Voices

Whoever said baseball's fair?

Thoughts on who will, should, or could win this year's World Series

Issue: "Faith-based about-face," Aug. 27, 2005

ATLANTA-Sept. 1 signals the beginning of baseball's stretch run, so now's the time to offer an opinion-from the perspective of a suddenly dispassionate fan-about who should win the World Series this year.
(Editor's queries: What do you mean by "dispassionate"? What do you mean by "should"?)
After growing up in Boston, I regularly said-until last October-"It's not fair." Why did the Red Sox lose so often in the most excruciating ways?
But last year, when the Bosox vanquished the dreaded Yankees and won the World Series, my protest disappeared. The sense of goodness that enveloped once-fretting fans was like that at the end of The Return of the King. This year I still check the box scores of Red Sox games, but contentment has replaced anguish. I can now think altruistically of the long misery of, say, White Sox fans.
(Ed: So you want the Chisox to win this year?)
No, long-term suffering is important but so is long-term merit. Consider the Atlanta Braves, a team that has won 13 consecutive division titles, the longest such streak in the history of any major American sport, but only one World Series-so it deserves another.
Sure, I like Atlanta's kid-friendly Turner Field, with areas under the stands like "Throwing Heat," "In Control," and "Outta the Park" at which up-and-comers can test their pitching and hitting. But other new ballparks have similar bells and whistles. What really impresses me is a successful organization that maintains continuity at the top, and the Braves have shown that with three key persons:
• General Manager John Schuerholz, 64, is in his 15th season with Atlanta-that's the longest tenure of any current general manager.
• Manager Bobby Cox, also 64, is in his 16th season in this, his second stint with Atlanta. (He managed the Braves from 1978 through 1981 and then the Toronto Blue Jays before returning to the Braves; his more than 2,000 wins as a manager place him eighth on the all-time list.)

• Pitching coach Leo Mazzone, 57, came with the second Cox arrival and has been with him ever since, compulsively rocking on the bench. The Braves pitching staff finished first or second in earned run average in the major leagues from 1992 through 2002 and again in 2004-and that doesn't happen by accident.

Mr. Cox is what a leathery old manager should be. I enjoyed the scene in the dugout before a game this summer when reporters tried to bait him into a headline-making remark. First, one scribe asked, "Does it bother you to have nine rookies on the roster?" Manager (eating peanuts and tossing the shells at the reporter's feet): "Not at all. Great to see the kids." Then, scribe No. 2 asked, "Does it bother you to have rookies at the corner outfield positions?" Manager (tossing more shells): "None of that bothers me

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ATLANTA-Sept. 1 signals the beginning of baseball's stretch run, so now's the time to offer an opinion-from the perspective of a suddenly dispassionate fan-about who should win the World Series this year.

(Editor's queries: What do you mean by "dispassionate"? What do you mean by "should"?)

After growing up in Boston, I regularly said-until last October-"It's not fair." Why did the Red Sox lose so often in the most excruciating ways?

But last year, when the Bosox vanquished the dreaded Yankees and won the World Series, my protest disappeared. The sense of goodness that enveloped once-fretting fans was like that at the end of The Return of the King. This year I still check the box scores of Red Sox games, but contentment has replaced anguish. I can now think altruistically of the long misery of, say, White Sox fans.

(Ed: So you want the Chisox to win this year?)

No, long-t."

The question about rookies reminds me that in this era of free-agency, judgment at the top is more important, year in/year out, than the strong arms and sweet swings of any particular players. The Braves have averaged 10 new faces each year on their 40-man roster, and the only current Braves player who has been on the team for all 13 of those championship years is . . .

John Smoltz, and that's another nice touch, because he's one of the Christians in baseball who walks the talk: He donated at least $2 million and a lot of his time to start a Christian school in suburban Atlanta, where his children and 300 or so others attend (WORLD, Aug. 2, 2002). He responded this summer that the school is "doing all right and getting to the critical points," which shows his understanding of the ways that educational success brings new challenges.

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