The great run of 14 consecutive division titles for the Atlanta Braves ended in 2005. Since then the Braves have been mediocre at best and have only gotten as close as 5 games from the postseason since losing to the Astros in the 2005 Division Series. Since the run ended many Braves fans clamor for the old days where the Braves penciled in anywhere from 95-105 wins a season and a NL East Championship. Well those days are now long gone and while the current team has hope and the future looks very bright, we may never see another run like that of the Braves.
I know alot of people will say the Yankees run from 96-03 was better and I will agree it was because they won 4 World Series Championships and got to play in 6 total. That run was better, but it was also shorter. The Braves had a consistent run from 1991-1999 where every NLCS and every National League Champion had to play in the southern city. Basically the National League and a trip to the World Series ran through Atlanta in the 1990s. Now with the streak over we hear alot of critics rightfully say that the Braves never won more than 1 Championship even with all of that success. They have this right, but what gets me is they downplay the success of the Braves run and fail to give it the respect it deserves. Many claim the Braves were the Buffalo Bills of Baseball during the 90s and others claim that the Braves were a lighter version of the Big Red Machine of the Cincinatti Reds of the 1970s. I say neither comparison is right. The Braves (unlike the Buffalo Bills) won a championship and only one (unlike the Big Red Machine). They and the fans had the mindset of "Wait til Next Year" which brings me to the correct comparison and that is the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Now to have a logical debate and compare these two teams one needs to look back at the history before the great runs. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a ladistical team prior to 1947. They won a few times, but were never a major force. They had to share the New York spotlight with their archrivals the Giants and the Yankees and could never get over the top until Branch Rickey came along. The Atlanta Braves were the same way. Upon moving to Atlanta they had mild success winning the first ever NL West division crown in 1969. However, outside of Hammerin Hank and his run to break Babe Ruth's HR record, the Braves never got any spotlight from the baseball world until Ted Turner came around in the late 70s. The Dodgers run began in 1947 when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson and broke the color barrier Major League Baseball. Jackie joined a group of fine ball players such as Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Don Newcome, and Duke Snider. Together they made the Dodgers formidible and led them to the NL Pennant eventually losing to the Yankees in the World Series. The Braves great run began in 1991 when the pitching talents of Tom Glavine, John Smotlz, and Steve Avery finally began to blossom as a cohesive unit. That mixed with gritty veterans of Terry Pendelton, Sid Bream, and Lonnie Smith and fiesty younsters Dave Justice, Ron Gant, and Mark Lemke gave the Braves the beginning of something special. They went on a miracle run and ironically caught the Dodgers after being behind 7 games at the All-Star break and won the NL West and NL Pennant beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 7 game NLCS, shutting out the Pirates after game 5. They would lose a heart breaker in the thrilling 1991 World Series to the Twins.
The parallels don't stop there between these two clubs. The Dodgers would win the NL Pennant five more times between 1947 and 1956 and finally winning their only World Series in 1955. The Braves would begin their 14 year division championship run in 1991 and would win the NL Pennant four more times between 1991 and 1999 finally winning their only championship in 1995. Another parallel is both the Braves and the Dodgers had a great pennant race with the Giants. The Braves and the SF Giants in 1993 and the Dodgers and the NY Giants in 1951. However the Braves came out on top of their pennant race with the G-Men while the Dodgers fell to the "shot heard round the world." Another comparison can be the World Series villian. The Braves and Dodgers played the New York Yankees the most times in their runs. The Braves in 1996 and 1999 and the Dodgers played the Yankees in all 6 of their World Series matchups. However the Dodgers had more luck beating the Yanks in 1955 while the Braves collapsed against the Yanks in 96 and were overmatched in 99.
The most important parallel between the two clubs is the Hall of Fame caliber players they each displayed. The Dodgers had Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcome, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. The Braves had the pitching trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz along with Chipper Jones and players who will receive votes but might not get in Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones. These two teams could not sustain their winning ways without this nucleus of players. Although the second half of each teams run is where the parallels stop. The Dodgers moved to LA in 1958 and would again move to the top of the NL in 1959 and again in 1963. 65 and 66 winning the World Series 3 times with a new core of players. The Braves however would only win one more playoff series in 2001 before eventually having their run ended in 2006.
In closing my thoughts to the critics of the Braves run is, why do baseball historians hold the Brooklyn Dodgers to a higher standard and give them nostalgalistic lore while the Braves are mocked for only winning one championship? However if you look at the Brooklyn Dodgers and their run from 47-56 prior to moving to LA, they won only one Championship too and they are held to a lovable standard that the Braves and their fans do not enjoy. I hope this blog can somehow change a few minds. Both teams should be applauded for their great runs in the baseball history books.