Two Sides to Every Streak
It's not enough that the Yankees dominate baseball history; they have a different way of looking at it.
Everyone else who talks about Atlanta's perennial trip to the playoffs as division champion says the Braves have won 12 consecutive division championships and have appeared in the postseason 12 consecutive times. The Yankees' math is different.
In their game notes for the news media this year, the Yankees have reduced the Braves' achievement by a quarter, putting the number at 9, not 12.
The Yankees, the notes say, "are only the second team in major league history to win as many as six consecutive league or division titles behind the Braves' current streak of nine straight."
In addition, the Yankees "reached postseason play for the ninth consecutive year in 2003, extending the major league record which they share with the Atlanta Braves."
The Yankees' calculator obviously counts from post-1994, the strike year, refusing to recognize the Braves' three consecutive division titles and postseason appearances leading up to 1994. But there were no division champions or playoffs in 1994, so no other team interrupted the Braves' streaks.
Now if the Yankees wanted to say the Braves have finished in first place only nine years in a row, they could be technically right. When the players went on strike in 1994, the Montreal Expos, not the Braves, were in first place. But the Expos were not awarded the division championship.
Question: How many years in a row have the Braves finished in first place?
Answer: Nine, from 1995 to 2003.
Q: Did they finish in first place in 1994?
Q: Who did instead?
A: The Montreal Expos. (Note: Murray Chass concedes this point in his column below.)
Q: Isn’t finishing first a prerequisite to winning the division title?
Q: So the Braves did not win the division title in 1994?
That’s enough to illustrate the absurdity of Chass’ point. But let’s continue:
Q: But people say the Braves have won 12 straight division titles?
Q: So are they ignoring the 1994 season?
A: Because there was a strike before the season ended.
Q: But the season came to an end at some point right?
Q: Who had the best record in the Braves’ division at the time the season ended?
A: The Expos.
Q: Not the Braves?
Q: So the Expos won the division title?
A: Some say “No” because there was not a postseason.
Q: But there was a season, right?
Q: Even though the season was cut short in August, were any awards given out to the players?
A: Yes. Frank Thomas won the MVP award in the AL, Jeff Bagwell won it in the NL. David Cone won the Cy Young in the AL, and Greg Maddux won it in the NL. Buck Showalter and Felipe Alou were the Managers of the Year. Lee Smith and Rod Beck were the Relief Men of the Year. The Roberto Clemente Award went to Dave Winfield. Bob Hamelin and Raul Mondesi won the Rookie of the Year awards. And Gold Glove winners and Silver Slugger recipients were also named. In fact, Maddux had won it the previous two years, in 1992 and 1993 (but not in 1991), and he also won it again in 1995. In fact, the biography profile of Maddux on mlb.com says that in 1995 he “Dominated the National League once again, winning the Cy Young for an unprecedented fourth straight season.”
Q: So, in calculating streaks, Major League Baseball counts the 1994 season?
A: Yes. If MLB did not count the 1994 season, Thomas, Bagwell, Cone, Maddux, Showalter, Alou, Smith, Beck, Winfield, Hamelin and Mondesi would be very surprised. By the way, Mondesi was one of five Dodgers to win the Rookie of the Year award during the five-year span from 1992 to 1996. On the official Dodgers web site, it states, “During the 1990s, the Dodgers set a record with five consecutive National League Rookies of the Year: Eric Karros (1992), Mike Piazza (1993), Raul Mondesi (1994), Hideo Nomo (1995) and Todd Hollandsworth (1996).” So the Dodgers count the 1994 season in their streaks.
Q: Back to the Braves. Did they finish in first place in 1994?
Q: They did not win the division title in 1994, right?
Q: And baseball was played in 1994, right?
A: Right. The award winners are evidence to that.
Q: So if the Braves were to say that they have a current streak of 12 consecutive division titles, they would be taking advantage of the fact that there was a strike, right?
Q: That seems quite self-serving, don’t you think?
A: Yes. And it’s even far more self-serving than the fact that the Yankees say their nine straight playoff appearances matches the Braves’ streak. Let's be honest about who’s really manipulating history here.
That final point misses one important fact: It is not the Braves' notes that are touting 12 consecutive division titles and postseason appearances, it is MLB and every single media outlet in print, broadcast and on the web. Whereas the Yankees once again have to single themselves out from the other 29 teams.
On top of that, yes, the Braves did not finish in first place in 1994, but that's not what those media outlets say. They say the Braves have won 12 division titles and made 12 straight postseason appearances. Both are true. In 1994, technically no team finished in first place because the season itself was not finished. It came to an end, but it wasn't completed. There is no division championship banner in Olympic Stadium in Montreal (or in San Juan). There were no team records or awards given out. Even the Yankees, who were in first place when the season came to an end, do not acknowledge it.
Those postseason awards given to individual players were doled out on the insistance of the players association, which wanted to make sure all its members with clauses for winning Cy Youngs and MVPs and finishing in the top five in the voting got their contractual bonuses from the teams. At the time, there was a big debate about whether or not the awards should be given, but it was the players association that pushed for it.
But the fact that the Braves did not win a division title in 1994, while true, doesn't interrupt their streak. In years in which division titles have been won, the Braves have won the last 12. In years in which postseason games have been played, the Braves have played in at least one series in each.
Obviously, the points about Maddux and the Dodgers hurt my arguments. But had those awards not been given out in 1994, Maddux would still be considered to have won three straight Cy Youngs, and the Dodgers would've had four straight Rookies of the Year. But they're also different lists. If you go to a list of Cy Young winners, you can count Maddux four consecutive years. On a list of Rookies of the Year, you can count five straight Dodgers. But on a list of division champions, you can count 12 straight Atlanta teams; and on a list of postseason teams from 1990 to 2003, there's only one team that appears in every year that had playoffs.
I can't believe I'm defending the Braves so strongly here, but there's only one team I loathe more than Ted's (former) boys.
Labels: baseball history, Braves, New York Times, Yankees