The Braves have a huge lead, reminding some of us of the 1990’s. The promise of the current Braves team has given Atlanta baseball has led to energy not seen since the Ted Turner days. If the Braves make a deep playoff run, maybe attendance jumps back up to late 1990’s levels, with the youth and excitement around this team. The Braves have the youngest group of position players in the National League, according to Baseball Reference’s average age which is weighted by games played, and the second-youngest group of pitchers. With under-26 talent like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel the Braves are back.
Attendance at Braves games started to really dip around 2000-2001. Through the 1990’s the Braves were consistently top three in the National League in attendance, starting in 1992, the year after their miracle run. They were swept in the 1999 World Series by the Yankees and they made a trade that off-season that signal a revamping, moving Brett Boone and Ryan Klesko to the Padres and getting Reggie Sanders, Quilvio Veras and Wally Joyner. The Braves had just lost in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season (albeit in the World Series) and this seemed like a move to try something a little different to get over the hump. But the Braves traded upside for steady play, as Boone and Klesko would have big seasons in the early ’00’s. Attendance dropped to fourth in the N.L. in 2000.
They were swept in the first round by the Cardinals in 2000 attendance dropped a little further in 2001, to sixth in the league. This is really the point when the Braves seemed to lose their super-team, Yankees-of-the-National-League aura and it showed up in the attendance rankings. Ted Turner had given up a prominent ownership role in 1996 and his stamp on the team faded away.
The team on the field bounced back to the NLCS in 2001 but that deep playoff runwas viewed as kind of a fluke, as the Braves won just 88 games that season, with the likes of Rico Brogna and B.J. Surhoff as starting position players. Their attendance ranking dropped to pre-1991 levels, to 8th in the league in 2002. Then came a string of first-round defeats from ’02 to ’05. During those seasons the Braves never finished higher than 7th in the league in attendance.
Maddux and Glavine were gone by 2004 (though Glavine made a not-s0-triumphant return to end his career), the division title run ended in 2006, Smoltz was gone by 2008. The Braves haven’t finished higher than 8th in attendance since 2003 and haven’t finished in the top four since 2000.
But the Braves could be starting to get some of that super-team aura back. They aren’t a large-budget team with a front office that knew their stuff like they were in the Ted Turner days, but they are a smart front office with a limited budget that knows how to acquire talent that makes them major players in the playoff and World Series chase.
They don’t have the high-priced talent they had in the ’90’s but they probably waste fewer roster spots. In the 1990’s the Braves had a speedster or two, a power hitter or two and won with great pitching. The talent on this team is young, athletic and dynamic all over the field. And even though the Braves were consistent contenders throughout the 1990’s, except for the starting pitching core and Chipper Jones, there was a good bit of turnover. This current core of talent is young and around the same age, so they should be together for a while. The buzz hasn’t shown up yet in terms of where this team ranks in the National League in attendance but if they Braves can make a deep playoff run, it could soon.