It was not fun to be an Atlanta Braves fan in 1990. The team finished the season 32 games under .500, 25 games behind the World Series-winners, the Cincinnati Reds. Two-time MVP, perennial All Star, the face of the Braves, Dale Murphy was traded (for a player to be named later). The lone bright spots? In mid-season Bobby Cox replaced Russ Nixon as Manager of the Braves—a job he would keep until he retired after the 2010 season—and a kid named David Justice was named NL Rookie of the Year.
With Bobby Cox came a new era, a new energy—and a record-setting 15-consecutive year run of National League Division Championships. Of course, when the season began in April 1991, no one expected the Braves to achieve the previously unattainable…set a milestone never before achieved in National League history. How could this mix of kids (Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery among others) and veterans (Terry Pendleton, Deion Sanders, Sid Bream, Otis Nixon, many signed as off-season free agents) even hope to break even, much less win the National League Pennant and a trip to the World Series? No team in the National League had ever made that leap—from worst to first—in the history of the game.
Atlanta fans certainly didn’t expect it, certainly did not want to believe it could happen… after all, disappointment had visited Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium often in the franchise’s history in Atlanta. We were used to it, refused to let our hopes get too high… kind of like Chicago Cubs fans must feel.
But 1991 was different. Under Cox’s direction and leadership, the team—and the fans—believed… and achieved the impossible. After winning the NL Western Division by one game over the cross-country rival LA Dodgers, the Braves ultimately captured the Holy Grail of Baseball—a ticket to the World Series, courtesy of a play no Braves fans will ever forget—The Slide. Skip Carey‘s voice still echoes in our minds, as fresh today as it was 20 years ago:
Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here’s the throw to the plate! He is…safe! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!…Braves win!
The Braves may not have won the World Series that year, a seven-game epic battle against fellow worst-to-first Minnesota Twins, decided in extra innings of the seventh game, but the Braves did embark on a string of 15-consecutive seasons winning the NL Division title.
The man who orchestrated this remarkable, historic run will be honored this weekend, his number 6 retired to hang beside other Braves greats. Bobby Cox will join Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine as the only Braves so honored. Many of the alumni of 1991 will join the celebration honoring Bobby. Many Braves legends will return to compete in an inaugural Legends Game Saturday evening.
Those of us lucky enough to experience the lean years before the glorious Bobby Cox years will savor the memories, the moments, the excitement of the 1991… that continues 20 years strong. A new manager, a new crop of young stars and veterans, but the winning spirit Bobby Cox instilled created a team and a city who even today Believe.
- Bats: Familiar (Winning) Formula for Braves (bats.blogs.nytimes.com)