Sports Outside the Beltway

Braves Division Title Streak, RIP

The Atlanta Braves have won 14 straight divisional titles. While it has been pretty obvious since May that the New York Mets were going to take that crown from them this year, it’s now all but official. AJC sportswriter Mark Bradley pauses to pay tribute to the accomplishment.

The people — and there are some out there, wrong-headed though they be — who came to insist that division titles didn’t mean anything simply don’t understand the nature of baseball. Those who do regard the Braves and the hallowed 14 as an outrageous benchmark. Said Schuerholz: “You don’t know how many general managers and managers and star players have said to me, ‘You can’t do what you’ve done. What you’ve done may be the most remarkable feat in sports history.’ “

Certainly it qualifies for consideration. No other franchise in the four major sports based in the U.S. and Canada — not the Yankees, not the Cowboys, not the Celtics, not the Canadiens — has finished first 14 times running. Over that ridiculous span, the Braves moved from the West to the East and saw seven organizations finish as runners-up, but the team atop the standings never changed. The players did, the Braves remaking themselves a half-dozen times, but each batch of players produced the same outcome.

Until this bunch. But the wonder of it isn’t that this one team failed — it’s that all the others found ways to succeed. “We’ve had problems and we’ve fixed them and we’ve patched them and we’ve found alternate strengths,” Schuerholz said. “Last year we jettisoned Plan A and went with 18 rookies.”

No player was an active part of all 14 titles. (John Smoltz missed the 2000 season after surgery.) Chipper Jones arrived in September 1993 as part of the vaunted Next Wave of Braves — Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez were classmates — and has since seen several more waves come and go. For 14 seasons, it didn’t really matter what names the Braves ran out there; what mattered was that they were Braves.

Ironically, the expansion Florida Marlins have had precisely two winning seasons, both times finishing behind the Braves in the NL East and taking the wildcard. The Marlins have twice as many World Series championships as the Braves. Somehow, though, I don’t think Schuerholz, skipper Bobby Cox, Smoltz, and the rest would trade away 12 penants for one more ring.

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