Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dynasty Well Done: An Appreciation

Posted by Picasa. By Claire Smith, for The Philadelphia Inquirer

To their credit, the New York Mets came to bury the Atlanta Braves last week and did.

To their discredit, New York fans came to taunt, mocking visiting Atlanta with the Braves fans’ own signature tomahawk-chop chant during a doubleheader sweep on Wednesday.
Tom Glavine/
David L. Pokress/Newsday/MCT)
Photo via NewsCom

The two victories reemphasized the obvious. The Mets are going to win the National League East running away. The Braves won’t, ending a 14-year run as division champions.

Atlanta’s dream of a wild-card berth also likely ended that night, as the Braves fell off the pace by 6 1/2games in that race.

So Mets fans should have celebrated. But to dance on the dugout roofs at Shea and mock? The home team — arguably the best in the National League — deserved better from its fans. So, too, did the Braves.

There are classic dynasties and then there are classy dynasties. And the Atlanta Braves’ dynasty (1991-2005) had class.

The most arrogant thing about the franchise’s storied run was the chop.
That chant might have been as insufferable as it was insensitive, but not so the product on the field, for no one other than the rock-headed John Rocker ever demeaned the Atlanta uniform, belittled the opposition, or singlehandedly put an ugly face on the era.

Not Tom Glavine. Not Greg Maddux. And certainly not manager Bobby Cox.

Those guys were all too busy taking care of business.

They laid the groundwork for Hall of Fame berths for Maddux, Glavine and Cox, and maybe even for Atlanta’s third Cy Young’un — John Smoltz.

They won not only three NL West and 11 NL East flags, but also five pennants, the 1995 World Series, and so many Cy Young Awards, MVPs and manager-of-the-year trophies, you lose count.

And they did all of the above with less arrogance in their 14-year run than some losing teams exhibit in one forgettable season.

That down-to-earth approach may not have made the Braves the postseason constant they were. It did make them a welcome one.

It all started with Cox, the three-time NL manager of the year and arguably the league’s manager of the last decade.

Cox, a four-time manager of the year overall, could have big-leagued[/ITALIC] writers, players, and even others in his fraternity as he solidified his Cooperstown credentials since 1991. When you’re the only manager in baseball history other than Hall of Famers with fourteen 90-win seasons, after John McGraw (16) and Joe McCarthy (15), an inflated ego is all but expected.

Yet no cottage industry for books about the brilliance of being him has ever sprang up around Cox. He doesn’t pretend to be Abner Doubleday or try to reinvent the game daily. Most important, Cox has remained consistent in areas where it has counted the most: accessibility, civility, humility.

As Cox showed how it’s done in the manager’s office, he was blessed with a stellar supporting cast: a master architect in general manager John Schuerholz, and key veterans aligned not only as stars, but as team leaders as well.

Terry Pendleton, tantamount to a player-manager, policed the clubhouse. Brian Jordan, Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez made for a formidable posse.

Then there was Glavine, the lefthanded Michelangelo to Maddux’s Da Vinci.
How different might things have been for the Phillies — a team desperate for veteran leadership the last two seasons — if Glavine had signed here instead of with the Mets.

Glavine, like Derek Jeter and old-schoolers Willie Stargell, Don Baylor, and Brooks and Frank Robinson before him, defines clubhouse presence.

Glavine’s comportment and his intelligent approach to all things baseball showed one young Brave after another the meaning of professionalism and responsibility.
After Glavine and Maddux departed, Smoltz stood in their stead.

Before the 2005 season started, Smoltz gathered his teammates to explain what was expected: courtesy and accountability rather than condescension when dealing with the media; dealing with rather than ducking defeat; honoring rather than embarrassing the organization.

The conglomeration of kids took Smoltz’s advice, then took the NL East — again.

You cannot manufacture that kind of character. Most teams are just grateful to stumble onto it one or two players at a time in any one cycle.
The Braves overflowed with it for 14 years.

Now the race, well-run, is over.

So celebrate, Mets. Consider the possibilities, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals.
But remember, before you mock the dying dynasty as it exits stage right, before you even think about topping it, try emulating it first.