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by Harold Friend
Joseph Abstein was a Boston fan until his team moved to Milwaukee in 1953. Joe still roots for the Braves, but he has a perspective on championships that most modern fans will never understand.
Lew Burdette Beat the Yankees
After the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, I lost a little interest in the team, but only because it was so difficult to follow their daily fortunes. When the Braves won the pennant in 1957, I managed to get to Yankee Stadium to see the seventh game of the World Series. Lew Burdette, whom the Yankees had sent to the Braves for Johnny Sain in 1951, shut them out, 5-0. It was the third time that Burdette beat them in that Series.
A Pennant-Winning Failure
The Yankees, the New York baseball writers, and especially Yankees' fans, considered the season a failure. I cannot describe how ecstatic they were a year later when the Braves won the pennant again. The Yankees would have a chance to avenge their loss. The Yankees, as much I hate to say it, had a point. There really can be only one champion.
"American League Champions" Was Almost a Pejorative Term
Until 1969, winning the World Series was the only championship that counted. Winning the pennant was great, but it was merely the first step in winning the World Championship. To the Yankees, being referred to as "American League Champions" was almost a pejorative term because it meant that they lost the World Series.
Of course the 1951 Giants and just about every other pennant winner, including the Yankees, took pride in winning the pennant, but the journey was incomplete if the World Series weren't won.
When the leagues were separated into two divisions, the winning the pennant meant that your team also won a division title. The Braves, who left Milwaukee and were now in Atlanta, won the first National League Western Division title in 1969. They lost to the Mets in the playoffs, but they had won something. They beat out five teams for the right to lose to the Mets. In 1982, the Braves were Western Division champions, but the Cardinals won the pennant.
Remember the Champion?
Now even the most fanatical fans had trouble citing each league's playoff teams. How many experts remember how many consecutive Western Division titles the Oakland Athletics won in the early 1970s? Die hard fans remembered who played in the World Series, but it was tough to recall the division winners.
A Better Champion
The Braves won three consecutive Western Division titles from 1991-93, but failed to win a World Championship. Not to worry. They were champions, only their were better champions.
Then it got worse. Getting to the World Series became more difficult, and winning the World Series became more valued.
Even More Champions
In 1994, each league was split into three divisions, and the second place team among the also-rans was deemed to be the wild card. Fans could buy shirts that proclaimed their team was the wild card winner. Forget that they couldn't get out of the first round of playoffs. There would now be eight "champions."
There were no champions in 1994. There were only greedy owners and players and disappointed, abandoned fans.
The Many Braves' Championships
In 1995, the Atlanta Braves were moved to the Eastern Division. They were National League Eastern Division Champions, they were National League pennant winners, and they were World Champions. It was the only true championship the Atlanta Braves ever achieved.
The Braves continued to win division titles from 1996-2005. They won an amazing 10 division titles, but never again became World Champions. There were six years in which they were division winners, and four years in which they were pennant winners.
Maybe the Yankees Are Right
Some prefer to think of those Atlanta teams as winners, and they did win titles, but I can't help but thinking that although the Braves won 14 titles from 1991-2005, in each of those seasons, with the exception of 1995, they lost the last game they played. Maybe the Yankees are right.