In the wake of the Atlanta Braves’ franchise altering trade for first baseman Matt Olson, the end of the Freddie Freeman era came crashing down upon a generation of fans who grew up in the age of social media.
With his “goodbye” Instagram post earlier today, he became the latest franchise icon to depart the organization. Each generation has experienced franchise icons leave via trade or free agency. It happens now as it has in the past:
- In the 1960’s it was Eddie Matthews being traded to Houston following his first season in Atlanta and two seasons after Warren Spahn had been purchased by the New York Mets.
- In the 1970’s, there was Hank Aaron’s trade back to Milwaukee to end his career as a Brewer. Multiple-time All Star Felix Millan was traded to the New York Mets and Rico Carty was traded to Texas.
- In the 1980’s, Phil Niekro left Atlanta for the New York Yankees. Bob Horner was forced to go to Japan due to collusion and rotation workhorse Rick Mahler joined Cincinnati. Even long-time infielder Glenn Hubbard found a new home in Oakland.
- The 1990’s began with Dale Murphy being granted a trade and ending up in Philadelphia. Murphy’s replacement, Dave Justice, was later traded to Cleveland. Post-season hero Mark Lemke left for Boston to finish his career with the Red Sox.
- In the 2000’s, Tom Glavine became a free agent and bolted Atlanta for a spot in the New York Mets rotation. Greg Maddux returned to the Chicago Cubs and John Smoltz bounced between Boston and St. Louis in his final season. Andruw Jones landed in Los Angeles after signing with the Dodgers and fan-favorite Javy Lopez left Atlanta for the Baltimore Orioles.
- Last decade, Brian McCann signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees. Tim Hudson returned to the Bay area when he signed with San Francisco to finish his career.
While Niekro, Glavine, McCann and Mahler returned to Atlanta to end their careers with the Braves, most of the icons in franchise history ended up somewhere else.
Few have seen their career rise and set with the Braves. Of players who spent 10 years or more in the majors there are only four to suit-up exclusively for the Braves franchise:
- Hall of Fame third baseman/outfielder Chipper Jones (1993-2012)
- Two-time All Star catcher Bruce Benedict (1978-1989)
- All Star catcher Biff Pocoroba (1974-1984)
- Infielder Sibby Sisti (1939-1954)
Throughout his time with the Braves, Freeman was often thought to be the Brave most likely to follow in Chipper Jones’ footsteps and spend his entire career as a big leaguer with Atlanta.
That was a great narrative full of hope, but as history has shown, an unlikely outcome.
In actuality, Freeman’s path more closely followed that of Murphy.
Freeman will forever be the Murphy for this Social Media generation. It was Murphy, the wholesome family-man who became a national star as Ted Turner beamed TBS to all corners of the country. It was Murphy who had the honor of announcing that Freeman won the same MVP award that he won twice himself.
Time will tell whether or not Freeman puts up the numbers needed to gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame or if, like Murphy, he will end up just short. Regardless, they are both generational icons with Atlanta.
Just as Murphy, Horner and Niekro were stars of the TBS-era - and Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and Jones boys were stars of the Sportcenter-era - Freddie Freeman was the team’s star of the Social Media era.
Although social media began to explode in popularity in the mid-2000’s, it wasn’t until the beginning of the last decade that it became omnipresent as Facebook and Twitter (and later Instagram) went from being a niche market for the media and those under 30 to the backbone of most people’s daily lives.
Personally, I recall having a number of interactions with Freeman on social media in the Spring of 2010. He was fairly active at that time (as was Jason Heyward) and one of the questions that he answered from me was what number he was wanted to wear once he was promoted to Atlanta. His answer was #5 in honor of his late mother.
If you remember, back in the early 2010s, MLB started a fan vote to add the last player to each league’s All Star game roster. The Braves (in an alliance with the Toronto Blue Jays) and a number of Braves-centric social media/Twitter personalities (Faux Frank Wren, Fake Dan Uggla, etc.) led the Braves social media fans push to get Freeman voted into the 2013 All Star game - his first of five with Atlanta.
As Freeman’s career continued to ascend toward the end of the 2010s, it was his family who became stars of social media. Most Braves fans remember when they first saw the adorable video of Freeman’s son Charlie hitting off a tee in his backyard. With each year, Freeman’s love of his family, the fans and his team pulled deeper at the heart-strings of the Braves’ faithful. Often, it was through social media that he endeared himself to both casual and die-hard fans.
Freeman himself became more charismatic on-screen as he was mic’d up by national networks and became a bigger star for the league, not just Atlanta. His interactions on the field with teammates and foes pushed-forward his jovial, good-natured elements of personality that made him so adored within the game.
Social Media changed a lot from 2010 to 2021 - the years Freeman played for Atlanta. What was first a cool way to engage and interact with others devolved into a cesspool of anger, negativity and divisiveness. Through those 12 years, there was a constant figure for whom there was little negativity; one person that brought unity to Braves country.
That was Freddie Freeman.
He was applauded by fans for enduring the rebuild and celebrated when he won the NL MVP in 2020. Last year, when he led the Atlanta Braves to their first World Series Championship since 1995, there was down-right euphoria.
From the early days of his unofficial in-park fan club, “Freeman’s Seamen”, to his now infamous dugout hugs, Freeman was a beacon of joy with a smile that radiated more brightly throughout the years. If you needed a happy Braves gif, the official Braves account had you covered with a smiling Freeman.
When the Braves honored Hank Aaron’s family last season, it was Freeman who was the forward-most player. Who else would it have been? Freeman was the icon.
The biggest story of this Braves offseason is Freddie Freeman’s time with the Braves ending - something most pundits and fans didn’t think was possible one year ago. As 2021 progressed without an extension between Freeman and the Braves, many fans were still in denial that Freeman and the Braves would end their 15-year relationship even as murmurs grew more prevalent after the World Series.
Then it happen. Social media exploded after Jeff Passan’s tweet broke the news that Oakland was trading Matt Olson to Atlanta.
There it was. The end of the era.
Freeman’s legacy with Atlanta is cemented. The story of how things ended up this way has yet to be told. But make no mistake, whether or not Freeman returns to Atlanta before his career ends, he is now the franchise’s giant of this, the Social Media era.