Dues Paid in Full, the Braves Are World Champions
Tom Verducci 11/3/2021
This team is about the long haul. This title is a triumph of perseverance.
Baseball is a cruel, fiendishly inequitable dues collector. The payment it requires before doling out rewards follows whim more than logic.
There is no other way to explain why Braves pinch runner Terrance Gore has three World Series championship rings and one career RBI. Or why Jorge Soler, hitting .192 on a last-place Royals team July 29, finds himself three months later with a World Series MVP trophy and a second championship ring to complement his 2016 Cubs bauble.
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This same game, however, makes Freddie Freeman, one of the leagues purest hitters and most upstanding people, log 15 seasons in the Braves organization, including three straight 90-loss seasons, before getting to a World Series.
There is also Braves coach Ron Washington, who had spent more than five decades in pro ball without a World Series ring, including one time as Rangers manager in 2011, when he was one strike away from a title three times.
There also are Braves fans, who endured watching their team knocked out of 16 straight postseason appearances without a World Series title, an unmatched record of sustained futility.
And then there is Brian Snitker, the Atlanta manager who doubles as the patron saint of dues paying. Snitker has devoted 45 years of his life to the Braves, most of it ingloriously, such as thrice getting demoted from a big league coaching jobonce so shockingly undeserved that he nearly quit the game he lovesbefore finally reaching the World Series this year. When you ride buses as much as Snitker did, you learn important lessons, such as not to drink the beer on those buses.
I learned, because then you have to go to the bathroom, he says. And on minor league bus rides guys are sleeping everywhere. They are sprawled across seats. Theyre sleeping in the aisle. Theyre sleeping in the luggage racks. My goodness, you are stepping on people in the dark to get to the bathroom in the back. So I stopped drinking on the bus.
Such are the lessons of an earthy, humbled soul. Forty-five years sometimes seemed like a longer version of the 10-hour bus ride from Savannah to Memphis when Snitker was playing in the Southern League in the 1970s. Snitker and the Savannah Braves traveled on a yellow school bus with no air conditioning. There was no professional driver. The team trainer drove the bus, though sometimes a roving instructor such as Cito Gaston would get behind the big wheel to give the poor trainer a break. Snitker can still feel the rivets in the metal, unpadded armrests pushing mockingly into his skin, as beads of sweat gathered and dripped in ceaseless protest to the hot, thick Southern evening air found intolerable by all life forms but gnats and mosquitoes.
Oh, no, theres nothing fair about it, says Ronnie Snitker, Brians wife, about this great game of baseball. But you just have to keep taking your lumps and go through it.
And look what we did.
Lookee here. Freeman, the Braves, their fans and most of all Snitker finally are deemed to have paid their dues in full. For the first time since 1995, the Braves are world champions. They overwhelmed the Astros, 70, Tuesday in Game 6 to finish a dominating World Series. They outhomered Houston, 112, while holding the games highest-scoring team to a .224 average and 3.33 runs per game.
This championship is a triumph of perseverance, if nothing else. The Braves never even had a winning record this year until Aug. 6.
Back in June or July it would have been absurd to say we would be the last team standing, says bench coach Walt Weiss. But Snit, hes a calming influence. He shows up the same way every day, regardless of the circumstances. Hes just the calming presence of this team. It trickles down to the players. They see him always in control.
Championships are never so sweet as to when they are a generation or more in the making. Euphoria seems brand new, even to the elders, and it is literally so in the case of someone who was born in Kennesaw, Ga., a year before the Braves last won a title and grew up rooting for the team that would go 0-for-16 in the postseasons of his remembered life. On Tuesday night that Marietta-raised kid, shortstop Dansby Swanson, hit a home run and fielded the last out of the clinching game of his hometown teams title. He threw the ball to Freeman, who has been around so long he played for Bobby Cox and with Chipper Jones, and who also hit a home run in the clincher. Of course.
These generational titles are becoming the norm. Baseball, the great dues collector, is going soft. This was the sixth title out of the past seven that was 25 years or more in the making. The Braves (26 years) followed the Dodgers (32), who followed the Nationals (50), whose title followed two years after the Astros (55), who followed the Cubs (108), who followed the Royals (30). And it happened in a year in which Braves legend, Hall of Famer and Snitker good buddy Henry Aaron died.
Hank would move us around and put us in places he thought would best benefit the organization, Snitker says of the minor league staff when Aaron ran the farm system. Nobody ever wanted to let Hank down. Thats just kind of the way it was. We didnt want to let him down. He charged us with responsibility to make these guys better, and we werent going to let him down.
The spirit of Aaron not only still exists within the Braves organization; rather, his spirit is the Braves organization.
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An unmatched record of sustained futility? The Chicago Cubs had a much longer dry spell. And the Curse of the Billy Goat lasted 70 years.
Congratulations to Jorge Soler also. He lucked out twice.