Braves' 14 straight division titles should be cheered
Schuerholz-led run from 1991-2005 unlike anything before, or since
In a front-office career that has earned him upcoming enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, John Schuerholz can't ignore what has seemingly become the "Yeah, but ..." of the championship teams he oversaw first in Kansas City and then in Atlanta.
"It is sad that the story of the Atlanta Braves ends with the word 'but,'" said Schuerholz. "People talk about the great run we had, [a pro sports record] 14 consecutive division champions. All my cohorts in the business say, 'What a remarkable accomplishment. No one will ever do that.' The media examines what we have done as productive, but the end of the sentence is, 'But only one world championship.' That is frustrating to me."
Is that what we have become, a society that wants to look at greatness in an effort to find a failing instead of celebrate success?
Funny, isn't it? The A's had a run in which, with the help of the Wild Card, they lost four consecutive Division Series. But they had a book written about the unique approach they used with statistical analysis, ignoring that Branch Rickey actually relied heavily on that approach 70-plus years ago, and it sparked a new focus for current front offices.
Those A's haven't even been to a World Series since 1990, having come up short in the only two AL Championship Series they have reached in the last 27 years.
And the Braves …
Well, it might be wise to the current generation to take a look at the run of success the Braves have enjoyed.
The Braves finished in first place 14 consecutive completed seasons, the lone interruption a 1994 season that was cut short by a players' strike. They did it without a lot of fanfare over their process, which included a reliance on what were considered unique defensive shifts, strong player development and strong scouting. They did it by developing young players who seamlessly slipped onto the roster and helped maintain the success.
They did it with just one manager -- Bobby Cox -- during a 15-year stretch in which the 29 other teams employed 149 managers, ranging from the Twins, with two -- Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire -- to the Marlins, Cubs, Reds and Orioles, with eight managers each. The Braves had that touch in massaging a roster that avoided getting old. Over the course of winning 14 division titles, the Braves had 272 different players wear their uniform. John Smoltz was the only member of the organization in all 14 championships seasons, although he was on the disabled list for the 2000 season, recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Chipper Jones was a regular in the last 11 seasons, and Javier Lopez not only was on the roster for the final 13 division tiles, but played in 100 or more games in 10 seasons.
Consider that the Braves played 2,362 regular-season games from 1991 through 2005, and Mark Lemke's 906 games were the fourth most of any player. Jones appeared in a franchise-best 1,651 games, Andruw Jones in 1,451 and Lopez in 1,156.
There were 144 pitchers to appear for the Braves during that run, and only five started as many as 160 games: Tom Glavine (400), Greg Maddux (363), Smoltz (319), Steve Avery (181) and Kevin Millwood (160).
Consider that in that championship run, the Braves used:
• 20 players at catcher, led by Lopez's 1,106 games caught.
• 35 players at first base, led by Fred McGriff's 629 games.
• 24 players at second base, led by Lemke's 860 games.
• 28 players at third base, led by Chipper Jones' 1,207 games.
• 20 players at shortstop, led by Jeff Blauser's 791 games.
• 57 players in left field, led by Ryan Klesko's 625 games.
• 30 players in center field, led by Andruw Jones' 1,334 games.
• And 56 players in right field, led by David Justice's 665 games.
McGriff is the only one of those eight who was not a product of the Braves' scouting and player development, coming from the Padres in a trade for three prospects in July 1993.
And while they did win only one World Series, they did advance to the Fall Classic five out of eight Series from 1991-99, and took the NLCS to six games the three other times.
Consider that in the 11 seasons since the Braves' run came to an end, every Major League team except the Marlins and Mariners have advanced to the postseason, and 12 teams have been to the World Series. Seven teams have won World Series titles -- three for the Giants, two for the Red Sox and Cardinals, and one each for the Phillies, Yankees, Cubs and Royals.
The Dodgers and Cardinals have both advanced to the postseason seven times in the past 11 years, but the Dodgers have been eliminated in the Division Series three times and the NLCS four in their quest for the franchise's first title since 1988. MLB has expanded three times since then, realigned into three divisions in each league, and added first one Wild Card and then a second Wild Card from each league.
Teams don't survive over the long term.
A Giants team that won World Series in 2010, '12 and '14 is on pace for its third losing record in seven years, and coming off a loss in the NLDS last season, they are currently 26-45, the second-worst record in MLB to the Phillies' 22-46.
The A's haven't been to a World Series since they were swept by the Reds in 1990, the year after they swept the Giants for the franchise's first World Series title since 1974.
Maybe the Braves were just too good for their own good.
A record 14 consecutive first-place finishes somehow wasn't enough.