Saturday, July 26, 2014

Forget The Revisionist History; Remember The Expos

With the Hall of Fame induction ceremony scheduled for Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., and a carload of former Atlanta Braves — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, manager Bobby Cox — scheduled for induction, brace yourselves. We’re about to be inundated in coming days with news articles and TV features about the great Braves Dynasty of the 1990s and 2000s.

And in fairness, those Braves teams were extraordinary, especially their starting pitching. Maddux and Glavine were deserving first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. Maddux, in particular, was absolutely incredible, one of the three greatest pitchers of his generation, along with Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, and on the short list of the greatest pitchers of all time. Cox was a great manager for those teams, and it’s fitting that he is going into the Hall of Fame along with fellow skippers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. They helped define their era in the sport.

Let’s not forget that Torre played for and managed the Braves. So the Braves connection this weekend is a strong one. A third member of that great Atlanta rotation, John Smoltz, also deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully he’ll join the others in 2015.

With that out of the way, let’s put to rest one bit of revisionist history right here and now.

Fact: The Atlanta Braves did NOT win 14 consecutive division championships. USA Today wrote that in its sports pages on Friday, and we’re going to see and hear that bit of misinformation passed along many times in coming days as those teams are rightly celebrated. The fact is, however, that the Braves won 14 division championships in 15 years. And that’s a huge difference.

The Braves did not win the National League East in 1994. Yes, officially there were no champions that year because of the strike, which wiped out the end of the season and forced the cancellation of the World Series. That doesn’t change the fact that the Braves did not win the division, though, and it doesn’t change the fact that they wouldn’t have won the division had there been no strike. Most likely they wouldn’t have come close.

Lest we all forget, at the time of the strike, with six weeks remaining on the schedule, the Montreal Expos were in first place in the NL East, six games ahead of the Braves, and were pulling away. The Expos had the best record in baseball at the time and were hot as a pistol, having won 20 of their last 23 games at the time play was halted.

The Expos roster featured such stars at Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Pedro Martinez, Ken Hill and John Wetteland. When baseball finally resumed a year later, Expos manager Felipe Alou was named manager of the National League team for the 1995 All-Star Game, not the Braves’ Bobby Cox. That doesn’t make Montreal the official winners of anything in 1994, but what does it say about Atlanta? It doesn’t say “division champions,” that’s for sure.

The strike of 1994 cost baseball a World Series, and history will always remember it that way. The strike also cost Montreal a chance at a World Series, with one of history’s great overlooked clubs, a team never heard from again. And that’s truly a shame. That team deserved its chance at history. Instead, the strike intervened and then the economics of baseball, which will always favor the large markets, forced Expos ownership to break up that club starting in ’95.

The strike of 1994 also enabled the revisionists from Atlanta to pretend that the ’94 season never happened and to claim instead that the Braves won 14 division championships in a row. But they didn’t. As great as the Atlanta dynasty was, and as unlikely as it is to ever happen again, the fact remains that the Braves won 14 division championships in 15 years. End of discussion.

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