Monday, September 26, 2022

Column: A Most Impossible Team Leads Atlanta to a Title

During three decades of nearly uninterrupted excellence, the Atlanta Braves had so many teams that seemed more championship-worthy than this one.

The 1993 squad chased the San Francisco Giants to win one of baseball’s last great division races. The ’96 group eliminated the New York Pinstripers in the first two games of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. The ’97, ’98 and ’99 teams won over 100 games.

Yet it was the brave – who didn’t climb above .500 until early August, who had endured a devastating bout of injuries and other setbacks, who had to wheel and deal before the trade deadline to assemble a new outfield. – which eventually brought another title to the oppressed ATL.

No one could see it coming.

Well, except for the players who are dancing in the center of Minute Maid Park early on Wednesday mornings.

“These guys never gave up on themselves,” said manager Brian Snitker. “We used a lot of people, we lost a lot of pieces during the summer. It was just the next guy. These guys never stopped believing in themselves.”

If they were at least familiar with their team’s history, they would have to know just how fickle the baseball gods can be.

From 1991–2005 the Braves won 14 straight division titles, a staggering streak that can never be eclipsed. He returned in the postseason as a wild card in 2010, Bobby Cox’s final season as manager. He claimed another wild card in 2012, followed by a return to the top of the NL East in 2013. This was followed by a painful rebuilding task, but it paid off with another streak of division titles that has gone up to four.

When you add all this up, there have been 21 post-season appearances in the last 30 full seasons—a run that satisfies almost every requirement to be called Dynasty, except for one that really matters.

Championship.

The ’95 Braves were the only team to win it all during those 20 previous trips to the playoffs.

And even that victory, as glorious and satisfying as it was for a city that knows so much heartache, is feeling a little hollow because four times Atlanta was in the world during that decade. The series was lost, a lone victory overshadowed by almost all gut-wrenching despair.

To this day, it is difficult to understand why a team assembled by Hall of Fame general manager (John Schuerholz), directed by Hall of Fame manager (Cox), led on the mound by three Hall of Fame pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavin and John Smoltz), with a lineup that includes yet another Hall of Famer (Chipper Jones) and at least two other people who could make a very good case for Cooperstown (Fred McGriff and Andrew Jones), has taken over the franchise. Contributed just one title to the resume. .

Now, finally, they’ve got some company.

Casting off the disappointment of Game 5, when they missed a 4-0 lead and a chance to celebrate in front of their home fans, the Braves thrashed the Houston Astros 7-0. To end four matches of the World Series on two.

It didn’t matter that they won just 88 games during the regular season, less than every other playoff team, and even two teams didn’t make the postseason.

It didn’t matter that they were stuck in mediocrity for most of the season, eventually climbing above .500 for the first time in the 111th game on 6 August.

It didn’t matter that they went down until the final week and eventually finished first in the division known as the NL List.

“You boys are going to be world champions your whole life,” Snitker told his team at the champagne-soaked visiting clubhouse, holding up the trophy that every team has in its sights from day one of spring training.

All that flirtatiousness had to feel like a sort of purgatory to ward off the demons of not just a team, but an entire city.

The Braves are the only Atlanta team to win championships in four major American sports, having first reached the Deep South in 1966.

That was the year the Braves moved from Milwaukee and the Falcons took off as an NFL expansion team. The NBA’s Hawks would come from St. Louis two years later, followed by the NHL’s Flames in 1972.

Those franchises gave a major boost to Atlanta’s fragile self-image, marking the emergence of a growing city from the civil rights movement as a truly major league. But, as the losses mounted and the occasional shot at glory crashed into inevitable defeat, all four teams would be seen as more trouble than they were worth.

Atlanta, which preferred to market itself as the “City Too Busy to Hate,” earned another embarrassing nickname.

Loserville, USA

The Flames didn’t last very long, moving to Calgary in 1980, after all six of their playoff appearances. Of course, they would win the Stanley Cup title in their new home.

The NHL sent another team to Atlanta, the Thrashers, but they too left Bolting for Winnipeg after only 11 seasons. They never won a playoff game, let alone a series.

While the Braves had all those close-but-no-cigar moments in the 1990s, the Hawks and Falcons barely snuggled up in the championship.

Atlanta’s NFL team reached the Super Bowl in 2017, only to suffer what is arguably the most infamous defeat in the history of the game.

After taking a 28-3 lead over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the third quarter, the Falcons pulled it away and lost in overtime.

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, attended that Super Bowl to cheer for his hometown team.

It wasn’t on him that the Braves won their championship of all places in Houston.

Yes, the same city where the Falcons lost the Super Bowl.

“God rest my soul, but I was here when the Falcons were defeated in the Super Bowl. I was at the game in Houston,” Swanson said on Fox’s postgame show. “So we kind of came full circle are, aren’t they? Coming here and winning it felt like destiny.”

Yes, the circle is complete.

This Atlanta team is going home from Houston with a championship.

A championship that none of us saw coming.

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Paul Newbery is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press who grew up in suburban Atlanta and has been covering sports in the city since 1996. Write to them at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry. see their work on

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