Unbelievable! The Braves’ 1991 worst to first season

The team went from 22 consecutive losing months to winning the National League pennant

Who ever would have believed a baseball team could convince us eternity doesn’t last forever? Well, that actually happened back in autumn of 1991—the year October began to taste like honey, when leaves turned brighter shades of gold and crimson, and Atlanta nights felt fresh as mountain air. Who ever would have believed the Atlanta Braves’ melancholy baseball world would inexplicably explode and turn upside down—that a team enduring 22 consecutive losing months, that had not ended a season since 1983 with more victories than defeats, that in 1990 had led the entire National League in errors and finished in last place, would chase away the ghosts of seasons past?

Who ever would have believed—with half the 1991 season familiarly squandered—the Braves would catch sight of the hated first-place Dodgers, nine and a half games in the distance, and not think of it as a bridge too far? That aging Terry Pendleton would lead the league in hitting, that John Smoltz would lose 11 of his first 13 decisions then win 12 of his final 14, that future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine would win 20 games for the first time, that narcotically electrified Otis Nixon would steal 72 bases and gracefully defy gravity (before a drug test shortened his season)?

Who ever would have believed 2.1 million of us would sit in orange seats that for years collected dust from shattered dreams; that we would wave crimson tomahawks and chant throaty imitations of an indigenous war cry; that with every single heartbeat, we would feel vibrations of hope?

Who ever would have believed that in October 1991, Atlanta would drape itself in the red, white, and blue bunting of a National League pennant winner; that in the first World Series in our city’s history, every scoreless inning in the seventh and final game would become a miniature apocalypse; that it would take the game’s only run—scored in the final inning on the season’s final swing—to pierce our collective heart?

Who ever would have believed a team that for nearly a decade failed to contradict the taunting sobriquet of “Loserville” would inspire 750,000 Atlantans to line downtown streets and cheer as the Braves—losers, technically, yes—were touted with a parade celebrating their trip to the Series and journey from worst to first?

Change can cause reactions like that—the moment you realize you are no longer where you were, but you are not yet to where you will get. Who ever would have believed there would follow 13 championship seasons in Atlanta, one of them as World Champions of 1995? Who ever would have believed eternity doesn’t last forever?

Lee Walburn, editor in chief of Atlanta magazine throughout the 1990s, was the public relations manager for the Atlanta Braves in the 1960s.

Back to the 90s

This article originally appeared in our March 2015 issue.