In their 142nd year of existence, the Atlanta Braves franchise has won exactly as many games as they’ve lost.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the franchise currently known as the Atlanta Braves was one of the original teams when the National League came into existence in 1876. In fact, they are the only team of the current 30 members of Major League Baseball that has played in every season in which professional baseball has existed.
Over the years, the Braves franchise has played in three different cities and gone by numerous team names. The franchise has had great stretches of play and abysmal stretches of play. It has had some of the greatest players in history and some of the worst. And through it all, after 20,888 games played by a franchise that dates back to 1876, the Braves have won exactly as many games as they have lost. In their 142nd season in existence, they are exactly .500.
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The Braves franchise traces its roots back to the original professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The Red Stockings played for two years, then voted to dissolve. Two brothers, Harry and George Wright, along with two other Red Stockings players, were invited to be the core of the Boston Red Stockings team that would become one of the original members of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP). That team dominated that league by winning four of the league’s five championships.
The NAPBBP was a poorly run league that only lasted five seasons. In 1876, the National League was born, with the Boston Red Stockings as one of the charter members. This is the team considered to be the first in the history of the franchise currently known as the Atlanta Braves (according to Baseball-Reference). The Red Stockings were successful enough to win two pennants in the next seven years, with a record of 299-226 (.570).
In 1883, the team informally became known as the Beeaneaters, which came from the nickname “Beantown” for the city of Boston. The Beaneaters continued the success of the Red Stockings. They had a .543 winning percentage and won six pennants in the 24 years they went by that moniker. After 31 years in existence, the franchise that would eventually become known as the Atlanta Braves had a record of 2041-1691, a winning percentage of .547. Unfortunately, there were rough decades ahead.
At the end of the 1906 season, the Beaneaters were purchased by a group of prospective owners headed by the Dovey Brothers, John and George. The Dovey brothers liked their name so much they decided the Beaneaters should henceforth be called the Boston Doves, which doesn’t quite pack the punch that the Braves does. They also dropped the color red from their uniforms and went with an all-white ensemble. The Doves peacefully went 219-389 (.360) in their four years and finished an average of 50 games out of first, including a truly awful 1909 season when they were 45-108 and finished 65.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After George Dovey died in 1909 (perhaps the team’s performance killed him), brother John Dovey kept the team for one more year before selling it to John P. Harris prior to the 1911 season. For one year, the franchise was known as the Boston Rustlers. That was one very bad year. The team went 44-107 and finished 54 games behind the New York Giants. They were outscored that year by 322 runs.
In 1912, the franchise dropped the name Rustlers and became the Boston Braves. Except for a five-year stretch from 1936 to 1940 when they were known as the Boston Bees, they would be known as the Braves from this point forward. Of course, they were still terrible in 1912, going 52-101. They were semi-respectable in 1913, when they went 69-82 and finished in 5th place. It was their highest finish in 10 years. Then came the 1914 season, the year they were known as “The Miracle Braves.”
The “Miracle Braves” started the year like the previous Braves teams, very poorly. They were 4-18 early on and 26-40 by the Fourth of July, 15 games behind the first place New York Giants. Then they went on a tear. Over the two months from July 6 through September 5, they were 41-12. Not only did they come from last place in mid-July to win the pennant, they won it by 10 ½ games. They topped off the season by defeating the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics in a four-game sweep of the World Series. It was the first World Series title in franchise history.
Despite that World Series title, the Boston Braves were generally awful. Of all the combinations of location and team name the franchise went by, they had their worst winning percentage when they were the Boston Braves, going 2459-3005 (.450). In 1923, nine years after their “Miracle Braves” title run, the franchise dropped below .500 for the first time. They would continue to flounder over the next 22 years, bottoming out during the 1945 season when the franchise all-time winning percentage dropped to .473.
Shortly after World War II, the Braves started to improve after a long history of second division finishes. They finished fourth in 1946 and third in 1947, then won the pennant in 1948 behind the pitching of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, who combined for 39 wins between them. They lost the World Series that year to the Cleveland Indians, a team that had Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, and Gene Bearden combine for 59 wins and player-manager Lou Boudrea win the AL MVP Award.
The excitement of the 1948 pennant-winning season was short lived for Boston Braves fans. The team lasted just four more years in Boston. As an added insult, the growing popularity of the crosstown Red Sox made the Braves decidedly second-class in Beantown. When the club averaged just 3,701 fans per game in 1952, the handwriting was on the wall.
Prior to the 1953 season, Braves owner Lou Perini moved the team to Milwaukee, which had been the location of their top minor league team. At the time, many people thought the St. Louis Browns would move to Milwaukee, but the Braves got their first. Milwaukee loved having a major league team and came out in droves to support them, setting an NL record at the time with 1.8 million fans.
The Braves were in Milwaukee for 13 years and were quite successful, going 1146-890, a winning percentage of .563. This was the team of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette. They were at their best in 1957 and 1958, going to the World Series in back-to-back years. They won the 1957 series in seven games over the New York Yankees but lost to the Yankees the following year, also in seven games. In their time in Milwaukee, the Braves never had a losing record. They are the only MLB team who played more than one year in a city that can make this claim.
The attendance in Milwaukee dwindled in the early-to-mid 1960s from a high of 2.2 million in 1957 to 555,000 in 1965. New ownership came on board in 1962 and started searching for a larger TV market. Meanwhile, the city of Atlanta was looking for a professional sports team, either one from MLB or an NFL/AFL team. They even built an $18 million stadium in the hopes of attracting a team to move to Atlanta. Milwaukee became that team and the Braves moved to Atlanta before the 1966 season.
This is the 52nd season that the Braves have been in Atlanta. Over that time, they’ve gone 4175-3949 (.514), been to the playoffs 19 times, won five pennants, and one World Series. Braves fans have witnessed Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth‘s record, back-to-back MVP trophies for Dale Murphy, the knuckleball stylings of Phil Niekro, Lonnie Smith attempt to catch fly balls in the outfield, Terry Pendleton surprisingly winning an MVP in 1991, the big three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz (all Hall of Fame pitchers), and a terrific run of 14 division titles in the 15 seasons from 1991 to 2005 (with the 1994 strike year being the lone exception).
The years in Atlanta have been a bit of a roller coaster. After the Braves final season in Milwaukee, the franchise had an all-time winning percentage of .491. That rose to .493 by the end of the 1969 season, but began to drop during the lean years of the 1970s and 1980s. After the 1990 season, they were down to .484 and were 523 games under .500. Then they had a change in fortune. Their great stretch of seasons in the 1990s and 2000s got them back over .500 during the 2011 season. It was the first time since 1923 that the franchise was over .500.
After 94 wins in 2012 and 96 wins in 2013, the Braves all-time record was 63 games over .500 heading into the 2014 season. They won 79 games in 2014 and 67 games in 2015, dropping their record to 31 games over .500.
Last year, it finally happened. A 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on August 5 dropped their all-time record to .500. They were 10409-10409. After going 17-21 over their next 38 games, they were 4 games under .500 on September 16. In a surprising development, the Braves finished last year on a 12-2 run to get their heads back above water, historically. By the end of the 2016 season, they were 10438 and 10432, six games over .500.
If only they could have avoided a slow start to this season, they would have been able to stay above .500. Unfortunately, a recent six game losing streak has dropped them back to that level. With their current roster, they are likely to continue to drop below .500 over the rest of this season but they do have what many consider to be the best farm system in baseball, so they should regain their footing and get back on the winning side in the next couple seasons.