Sunday, September 10, 2006

The end of a streak: Reflections on the Atlanta Braves

The end is near, at least of the Atlanta Braves major league baseball pennant streak. The Braves are currently, as of this writing, 20 games out of 1st place in the NL East with about 3 weeks to go. The Bravos have won an amazing 14 division titles in a row, beginning with the magical “worst to first” pennant-winning year back in the early ‘90s. That feat has never been rivaled in baseball before. Not even the Yankees of the early- to mid-20th Century can claim that sort of a title.

That is not to say that the two streaks are in any way synonymous. The Bronx Bombers from 1950 to 1964 won the World Series 8 times. The Braves from 1992 to the present have won the World Series once in 1995. If you want to go further back to include the Babe Ruth era, the Yankees won 2/3’s of the American league pennants and a staggering 20 World Series titles from 1921 to 1964. With that sort of a backdrop, it’s hard to compare what the Braves have pulled off these last 14 years. Comparing any win streak in any sport to the Ruth-Gehrig-Dimaggio-Mantle Yankee years is pretty much comparing apples and oranges.

With the Golden Era Yankees bracketed, let consider other more mortal dynasties. The closest comparisons to the 90’s-00’s Braves I can find in professional sports are the 60’s NBA Celtics who won 8 consecutive titles and the NHL Canadiens who won 9 straight division titles from 1973 to 1983. On the college level, the UCLA basketball dynasty of John Wooden would rank up there, winning 10 championships in 12 years with 88 wins in a row over the ‘71 to ‘74 seasons.

Even though the Braves do not have a plethora of championship rings to show for their efforts, their consistency over the years is remarkable. Even the Yankees had an off year every so often. I think those of us who have followed the Braves since before this stretch began have always been in awe of this ongoing streak. As any true life long Braves fan can remember, the 80’s Braves were truly abysmal. They were perennially in the cellar of the National League.

I think what should be kept in mind with this streak is to compare the pre-1991 Braves with the current Kansas City Royals (53-89 record as of this writing). It would be just as improbable a streak as if the current Kansas City Royals would next year suddenly win the AL Central and continue to win the AL Central until the year 2020. That’s why the era is ending. That’s why I believe this streak is one for the ages.

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