The Atlanta Braves are in warm, sunny Florida for spring training, which makes me envious for a variety of reasons.
With the knowledge that a new season is now just around the corner, it’s hard not to think back to 1991 when the Atlanta Braves went on a last-to-first ride and came within inches of winning the World Series. That team captured the hearts of their fans here in Georgia and even ones around the country.
The 1991 season was remarkable for a number of reasons, and all one has to do is look back a year earlier to begin to understand why.
The 1990 campaign showed no signs that the Braves were about to embark on their incredible run which would give fans something truly special. Quite frankly, the team was beyond horrible.
Atlanta went into the 1991 season with a new general manager and some key new players, including Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream. With those two anchoring the infield corners at third and first, the Braves certainly had the potential to be better than the previous dreadful campaigns which became all too common.
The additions to the 1991 roster along with a strong returning pitching staff had many believing Atlanta would certainly climb out of the cellar. With names fans still remember such as David Justice, Jeff Treadway, Ron Gant and Rafael Belliard, the team was embarking, we would later learn, on a magical season.
I was a sophomore in college when the season began in the spring months of 1991 and I often sat watching the afternoon Braves games before working into the night as editor of the student newspaper. I always hoped for an afternoon game because it gave me a chance to watch after classes and before making the trek to the student newspaper office.
It didn’t take long to see that the 1991 Braves team was going to be different. There was a different attitude and even the losses were competitive often coming by a run. Players such as Deion Sanders and Otis Nixon added not only speed on the base paths but added to the excitement in the games. They were a legit threat to steal each time they reached first base.
I won’t try to convince you that I knew Atlanta was going to eventually finish the season one run away from winning it all. In reality, I felt the Braves would make that type of run in 1992.
All the ingredients were there, and as the 1991 season progressed the Braves were no longer in last place. In fact, they continued to hang around the top of their division and fans and media began to wonder if they could actually make the postseason.
Remember, this was still during a time when only the four division winners made the playoffs. A team could win more than 100 games, but if it didn’t win its division there would be no postseason appearance.
Atlanta won 94 games in the 1991 regular season and it was just enough to get into the postseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished with 93 wins in what was a tough National League West, which also included an 84-win San Diego Padres team.
The historic season continued all the way to the World Series against the Minnesota Twins, the American League’s last-to-first story for that season.
In what is still considered one of the best series of all time, the Braves and Twins went seven games with the final game going to extra innings before Minnesota won. By luck, Minnesota hosted four games, winning all four. All three games played in Atlanta were won by the Braves.
The series was not without controversy, though, as the umpires missed numerous calls that hurt Atlanta. Many still recall the infamous play where Ron Gant was pulled off first base and still signaled out.
While disappointed with the final game, fans could not be disappointed in the season as a whole. It was something completely unexpected and the start of a long postseason run.
The only thing that is tough to comprehend now is that it was 29 years ago. Still, every time we reach this point on the calendar, it’s hard not to think back to that magical season now decades old.
It was a different world both for our professional sports teams and for us personally. Still, it’s fun to look back and remember.