With the start of another new professional baseball season, I found myself thinking back to 1991 when the Atlanta Braves went on a last to first ride and came within inches of winning the World Series.
The 1990 season showed no signs that the Braves were about to embark on an incredible run which would give fans something truly special.
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 at third and first, the Braves certainly had the potential to be better than the previous dreadful campaigns which became all too common.
However, 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 and often sat watching the afternoon Braves games in between morning classes and then working into the night as editor of the student newspaper.
It didn’t take long to see that this Braves team was going to be different. There was a different attitude and even the losses were competitive often coming by a run or two.
I won’t try to convince you 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.
However, in addition to improving defensively and with their standout pitching staff, Atlanta now had legitimate speed on the base paths and in the outfield with Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders.
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, it would not continue playing.
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.
In what is still considered one of the best series of all time, the Braves and Twins went seven games with the final one going to extra innings before Minnesota won.
It 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 1991 season as a whole. It was something completely unexpected and the start of a long postseason run that fans eventually began taking for granted
Perhaps the toughest thing to comprehend now is that it was 30 years ago when it happened.
Chris Bridges is a former sports editor of The Walton Tribune and The Covington News. Reach him at email@example.com.