For '90s Braves, one (title) is a very lonely number
It's splendid the Atlanta Braves will retire Chipper Jones' No. 10. Still, you wonder. When it comes to this future Hall of Famer and the other gifted players on those Braves teams that began the early 1990s sprinting toward an unprecedented 14 straight division titles: Why didn't they dominate more?
That's a nice way of saying, "Why did those Braves teams win just one world championship?"
Now think about this: During the 137 seasons of this National League franchise, there have been six name changes, moves from Boston to Milwaukee and Milwaukee to Atlanta and a slew of players who have ranked among the best of their peers.
Even so, Jones is only the 10th guy ever to have his number retired by the franchise. Four of them joined Jones on most of those record-setting Braves teams of the 1990s and beyond.
In addition to the division titles, those Braves grabbed five NL pennants, and they won the 1995 World Series.
That's right. Despite five guys worthy of having their numbers retired by the franchise while owning Cooperstown as their ultimate destiny -- manager Bobby Cox, pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and Jones -- those Braves finished with just one world championship.
What's up with that? And why does Jones shake his head whenever somebody suggests those Braves are among the biggest underachievers in the history of baseball?
"You know, people ask me all the time about the string of division championships and only one world championship, but I can honestly say that the only one that gets up under my saddle is 1996," Jones said, pausing, reflecting on the Braves' World Series loss to the New York Yankees. Then Jones added in a hurry, "And obviously Game 4, when [Jim] Leyritz hit the home run."
Leyritz was an obscure player for the Yankees -- well, he was before his game-tying, three-run homer in the eighth inning of that Game 4 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Prior to that, the Braves were cruising, not only for the night, but for the World Series.
The Braves won the opening two games at Yankee Stadium, and after they returned home to lose Game 3, they moved toward a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series with a 6-3 lead with two innings to go. They were also headed for baseball immortality as one of the few teams with back-to-back world championships.
Then came Leyritz. Then defeat for the Braves in Game 4. Then they never won again during the rest of that October.
It was one of the biggest collapses ever in the World Series.
"I felt like we had the best team in baseball that year, especially after we went up to New York those first two games and just crushed them," Jones said. "For whatever reason, we didn't get it done at home. If we win that Game 4, we go on and win back-to-back world championships.
"Every other year, I felt like when we played a particular team [and lost in the playoffs], they were just better than us."
With apologies to Jones, it was almost the opposite.
The overwhelming majority of those other teams that eliminated the Braves back then weren't the better team. Certainly not 12 out of 14 times during that record streak -- you know, minus the 1995 world championship over the Cleveland Indians and the Leyritz thing.
All you need to do is ask and then answer the following: How many of those other teams had at least five players who would later have their numbers retired with that particular team along the way to Cooperstown?
Not the 1991 Minnesota Twins. They joined the Braves in going from worst to first into the World Series. In the end, the Twins won Game 7, with only Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris starring on their roster as possible Twin players for the ages.
The next year, the Braves dropped the World Series to a Toronto Blue Jays team loaded with veteran talent from elsewhere (Joe Carter, Dave Winfield, Roberto Alomar, David Wells and Morris, for instance). Close call, but I'll give the Braves a break on that one.
The Blue Jays were better.
The '93 Philadelphia Phillies? Please. After winning 104 games, more than anybody during the regular season, the Braves were supposed to destroy the strikingly plump and sloppy Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
We've already mentioned the Braves of '95 and '96. As for the '97 Braves, they spent more time complaining about the strike zone of umpire Eric Gregg than trying to keep from collapsing against an inferior Florida Marlins bunch in the NLCS.
In '98, the Braves dropped another NLCS with ease. That one was to the San Diego Padres, winners of eight fewer games than the Braves during the regular season.
The Yankees were better than the Braves in taking the '99 World Series, but then the Braves were swept in the NL Division Series the following year by the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2001, the Braves lost another NLCS (this time to the Arizona Diamondbacks). And, to save time, they closed out their streak of division titles with four consecutive NLDS losses to the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros (twice), respectively.
You've guessed it. None of those Braves playoff losses after the one to the 1999 Yankees involved teams with five guys destined to have their numbers retired by that franchise.
Just saying the Braves could have had a dynasty.
They should have had a dynasty.