The World Series
Monday, October 25 2021 @ 07:00 AM EDT
Contributed by: Magpie
It's come to this, has it?
The Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros, teams which have carried this particular identity since the mid 1960s, although both have histories that go back a little longer. Each has won a single championship in their current incarnation. The Astros, of course, have what we may always see as their tainted title from 2017. The Braves made five trips to the World Series in nine years during their lengthy reign of dominance in the 1990s but won only a single championship, in 1995.
Before becoming Astros, Houston's team was known as the Colt 45s, because... well, I guess they're pretty enthusiastic about their firearms down in Texas. Don't ask me to explain. It's a trend in team nicknames that didn't seem to catch on, and I'm sure we're happy to have been spared such monikers as the Green Bay Glocks. Still. it's probably a good thing that the Houston team changed the name when they did, upon moving into the Astrodome in 1965. If they were trying to dump the Colt 45s label today....I guarantee you, there would be quite a controversy. Because we live in weird and disturbing times.
The Atlanta Braves appeared for the first time one year after the Astros, in 1966, but the franchise had a long, long history before they went down to Georgia. They'd spent thirteen generally successful seasons in Milwaukee, winning a title in 1957. It's somewhat baffling that those Braves only won it all once - they had one of the greatest players who ever lived (Henry Aaron), one of the greatest third baseman of all time (Eddie Mathews), and their staff ace (Warren Spahn) won more games than any LH pitcher in the game's history. They had lots of very fine talent in support of these immortals. It's a puzzle. Before their brief time in Milwaukee, the team had played in Boston since 1871. They had been one of the National League's charter teams in 1876 and they were probably the greatest of all the nineteenth century teams. They were known as the Beaneaters in those days. They won six National League pennants, and are represented at Cooperstown by Kid Nichols, Hugh Duffy, Tommy McCarthy, Billy Hamilton, Jimmy Collins, and manager Frank Selee. But the good times ended with the 19th century and let's face it - Beaneaters was a silly name. They became the Boston Braves in 1912 and two years later won a championship as unlikely as any in the game's long history. At about the halfway mark, 15 July 1914, the Braves were dead last with a 33-43 record. They went 61-16 the rest of the way - that's right, 61-16 - and then swept Connie Mack's A's in the World Series. It was their last championship in Boston.
I think it's a fair assumption that most teams would have have thrown in the towel on the season upon losing Ronald Acuna, one the best young players in the game, to a season ending injury just before the All-Star Break. With one other outfielder, free agent acquisition Marcell Ozuna, already under suspension, the Braves outfield had become a gruesome dumpster fire. But they still had a fine starting rotation and a very fine infield. Even better, they still played in the NL East where merely playing .500 ball made you a contender. Alex Anthopoulos brought in Jorge Soler from the Royals, Adam Duvall from the Marlins, and Eddie Rosario from the Guardians of the Future to fill the gaping holes in the outfield. And as it turned out, just 88 wins were easily enough to cruise to a comfortable six game victory in the game's weakest division. Bitter Blue Jays fans are muttering that they should try that crap in the AL East, and see where it gets them.
It took the Astros a couple of months to get truly untracked - they were still only at .500 in mid-May, they were still looking up at Oakland in mid-June. Then they got serious, rolled up 11 wins in a row to take over first place on 21 June, and led the rest of the way. They got zero innings from erstwhile ace Justin Verlander, and their other old ace (Zack Greinke) faded badly over the final two months - but they still had no less than five other capable starters and they added some bullpen reinforcements (Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia, Phil Maton) at the deadline. They already had the highest scoring offense in the majors. While the four infield stars who will forever be associated with the garbage cans of 2017 are still there and still producing, their best hitters in 2021 were actually RF Kyle Tucker and DH Yordan Alvarez.
This is not the first time the Braves and Astros have met in post-season play; they encountered each other five times, always in the Divisional Series, back when the Astros were still in the National League. The Braves swept them in the NLDS in 1997 as Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz held Houston to just 16 hits and 5 runs in the three games. Two years later, the Braves won in the NLDS again; the Astros managed to win the first game before losing the next three. Two years after that, in 2001, they met up in the NLDS yet again and it was time for another sweep by the Braves. At this point, the Braves had won 9 of 10 post-season games with Houston. The Astros finally broke through in the 2004 NLDS. This was the year that the Astros picked up Carlos Beltran at the deadline and Beltran went absolutely berserk in the post-season - .435/.536/1.022 with 8 HR and 14 RBI in 12 games. The teams exchanged victories over the first four games and in the finale Houston blew them out 12-3, as Beltran hit two homers and drove in five. The Astros were back in 2005 and beat the Braves again in the NLDS, this time in four games. They then beat the Cardinals in the NLCS but were swept by the White Sox in their first ever trip to the World Series.
So... would I cheer for a team whose fans still do that bloody tomahawk chop? Or would I cheer for old Dusty?
You're not seriously asking, are you?
Fifty years ago, he was the Braves' young centre fielder, and if you can squint you can almost see the old man's features in the young man's countenance. He was mentored by Henry Aaron himself, like so many other young African-Americans coming up with the Braves. And he's still paying it forward, fifty years on. It can be very hard to cheer for the Houston Astros. I understand that completely. But it's pretty easy to cheer for Dusty Baker.