Yes, even on a joyous, laugh-filled, fun-poking reunion of the 1995 team earlier this year, there was no escaping the reality that for all of the Braves’ success in the 1990s and early 2000s, they won only one World Series.
They could have, probably should have, won a couple more.
They lost Game 7 of the 1991 World Series 1-0 in 10 innings to Minnesota, but could have won it in nine innings if not for Lonnie Smith’s infamous base-running blunder that cost a run in the eighth against Twins pitcher Jack Morris.
They could have taken a commanding three-games-to-one lead over the New York Yankees in the 1996 World Series if they’d been able to hold a 6-0 lead entering the sixth inning or a 6-3 lead entering the eighth in Game 4. But Jim Leyritz’s three-run homer off a slider from Braves closer Mark Wohlers tied the score in the eighth, and the Braves lost the game 8-6 in 10 innings and the series in six games.
They were favored to get back to the World Series after winning a franchise-record 106 regular-season games in 1998, but were upset by San Diego in the National League Championship Series.
The Braves wound up winning 14 consecutive division championships from 1991 through 2005, reaching the NLCS nine times from 1991 through 2001 and the World Series five times from 1991 through 1999 (1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999).
Alas, they finished their great run with just the one World Series championship, despite having four future Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame manager and a Hall of Fame general manager.
That doesn’t take away what they achieved in the regular season (which was unprecedented and still unmatched) or even what they achieved in the postseason (winning the NLCS four times in five tries from 1991-96). But settling for one World Series ring also is a part of the legacy of those teams.
>> ALSO: How the 1995 Braves were built
John Schuerholz, the Braves’ general manager throughout that run, was asked in a wide-ranging interview about the 25th anniversary of the 1995 championship if it bothers him, all these years later, that the great line of teams won only the one World Series.
“Yeah, it does, because I know our teams were talented enough to be world champions another time or two,” Schuerholz said. “But you have to have breaks; you have to have good fortune; you have to have the bounces go your way. And that’s not an excuse – that’s just the way baseball is. It just is. Yeah, it was disappointing, but it doesn’t diminish what we accomplished.
“Anyhow, I’m not dissatisfied that we only won one world championship,” Schuerholz said, “because we played like world champions through many of those years, but not all the way until the end of the season. We had teams that played up to that. (We had) hard-charging, committed, hard-working guys that would run through any wall for their skipper, Bobby Cox.”
The Braves had four teams during the 1990s/early 2000s that had better regular-season winning percentages than the 1995 club: the 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2002 teams. So the World Series ring notwithstanding, an argument can be made that the ’95 team wasn’t the Braves’ best of that era. But it was the one that was able to beat a highly acclaimed opponent, the Cleveland Indians, in the World Series.
“We had other teams that I and many others in the game would say to you were at least as good as, if not better than, the ’95 team,” Schuerholz said. “Based on their accomplishment, that was the team that won the world championship. … ’96, ’97, ’98, those teams were pretty darn talented, too.”
From 1991 through 2005, the Braves played 125 postseason games, winning 63 and losing 62. They haven’t won a World Series game since Game 2 in 1996, losing the final four games of that series, getting swept by the Yankees in 1999 and not getting back to the World Series since.
There was no single explanation for the postseason setbacks during the Braves’ greatest era, although bullpen breakdowns often were a culprit. See: Toronto pinch-hitter Ed Sprague’s pinch-hit ninth-inning home run off reliever Jeff Reardon costing the Braves a game in the 1992 World Series; Wohler’s slider to Leyritz in 1996; a 1-5 record in extra-inning World Series games from 1991 through 1999.
The Braves felt a sense of relief when they broke through in 1995, their dominant pitching silencing the fearsome Cleveland lineup. In a 1-0 win in the championship-clinching Game 6, Tom Glavine allowed one hit through eight innings, and Wohlers pitched a hitless ninth.
“Regardless of the criticism that we got because we hadn’t won a World Series (until 1995), and then when we did that we only one won, I think we knew how special what we were doing was,” Glavine said earlier this year. “But it’s the kind of thing that when you’re living it, it’s hard to really appreciate it, because you’re so caught up in year to year, trying to do it and give yourself that opportunity as a team.
“It’s a little bit easier to look at it now when you’re retired and removed from it,” Glavine said, “and have a different level of appreciation than when you’re going through it.”
What has happened since – the Braves’ current streak of 18 consecutive seasons without winning a single playoff series -- is a reminder to be appreciative for all the chances they had to win the World Series in the 1990s. It’s also a reminder that opportunities lost might not come around again for a long time.
“Well, of course, as a player you’d like to have won more,” said Mark Lemke, the Braves’ second baseman through much of the 1990s. “But I always say I count my blessings we did win one.
“I still think about the great guys and players I came up with through the system and played with in Atlanta prior to ’95 who weren’t on that ’95 World Series team, Ron Gant being one of them. If I had my way, Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton would be members of that ’95 team.”
Ask Lemke if winning only one World Series diminishes the Braves’ greatest era, and he answers: “Not for me. Not for me, it doesn’t.”
“Anytime you go to the World Series, it’s going to be hard,” Lemke said. “You’re playing the best team in the other league, especially in those days. That’s the first thing I look at there. And the second thing is: The guys I came up with through the Braves system, we knew the other end of it. So you say to yourself, would you rather be playing for a World Series with a chance you may not win? Or would you rather lose 100 games?
“The guys who had been there and gone through the lean years (of the late 1980s and 1990), we knew the other side was much better. We gave ourselves a chance. I’ll always take that.”
Ryan Klesko was a young outfielder in 1995, playing in an MLB postseason for the first time. He hit three home runs as the Braves won the World Series. He figured they’d win more.
“I was just thinking, ‘Man, this is easy, let’s do it again and again,’” Klesko recalled 25 years later. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.”
MORE FROM THE SERIES
» About the series
» FURMAN BISHER: Atlanta’s finest moment
» SPRING TRAINING: Starting with replacement players
» MARK BRADLEY: A subdued season, a giddy ending
» BOBBY COX: The best manager we’ll ever see
» BUILDING THE BRAVES: How the championship team was built
» CHIPPER JONES: ‘No bigger beneficiary of ’94 strike than me’
» TOM GLAVINE: Completing the journey back to fan favor
» MARK LEMKE: Improbable journey capped by World Series ring
» JOHN SMOLTZ: No Game 7 for him, but one heck of a celebration
» ANNOUNCERS: Championship call years in the making
» GREG MADDUX: At his best during ’95 World Series run
» DAVE SHOTKOSKI: Remembering pitcher killed in spring training
» MARQUIS GRISSOM: Dream comes true for Atlanta native
» MARK WOHLERS: Played prominent role in team’s success
» GREG McMICHAEL: How he found his pitch and earned his ring