Brave admission

It's Sunday, so it's a good time for confession.

I used to like the Atlanta Braves. In the days before cable reached the country, I grew up with our family's satellite dish tuned to TBS - and occasionally WGN. I remember cheering for Dale Murphy and Bob Horner and Glenn Hubbard, and the disappointment of a decade of unprecedented dominance producing just one World Series.

So I'll watch today's Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and I'll smile as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the twin backbones of one of history's most dominating pitching staffs, join longtime manager Bobby Cox in an impressive 2014 class.

The stats are worth celebrating. Maddux - the breathing embodiment of the real estate maxim "Location, location, location" - complied a 355-227 record with a 3.16 ERA in 23 years. He wasn't the most overpowering pitcher ever or of his era. His stuff didn't light up the radar gun or draw astonished oooohs from the crowd. It just sat batters down, over and over, with little regard to time or place or situation.

Maddux had two seasons with an ERA under two - 1.56 in 1994 and 1.63 in 1995. He won four consecutive Cy Youngs and 18 gold gloves. He hit .171 for his career with one stat that particularly impresses my small-ball sensibilities: 180 sacrifice bunts.

Glavine won 20-plus games every year from 1991-93. From 1991-2002, he went 209-102 with 3.15 ERA. He won 305 games - the last pitcher I'll see do that in my lifetime - two Cy Youngs and the clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, giving up just one hit and three walks in eight innings.  

Cox's 2,504 wins rank fourth all-time, and the 14 straight division titles he guided the Braves to are an amazing, likely umatchable feat. He also famously ranks first in career ejections with 158.

My personal history with the Braves grew complicated when, back in the days of an NL West that adhered to no geographical sanity, they would come up against my Dodgers - again and again - in the NL Championship. I remember being the only - and I mean only - person in a Five Points bar in Columbia, S.C., cheering for L.A., but I also remember going crazy in my sophomore dorm room when Sid Bream slid safely home on his glass knees.

Later in life, I covered the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, who were for many years the high-A farm club for Atlanta. I saw Rafael Furcal make his blink-and-you-missed-it pro debut. I interviewed Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright and Adam La Roche and Wilson Betemit and Gregor Blanco, all of whom came up through the Braves' organization. I got to know minor league managers and coaches, good, funny, baseball men such as Brian Snitker and Randy Ingle and Sixto Lezcano. I spent parts of spring break at Disney's Wide World of Sports, trying to identify which gangly, starry-eyed 20-year-old would be the next superstar. My first trip to a major-league stadium was to Fulton County, where the press box gift was the Andruw Jones bobblehead that still sits on my desk.

These days, no longer just a Dodger fan but married to a Philly native and loyal Phillies fan, my Braves memories have faded. I have many friends who passionately root for Atlanta, and we engage in friendly trash talk. I don't know who's coming up through the ranks or who got a million-dollar signing bonus. I don't cheer for the present-day Braves.

But today, as I get chills watching Koufax and Banks and Aaron and Gibson and Brett being introduced, I'll cheer for these. What fan wouldn't?

UPDATE: I liked Frank Thomas' speech the most, loooong though it was. The Big Hurt made me the Big Blubberer. Joe Torre showed a comedian's timing, and I loved the "Baseball is a game of life. It's not perfect. It just feels like it is" quote. Could have done without the blow-by-blow of the Yankees' world titles, though, and it woulda killed you to say the word "Dodgers?". Tom Glavine's speech was heartfelt; Greg Maddux's awkwardly cute; ditto for Bobby Cox. Tony La Russa ... you know, sometimes notes are good, and that name you were searching for when you asked who you'd forgotten to mention while discussing the great tradition in St. Louis? I'd vote for Stan Musial.