The Atlanta Braves enter the 2004 playoffs having won 13 consecutive division titles, an accomplishment unprecedented in any professional sport.
But that accomplishment begs a question: Do you consider the Braves a success because of their regular-season dominance or a failure because of their postseason futility?
The anecdotal evidence indicates that many fans today see Atlanta as nothing more than a fall flop -- the baseball equivalent of the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls from 1991-94.
The exception for the Braves was 1995, when they won their lone World Series during this remarkable run from 1991-2004 (not counting '94, the year of the baseball strike).
Yes, it's impressive when teams (and players) perform with distinction on a postseason stage. After all, Reggie Jackson became known as Mr. October for a reason.
Still, what's more impressive -- winning a marathon or winning a sprint? Isn't it more impressive -- or at least equally impressive -- when a team succeeds over the long haul?
In light of this, let's assess the Braves of the past decade-plus. To distill the preceding questions: Should the Braves be applauded for their regular-season success or criticized for their postseason failures? We asked three of our baseball analysts to weigh in, and here's what they said:
It's both. Applaud the Braves for winning 13 consecutive division titles, but you have to criticize them for not winning more championships. That's the good and the bad of it. The good is that they've won consistently in the regular season, but the bad is that they haven't won consistently in the postseason.
In sports, championships count the most. Three straight World Series, which is what the Yankees accomplished from 1998-2000, is more impressive to me than 13 straight division titles.
You can't discount 13 straight, though, because that's a long time. We're always looking for longevity in sports. But you don't play for division championships, you play for world championships.
I bet Bobby Cox would trade four of those division titles for four World Series. Everybody would. Winning the World Series is what it's all about.
Comparing the Braves to the Buffalo Bills isn't a fair assessment. When you win 13 straight division titles, that's amazing -- think about the change in personnel over that time. To sustain that excellence for 162 games, year after year, is incredible.
For so long, the Braves were a pitching-dominated team (led by John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Steve Avery). When you thought of the Braves, their starting pitchers were the identity of the team. I've always said that the teams that win in the playoffs have the best starting pitching and the best back of the bullpen.
Now the landscape of the Braves has changed. Now, they have decent pitching but they're more of an offensive club. Tip your hat to GM John Schuerholz. It was hard to let go of Glavine and Maddux, but he made the needed changes and the Braves are still winning.
Amazing stuff, what this front office has done. It's awesome to go out and do that without missing a beat for 13 years running.
Having said that, winning consecutive World Series is more impressive -- because that's what you play for. That's the reason you play. Take the Yankees from 1949-53 -- they won five straight World Series. In those days, there were no divisions in each league, just an American and National League, with eight teams in each league. So to get to the World Series was still tough then, and to win five in a row -- that's much more impressive, because you've reached the finish line.
The Braves have gotten to the dance but haven't crossed the finish line as much as they would like. Thirteen straight division titles is impressive, but five straight World Series is phenomenal.
As a player, I would take winning four or five straight World Series over 13 straight division titles. The object is to win the World Series.
But there's no question that the Braves should be considered a success. Their roster hasn't been the same and they've won with different players. When you win your division 13 straight times, how is that not a success?
It's a testament to the Atlanta organization and the way they do business -- their scouting and the things they believe in. Other organizations might not admit it, but lots of organizations are trying to pattern themselves after the Braves. Every franchise would love to say, "Hey, we've won our division 13 straight times." That's quite an achievement.
Of course, when you say you've won the division 13 straight, the next question will be, how many World Series did you win? Unfortunately for the Braves, the answer is one. But you've got to get there to have an opportunity.
This year, they've been particularly impressive because no one expected them to win. Everybody thought they'd be middle-of-the-pack. But John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox made some shrewd moves, and the players have performed again.
To me, consistency has always been the name of the game. So even though they've gone to the playoffs and won the World Series only once, that shouldn't to be considered a failure. It's still a success, as far as I'm concerned.
You just don't know how hard it is to consistently win during the course of a 162-game schedule, and to win the division for 13 straight years is quite remarkable.
Obviously, the goal is to win the World Series. But some years, you have a good club and you make the playoffs -- maybe you win your division by 15 games -- but it's still tough to win the World Series. It's unfortunate for the Braves, because as many times as they've gone to the postseason, people expect you to win more than one. But that doesn't take anything away from the success the organization has had.
When the Yankees won five straight from 1949-53, the road was easier -- you won your league and went straight to the Series. It was a two-team playoff. In today's playoff format, you have a 1-in-8 chance of winning the Series (and the best-of-five is the toughest round).
Again, winning all those division titles means you've had 13 straight years of having the opportunity. The Braves have another opportunity this year, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they won another World Series.
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