Today is October 28th, 2015. That means that we are now officially 20 years away from what is, to date, the greatest day in the history of Atlanta Braves baseball. The ultimate goal of every team in Major League Baseball is to win the World Series, and on October 28th, 1995, the Braves accomplished this feat with a 1-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.
Some people saw it as the climax of a long journey that started with a miracle run to the World Series back in 1991. Others saw it as just the beginning of what would be a decade of dominance -- the "Team of the '90s," as Bob Costas put it. As it turned out, that title win in 1995 ended up being, to date, the only World Series trophy that Atlanta would add to their trophy case. The Braves made it back to the Fall Classic on two more occasions, only to get turned away on those two occasions by two vastly different New York Yankees teams. The Yankees ended up taking the title of "Team of the '90s", while the Braves finished the decade with "only" five National League pennants and one Commissioner's Trophy.
As you can tell by the fact that "only" is bracketed with quotation marks, it's obvious that winning that many pennants in a decade is no small feat. Sure, it was definitely disappointing that those Braves teams didn't win multiple World Series, but even getting to a World Series is still an amazing accomplishment. We as Braves fans know full well about the potential landmines that exist in the Postseason, and the fact that the Braves were able to dodge those landmines on five occasions and completely miss all of the explosives on that one magical occasion in 1995 is still a great accomplishment.
With that being said, it's time to try to figure out which of these pennant-winning/World Series-winning teams was actually the best of the bunch. This isn't to say which one is the most beloved, because I'm pretty sure that the worst-to-first 1991 team would actually win that award. They're the team that got this whole thing started, and even the role-players from that squad are still considered heroes in Braves Country. Instead, this is me trying to figure out which of these teams is actually the best. Mostly, I'm going back and looking at numbers while also going with my gut, which should explain why I don't have the '95 team as the best even though they won the whole doggone thing, nor do I have the '99 team ranked particularly highly even though they won the most games in their specific season.
Also, I'm not saying that my word is law, which is why I've included a poll at the end of this post. This is just how I feel about the five Atlanta Braves teams who managed to make it to the Fall Classic. So now that I'm done with my introductory rambling, it's time to get into the meat-and-potatoes part of my rambling.
I'm still mad to this day that this team didn't win the World Series in 1996. Aside from the fact that they basically snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in this particular World Series, it hurts because this team was absolutely better than the 1995 team that actually won it all. This was the year when Chipper Jones flashed the signs of greatness, and he was the only real "addition" that the Braves made to the team as they defended their title from 1995. Players like Marquis Grissom, Ryan Klesko, and even Fred McGriff all took leaps from their 1995 performance, and the three-headed monster of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine all seemed to be on equal footing with each other. This was also the year in which we were introduced to the dynamo known as Andruw Jones.
Overall, the entire team just got stronger as a unit, and aside from a bumpy patch in the 1996 NLCS against the Cardinals, (that eventually ended with an absolute destruction in Game 7 of that series), it seemed as if the Braves were going to march right on to back-to-back titles.
I'm not going to go into detail about all of the missed opportunities that the Braves had in the 1996 World Series, but I will say that, in my opinion, that's a series that the Braves win at least eight times out of ten. There's no denying that the Yankees were definitely on their way to cementing themselves as one of the great dynasties in baseball, but the Braves really should've delayed this dynasty by at least a year. Instead, we're all just left lamenting the fact that Jim Leyritz decided to develop a power stroke when he did.
Most of the other teams in this dynasty were either dogged by bad Postseason luck or just got outplayed by the other team when it counted the most. This team just let greatness slip from their hands when they seemingly had it in their clutches. This is the only team that I really lose a wink of sleep over whenever I think about the potential that the divisional dynasty had.
Normally, I'm a results-oriented person, so the fact that I'm personally ranking the team that actually won the title below a team that didn't is a bit odd for me, but I do believe that the '96 team was better than the '95 squad. I kind of explained it above, but I'll say it again: As good as the '95 team was, the '96 team just improved upon it and should've won the title that year. With that being said, you can never take away the fact that the '95 squad was the one that put it all together and brought a title home to Atlanta.
With that being said, there's one factor that I'll put over the '96 team, and that was Greg Maddux's performance in this season. Yeah, Tom Glavine is deservedly recognized as a hero for his amazing performance in Game 6 of the World Series, but good grief, Greg Maddux was out of his mind this season. 1.63 ERA. 2.26 FIP. 23.1 K%. 2.9 BB%. 39 ERA-. 52 FIP-. Maddux was on one this year, and it's easy to see why he won the Cy Young, and even easier to see how his performances helped buoy the Braves to a World Championship.
This is the team that started it all, and arguably the most beloved team in Atlanta Braves history. The worst-to-first Braves absolutely shook this franchise from its decades-long doldrums and helped kickstart an era that we're all clamoring to return to. Anytime you hear people talk about "The Braves Way," they're talking about this team and how the pitching was the key to carrying this team to greatness. This was the year in which Tom Glavine and John Smoltz emerged as stars, and with guys like Steve Avery, Charlie Liebrandt, Kent Mercker, and Mike Stanton helping to lead the charge on the mound, the pitching staff was outstanding and they proved it time and time again during the Postseason.
Now, while I was moaning about how the '96 team let a golden opportunity at a repeat slip through its hands, this team probably should've won their respective title as well. People love to talk about how the 1991 World Series was the greatest one ever played, but it's not that much fun to reminisce about it when your team was on the losing end -- especially when your team had such a golden chance to win that game in nine innings. Yes, Jack Morris pitched the game of his life when he threw ten innings of shutout ball, but the Braves should've pushed at least run one over during those innings, and I'm sure that the name "Lonnie Smith" rings a bell at this point. This particular team was so close to becoming a legendary one in Atlanta sports history. Well, they still are, but it could've been so much more.
Also, this year comes to mind whenever I think of Barry Bonds because this was the year in which Terry Pendleton utterly stole the NL MVP trophy from him. Nice.
On paper, this is an absolutely fantastic team. You have to be when you win 103 games with an amazing pitching staff (this was the year in which Kevin Millwood decided that he wanted to pitch at a level befitting that of the Three-Headed Monster), the two Jones entering their prime with solid seasons, and a dramatic run through the Postseason that culminated with a walk-off walk sending you to the World Series.
Unfortunately, fantastic can't beat special, and that's what the Braves were up against when they ran into that 1999 Yankees team. A lot of people like to claim that the Braves were "emotionally drained" from their dramatic NLCS series with the Mets, but let's face facts here: At this point, the New York Yankees were in buzzsaw mode. They only lost one game in the entire 1999 Postseason, and it wasn't to our Braves.
This was still a very solid team, but it was also a bit on the top-heavy side and it showed when the Yankees just clawed into them in the World Series. Definitely a great team, but it just wasn't as "special" as the other teams. It could be argued that this was when we began to enter the "ho-hum" phase of the divisional dynasty, which is fitting because this ended up being the last Braves team to win the pennant as of today.
Finally, we've got the 1992 Braves bringing up the rear of my rankings. Honestly, if I was ranking the entire divisional dynasty, I'd put the 1993 team ahead of the '92 squad, just because I believe that the '93 team probably would've ended up being a better match for the Toronto Blue Jays than the '93 Phillies or what we ended up actually getting in the 1992 World Series. But this is the team that ended up bringing Atlanta back-to-back NL pennants for the first time, ever, so here they are on this list.
Now, if it sounds like I'm down on this team, trust me: I'm not. Any team that wins a pennant is great in my opinion, and this tea is no different. Terry Pendleton continued to lead the way for this squad, and this was a revelatory season for David Justice. Then when you have guys like Ron Gant, Otis Nixon, and Deion Sanders running around, you've got a pretty fun team on your hands. Add to that Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream combining for one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history, and you've got an extremely fun team on your hands. Still, I've got them ranked the lowest here because, again, it just felt like they were a year away from really turning into a monster. It's weird to say that when the '93 team didn't win the pennant but the '92 team did, but here we are.
So, that's my ranking of the five pennant-winning teams in Atlanta Braves history. I'm sure that I probably missed a few special moments here and there, but I was also a pretty young kid during this time (shoot, I was a toddler during the '91-'92 run) so forgive me if my memories of those particular teams aren't as personal as the latter teams in the bunch. Still, it's always nice to make sure that the truly great teams in our franchise are remembered, and that's what I tried to do here.
Again, if you disagree then you can vote in the poll and/or shout at me in the comments section. That's what the internet's all about, right?