Dan Schlossberg’s been covering the Atlanta Braves for so long he was standing next to Tim McCarver in the clubhouse when Deion Sanders dumped an unfriendly bucket of water on the broadcaster during the 1992 National League Championship celebration. And his knowledge runs so deep, he pointed out during a phone interview Wednesday morning that Jeff Francoeur making the team makes Frenchie “the last player currently in a Braves uniform who appeared on the team during the 14-year streak.” (Note: A knowledgable reader later alerted us to the fact that Kelly Johnson, now back with the Bravos, was also a member of the 2005 squad.)
Ah yes, the streak. It’s the subject of Schlossberg’s new book, “When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags over Atlanta.” In it, the onetime AP and UPI sportswriter and lifelong Braves fan (and lifelong New Jersey resident, go figure) explores the Braves’s unprecedented run of 14 consecutive first place finishes between 1991 and 2005.
The foreword’s by legendary manager Bobby Cox and the book’s loaded with quotes and insight from the “streak’s” key players — many of whom have been guests on Schlossberg’s radio show, “Braves Banter.” It airs at 7 p.m. on Thursdays (this week’s guest is Leo Mazzone) at blogtalkradio.com or danschlossberg.net and can also be downloaded from iTunes.
“When the Braves Ruled the Diamond” is also filled with fun facts, trivia and anecdotes that even the most devoted “chopper” might not know. Here are nine not to be missed before Opening Day on Monday.
1. Nobody mess with the lucky “uniform!” Years before Tiger Woods developed a habit of wearing a red shirt on tournament Sundays, Jack Llewellyn beat him to the punch. A sports psychologist whom future Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz started consulting midway throught the ‘91 season — I lost my confidence and went 2-11,” Smoltz explained — Llewellyn started coming to games in a red shirt so Smoltz could spot him in the stands. “Smoltzie” went 12-2 the rest of the season and pitched Game 7 of the World Series.
2. Try hearing that chant waaay out in Cobb: Speaking of that magical “worst to first” ‘91 season — during a key September series against the Dodgers, the tomahawk chop-accompanying chant of the crowd grew so loud, it was heard two miles away on the Morehouse College campus.
3. Youse got a problem widdat? In 1996, the Braves blew out the St. Louis Cardinals 15-0 in Game 7 of the league championship series. With a World Series matchup looming with the cocky New York Yankees, the celebration started a bit early. And oddly, at least for the Deep South: During the seventh inning stretch, more than 52,000 fans in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium sang along loudly to Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York.”
4. That’s better than winning the World Series, right? While much attention was lavished on legendary Braves manager Bobby Cox’s record-setting 158 regular season ejections, the Hall of Famer actually has a more rarified claim to fame: He’s the only manager to be ejected from more than one World Series game, pulling it off in Game 2 in 1992 and Game 6 in 1996.
5. The 3 second rule: Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine refused to admit he was superstitious, “but acted otherwise,” Schlossberg says. Uh-huh. Along with always taking the same number of warmup pitches and pulling his cap off and on three times on the mound, “Glav” once accidentally dropped his well-chewed wad of gum on the dugout floor during a game. Schlossberg: “(He) washed it off and put it back in his mouth.” Not because he was superstitious, or anything.
6. Now warming up in the bullpen … Mr. Ed? One of Schlossberg’s favorite anecdotes involves Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series (aka the “When Sid slid” miracle comeback game). With the Braves down 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Atlanta mounted police were stationed in the bullpen, ready to deal with any fan issues after the expected loss. Braves reliever Marvin Freeman yelped, “Get those horses out of here, we’re gonna make a comeback!” The horses trotted off and the Braves scored three runs to head to the World Series.
7. Can you feel the Braves love tonight? Who knew what a loyal fan the Braves had in parttime Atlantan Sir Elton John? Late in the 1995 World Series-winning season, Captain Fantastic showed up at the batting cage at Wrigley Field to visit with the visiting Braves. He also sometimes sent telegrams to Bobby Cox after the team played especially well or went on a winning streak.
8. Cute. But if they show up together on opening day of the new Cobb stadium it’ll be plain spooky: The starting pitcher and catcher for the first ever Braves game played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1966 were Tony Cloninger and Joe Torre. The opposing manager and pitching coach (for the Yankees) during the last game ever played there, Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, were … gulp. Torre and Cloninger.
9. Next time, Mr. MVP, take MARTA. It’s Smarta: Only in Atlanta, folks. Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player after the worst-to-first 1991 season, but even he knew when he was beaten by the city’s biggest foe. “I couldn’t make it downtown (from his home) in time for the press conference with all the Atlanta traffic,” Pendleton said. He ended up having to be flown in by helicopter.
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