By 1995, we had become accustomed to the Braves in the post-season. I worked for a stats wire service and Jack covered the team for the AJC. It was often my job to troll the press row to find out how many people would not be using their tickets to go to the post-game party, so that we could make sure we had enough tickets to get in. In 1995, we took our two daughters, ages 11 and 9, to the first game of the World Series. As we were walking out of the game, I told the girls, “You may see a hundred World Series games in your lifetime, and you will never see one pitched this well.” It was Greg Maddux against Orel Hershiser. Maddux, one of my all-time favorite pitchers, beat Hershiser, going the distance and giving up two runs on only two hits. The Braves countered with three runs, one on a perfect squeeze bunt by Rafael Belliard, and won the game.
They also won Game 2, on a homer by Javy Lopez. Game three, they lost, when Eddie Murray singled in a pinch runner in the 11th inning. In Game 4, Bobby Cox started young Steve Avery, instead of Maddux again. It was a move that drew criticism , until the Braves broke loose and won 5-2.
Then in Game 5, Maddux lost 5-4, sending the series back to Atlanta. And that was when it happened.
I remember Don Larsen’s perfect game, but our girls do not. So when Tom Glavine threw a one-hitter (the one hit being a dink by Jose Pena), I knew that, regardless of what I told the girls after Game 1, this was the best World Series performance by a pitcher I, or they, would ever see. David Justice’s sixth-inning home run was all Glavine needed. And there was, as Braves announcer Skip Caray would say, “dancing down Peachtree.”
I didn’t stop smiling for days.
And to this day, I remember telling Jack, “Do you realize what we are seeing here? We are seeing some of the best pitchers of our lifetimes on OUR team.”
And he said, “Yes. That is what we are seeing.”
And I said, “Someday in the near future, we are going to tell our grandchildren, assuming they will give a crap about baseball, that we were there when the Braves had Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Wohlers, Pena, and the greatest pitchers of our era. And we got to watch those games. In person.” We saw Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in their primes.
Maddux went first, then Glavine. Smoltz became a world-class reliever, then went back to the starting rotation. But none of them was as good individually as they all were as a rotation. All of them were good people, as well as extraordinary pitchers.
Baseball is a funny thing. It is a good thing that one team does not dominate. We all pull for the underdog. That is why I hate the Yankees; because George and then Hank Steinbrenner think you can buy it, but history tells us you can’t. Last year, the Yankees had the best team that money could put on the field, and they didn’t make the playoffs. That may not be the case this year when, again, the Yankees have the best team money can buy and may very well take it all.
We will never see their likes again in Atlanta. We may never again get on an elevator at our job and listen to people talking about last night’s Braves game. We may never again walk into a bar when all heads are turned to the tv to watch the game – some mid-season game that means nothing in the overall scheme of things. It’s all about money now, making it not spending it in the pursuit of excellence.
And I am not one of those who think baseball players of the caliber of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz are overpaid. If I could do my job as well as they did theirs’ and have millions of people watch me do it, I would expect to make big bucks. Anyway, I am sad tonight because Glavine is gone. And that leaves only Chipper from the Golden Days. And, as good as he is, he is no Maddux. Or Glavine. Or Smoltz. The kids who are starting college this year were born in 1991 when the Braves and the Twins both went from Worst to First and gave us what might be the best World Series we will ever see, even though it was one that the Braves lost.
There will never be a Falcons team, or a Hawks team, or a Thrashers team that so captures the City like the Braves of the 90s did. I am glad I was there.