The left-handed third of the three-headed monster, Glavine win two Cy Young Awards for the Braves and had four other top-three finishes. He pitched 16 seasons for Atlanta before heading to New York for a five-year stint with the Mets from 2003-07. The Braves did not issue his number while he was gone, and he wore it again when he returned to Atlanta for his final season in 2008.
Glavine was excellent, but he was also remarkably durable. Excluding the strike-shortened years of 1994-95, Glavine started fewer than 32 games only once in the 20 years from 1988-2007, with 29 starts in 1989. He finished his career with a 305-203 record and a 3.54 ERA and was elected to the Hall of Fame with 91.9 percent of the vote in 2014, his first year of eligibility. The Braves officially retired his number in 2010.
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