It was a great year, just one that ended too soon. And while Alex Anthopoulos has a couple of pressing questions to address, which other writers will cover later in this series, I think we as a fanbase have a bigger task at hand:
How do we avoid becoming the kind of fanbase we’d love to hate?
After the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees and reversed the curse, and then won three more championships in due course over the next decade and a half, the fanbase rather quickly evolved from a New England-based set of lovable losers to a heavily entitled, nationally branded, petulantly brittle, drivetime radio mirror image of the Evil Empire they had taken down.
No thank you.
The Braves have been an enormously successful franchise over the past 31 years, obviously. Twenty-two division titles, six league pennants, and two championships. And quite a lot of the team’s young core is under team control for much of the next decade.
So it’s easy to feel optimistic, and it’s also perfectly natural to feel sad and disappointed that such a wonderful season ended so abruptly and pathetically. But it’s toxic to start feeling entitled to future success, and angry when that success doesn’t come.
And… honestly… it has felt at times over the past few years that some Braves fans are teetering over that edge. The endless criticisms of Brian Snitker (a manager whose teams have a .581 winning percentage over the last five years) and Austin Riley (who has hit 71 home runs and been worth more than 12 Wins Above Replacement over the last two years) have had an edge to them, a Steinbrenneresque undertone that anything less than a World Championship is unacceptable.
That kind of attitude is distasteful in a rival. It’s one of the things many of us dislike most about Yankees fans — the adenoidal caricatures that call into WFAN and read the back page of The New York Post and are just livid that their team coughed up two runs in the third. But it’s even worse in a compatriot.
So this is both a plea and a warning. This particular incarnation of the Atlanta Braves is not a dynasty, but it could become one. On the other hand, I might have said the same thing about the 2010-2013 Braves, the team of Heyward, Freeman, McCann, Simmons, Teheran, and Kimbrel. Their future was bright, but it wasn’t bright enough, and the agony of the abrupt teardown was devastating.
I don’t think that will happen this time. But it’s a healthy reminder not to get over our skis. This team is winless once more. I hope they win a hundred and sixty-two games in 2023 (which I predict will be JonathanF’s prediction!) and I’d love them to win a fifth championship, one for the thumb.
But I got my joy in 2021. The past few years have been about the most fun a guy could have. If I had expected nothing less than all this — Joctober! Money Mike! The Dúnadan! — I never would have experienced the joy of the unbelievable miracle that occurred.
There’s a line that apparently goes back to Alexander Pope, though it’s probably been ascribed to just about everybody:
Blessed in he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Of course, that’s easy for him to say. We’ve got Ronald and Ozzie and Michael and Spencer and Matt and Austin locked up long term, and Ian and Kyle and William and Vaughn (and Kyle) under team control for a bunch more years too, so it’s hard for me to expect nothing. Meaningful September baseball without an early mathematical elimination seems like a reasonable expectation.
But there are 29 other teams and a New York billionaire in our division. I’m not going to expect a pennant every year. I hope none of us does!
That said, if they do win the next six championships, I promise to be a perfect gentleman about it.