Charlie Culberson was non-tendered two weeks ago by the Braves rather than pick up the utility player at an arbitration rate. The hue and cry from Braves fans was heard from Smyrna to Alpharetta. Twitter and Facebook were lit up with disgust. Thankfully for everyone, the Braves added Charlie on a minor-league contract with an invite to Spring Training. This did calm some, but others blamed the Braves for cheapness. I can’t really blame them. It seemed like a long way to go to save a million or so dollars. He is a flexible, experienced bench option with a decent bat and a knack for big plays. Whatever we have to do to secure a productive third baseman or outfielder, I guess.
Still, it was a lot of frustration for a guy that produced a total of 1.3 WAR over two seasons. It’s hard to imagine focusing this much attention to focus on your 25th (or 26th) man on the roster. I can’t remember any other bench player getting that much love. Which begs the question, is Charlie Culberson the third most loved bench player in Braves history? Third may be as high as I am willing to go, but he might possibly be it. In no particular order, Julio Franco and Eddie Perez are the top two with very little debate. The approximately 57-year-old Julio Franco was a very good pitch-hitting option for years. Eddie Perez was the second catcher for most of the nineties, and was Greg Maddux’s personal catcher before that was really a thing. He was a part of the coaching staff for years after his playing career ended.
Before we get started, we need to define a bench player. Fangraphs seems to define it as a player with 250 or fewer plate appearances in a season. This eliminates a lot of popular options, so I will define a Braves bench player as one who spent at least half of his seasons with fewer than 250 plate appearances. These are players that were well liked enough to hang around in a bench role after their starting days were over, or very likable decent players. This rules out Martin Prado and Omar Infante, even though they started their careers off the bench. This also eliminates popular guys like Deion Sanders or Jeff Francoeur, who qualify as starters. So for third place, I came up with five other options that could possibly hold a candle to the Braves fans’ not-so-secret flame.
Benedict spent the entirety of his career with the Braves. He was a starter for the early 1980s, making it to two All-Star Games in 1981 and 1983. Bruce’s value was centered around being one of the best defending catchers of his day. After putting together a line of .223/301/.297 in 1984, he was placed in a bench role. He managed to stick around for five years as a backup catcher. After watching him protect Andres Thomas, he was likely a very respected member of the clubhouse.
Belliard hit two home runs and had a career 44 wRC+ in 2500+ plate appearances. But he played for 17 years with the Pirates and the Braves. Because he was that good at shortstop. He earned the nickname Pac-Man for his ability to gobble up ground balls. He made 403 appearances as a late inning defensive substitute. Here he is turning a double play to end Game 1 of the 1995 NLCS.
The second and third baseman was drafted in the seventh round in 1996 and first appeared with the Braves in 1998. He slugged .429 in 2002. That’s really about it with the Braves. After he was granted free agency in 2004, he had a very nice stretch with the Rangers and Cubs. He would accumulate 9.6 WAR in a from 2006 to 2008. But he was really looked upon fondly in his Braves years and afterward. Fans would talk of him being on the staff. It’s not like the Braves were bad on the infield from 2006 to 2008, with Chipper Jones and Martin Prado and Edger Renteria around.
Diaz came out of nowhere to be an excellent outfield option in the late 2000s. In an outfield of Garret Anderson, Nate McLouth, and Jeff Francoeur, he definitely became a preferred fan option. He crushed it with a wRC+ of 114, 123, and 136 in 2006, 2007, and 2009. He also took out this field rusher. If the Philly fans are cheering you, you know you are well liked.
Ross probably set a record for most production as a backup catcher in 4 years with 10.3 WAR. David could hit and defend very well. His line of .269/.353/.463 was almost in lock-step with Brian McCann’s numbers during that stretch. He picked up a nice paycheck with the Red Sox in 2013 and went out a World Series winner with the Cubs in 2016. He is replacing Joe Maddon as the Cubs’ manager in 2020.
I took the liberty of selecting Julio Franco and Eddie Perez as your top two. The rest of these players are fighting for third. Do any of them hold a candle to Charlie Clutch?
The poll is below. There’s no criteria here. This is to determine who we all like. I tried to make sure all of the Braves’ decades in Atlanta were represented, but I don’t remember anyone in the 60s or 70s being that good off the bench. I don’t think there was a legend of Dave May, but include him if you see fit.
Who is Atlanta’s third all-time bench player?
This poll is closed
Top 2 are wrong
Someone else (explain)