OCTOBER 5, 2003
Brave In Name Only
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com
The Atlanta Braves have won 12 straight division titles; or, if you prefer, 3 straight division titles and 9 straight division titles sandwiching the (1994) season of Bud's DNR order. (Both streaks are mentioned - given the propensity of Braves fans to offer the Ross Gellerish plea of "We were on a break.") Yet, they have only one World Series championship (1995) to their credit. Why?
Is it because they lacked pitching?
All-Stars and Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were the mainstays of the Braves' staff during this run. At times, the three Atlanta horses were complimented by some of the most productive seasons of Kevin Millwood, Steve Avery, Charlie Leibrandt, Denny Neagle, John Burkett, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz. No, the lack of Braves' World Series championships outside of 1995 was not due to a lack of pitching.
Is it because they lacked hitting?
This is doubtful given the fact that Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Marcus Giles, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga, Terry Pendleton, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield each had one or more banner seasons with the bat as a Braves player at various times from 1991 through 2003.
Actually, what the Braves have lacked during their "run" has been a "sparkplug" on their roster - meaning a player who resonates a positive "can do" attitude which infectiously ripples throughout the team and permeates the collective consciousness of the squad.
Look at some of the recent World Champions. The 2002 Angels had such a "sparkplug" in David Eckstein. The 1997 Marlins and 2001 Diamondbacks had Craig Counsell. The 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Yankees had Paul O'Neill. The 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays had Pat Borders. The 1987 and 1991 Twins had Dan Gladden. The 1990 Reds had Chris Sabo (along with Paul O'Neill). The 1989 A's had Carney Lansford. The 1988 Dodgers had Kirk Gibson and Mickey Hatcher. The 1986 Mets had Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman. The 1985 Royals had George Brett.
Looking back at the rosters of the Braves, from 1991 through 2003, you can easily find an occasional "me" player (like a Sheffield or Javy Lopez) as well as many "laid back" personalities (like a McGriff or Andruw Jones); but, you cannot find a player like David Eckstein, Craig Counsell, Paul O'Neill, Kirk Gibson, Lenny Dykstra, etc.
In fact, historically, Braves players are so "laid back" that perhaps they should be called "America's Yawn" instead of "America's Team."
A team similar to the recent Braves was the 1976-1978 Philadelphia Phillies. They had oodles of talent and yet were always the bridesmaids come the post season tournament - never making it to the World Series. But, in 1979, they found their "sparkplug" in the person of Free Agent signee Peter Edward Rose Sr.
In the following (1980) season, the Phillies won the World Series and returned to the Series three years later in 1983.
Granted, sabermetrics tells us that outs are the key to success (and not intangibles). In the field you must gather outs with efficiency and at the plate you want to avoid making outs. This is how to win. However, while it is the essential equation in the balance sheet of the regular season play, the post season is amplified by the shortness of the schedule and prize at stake. The only way to address that magnification is with men who passionately play the game with that positive "can do" emotion and attitude.
Being passionate about what you do is widely declared as one of the common traits of most successful individuals (regardless of their profession, etc.). And, the opinion here is that having at least one player who resonates a positive "can do" attitude on your team is the common trait of World Championship baseball teams.
Until the Braves add a player who can be that "sparkplug" while subtracting some of their "It's casual" crowd, look for the Braves to continue on calling in the punting squad during post-season play.
Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com. Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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