Posted: Monday September 18, 2006 2:55PM; Updated: Monday September 18, 2006 4:21PM
For half of my life, and for all of my post-pubescent existence, the Atlanta Braves have won their division. The thing about it, at least for Braves fans, is that the 14 pennants also symbolize 13 broken hearts. We'd win the division, then take our lumps in the postseason and go home early. As much fun as it was to be able to boast about being the division champs, we could never say the Braves were the best team in baseball (except for 1995, when the teams didn't even play 162 games thanks to the strike).
The Braves were officially eliminated from the NL East last week, and they've been unable to assemble their customary fall run, which has kept them from creeping into wild-card contention. Sunday, while I was watching the Giants-Eagles barnburner, I noticed that the Braves and the Marlins were heading into the 10th inning and realized I didn't even care. I still love the Braves and hope that next year we won't crawl into October with 10 players on the injured list, but that's all that's left now: next year.
The 14 consecutive division titles is a statistic that is cited frequently, usually to demonstrate the Braves' organizational excellence, but I think that's underselling it a bit. Winning 14 consecutive division championships doesn't just demonstrate an ability to develop talent and sign effective players without going over budget (or utilizing a counterfeiting machine, like the New York teams or Boston). Fourteen straight division titles is about the organization, sure, but it's more about players, the guys who have come in and done their job for a year or two or three and then moved on. The Braves' front office can pat themselves on the back all they want -- and don't forget John Schuerholz's book about leadership, available in bookstores now! -- and Bobby Cox deserves a nod for the consistency he's imbued, but without the guys in the uniforms, the Braves would never have been where they were and where they are.
Which is why, at least until they're eliminated, I'm rolling with the Dodgers from here on out. J.D. Drew, Furcal, Greg Maddux, Wilson Betemit and Kenny Lofton may be wearing white-and-blue, but as members of the historic pennant-winning Atlanta teams, they'll always be Braves to me. So go, Braves, even if you're on the Left Coast.
Game of the Week
This bumperball game has had me transfixed for a few days now. A word of advice: It's easier to score if you don't lean on the throttle the entire game.