Braves World Series win ends Atlanta sports curse tale

Ahead of the World Series, the Braves Dansby Swanson shortstop was asked a question he didn’t particularly want to answer.

As well as playing a sport with a historical and deep bent towards superstition, he had a personal tendency towards it: in late April, for example, after his team got off to a rough start, Swanson was seen burning. sage. in the club house. (The Braves won their next three matches.) If you understood that this action meant that he had placed spells, vibrations, or other nebulous forms of energy, it was natural to ask him what he thought of the The Braves’ game for the championship in Houston, which turned out to be the site of the notorious demise of a certain local football team just four years ago.

Had the return to Houston ready to take the sage out again?

“I can’t even answer that,” Swanson said.

Swanson, a native of Georgia and lifelong Atlanta sports fan, trots home after his two-run homer in Game 6 of the World Series.

He shouldn’t have had to: there was, of course, no logical connection between the 2021 Braves and the ’16 Falcons or the story that had given Atlanta its reputation as a tortured sports city. But it was easy to see how people could feel the opposite. The Atlanta Championship record in men’s big-four sports seemed too absurd, too personal, to feel anything but cursed.

The Braves hadn’t won a title in a generation, despite winning more games than any other National League team from 1996 to 2020. The Hawks had made nearly three dozen playoffs since their moved to town half a century ago, but they’ve never reached an NBA Finals, let alone won one. The Thrashers made an NHL playoff series in their 11 seasons in town before moving to Winnipeg. Then there are the beloved Swanson Falcons, the authors of the most difficult loss of all. The young shortstop traveled to Houston in 2017 for Super Bowl LII, and he saw his team explode that 28-3 lead at the Patriots.

None of that story affected the 2021 Braves – or, at least, none of it rationally should have. (“It’s a few years later and it’s a whole different sport,” Swanson says of playing for a championship in Houston, being careful to explain how silly that all sounded.) But the player from infield, who grew up in Marietta, Ga., understood the psychic wounds behind the reporter’s question. And whether the idea of ​​an Atlanta title curse made sense or not, it didn’t change the way a World Series loss – or, for that matter, a World Series victory – would be received by. the fans.

Losing would offer another point of data in this story of futility. Winning, meanwhile, would kill the story.

Get the SI Atlanta Braves World Series Champions commemorative number here.

Swanson knew it. So when the Braves won the World Series and stood in front of the cameras after Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, soaked in champagne, a smile plastered on his face, he couldn’t help but to return to the football match he had attended. this town four years earlier.

“It’s like no better story could be written than God making us come back here and win the World Series in Houston,” he said. “Everything comes full circle.”

The idea of ​​an Atlanta title curse was built around teams that lost when expected to win. But this Braves team was closer to the opposite: they won when they were expected to lose.

It’s a common refrain for a champion team: “Nobody thought we were going to be here, and man, look at us now!” But there was one unusual truth for the 2021 Braves. To them, such a line doesn’t seem like an exaggerated bullet on the shoulder, but a mere acknowledgment of fact. They had the most losses of any team that made the playoffs this season.

Ronald Acuña Jr., who was one of the MVP's favorites for the first half of the season, tore the ACL in mid-July.  At the time, it looked like Atlanta's chances were over in 2021.

Ronald Acuña Jr., who was one of the MVP’s favorites for the first half of the season, tore the ACL in mid-July. At the time, it looked like Atlanta’s chances were over in 2021.

There were a few games under .500 until August. They had seen injury take out a player who was not only one of the best on the team, but one of the best in the game, when National League MVP leader Ronald Acuña Jr. torn ACL in July. The difficulties continued even into October: when ace Charlie Morton broke his leg in the first game of the World Series, the team was left with just two real starting pitchers.

Still, the Braves won, and they kept winning. Part of it was sheer talent. Part of it was the constant presence of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker. Part was the front-office sense – a scorching second half wouldn’t have been possible without the decision to rebuild the outfield by the trade deadline. And part of it was the special blend of timing and luck that’s required for any championship – an ingredient that was missing in one playoff series after another for Atlanta. Still, it was October 2021. At the right time, with just the right mix of skills, the Braves had played their best baseball of the year.

That is – yes, maybe no one thought they were going to be here. But, man, watch them now.

If Swanson came through his understanding of the Atlanta sports fan psyche from birth, then Freddie Freeman was enlisted into his. The California native became the face of the franchise shortly after its debut in 2010. He’s played long enough now to serve as a bridge between the different eras of the organization – he started playing under Bobby Cox – and he never adapted. for another major league club. In more than a decade with the team, he’s been through all the variations of the good and the bad, and he’s internalized what those wins and losses can mean for Atlanta.

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman celebrates after his team's 7-0 win over the Astros in Game 6 to claim his first World Series title since 1995.

“We killed the narrative. And we can kill him for a long time, ”said Freeman, who has played with the Braves long enough now to serve as a bridge between the different eras of the organization.

That means it’s Freeman, more than anyone on this list, who has been asked over the years to talk about how the Braves might adapt to the city’s tortured sporting heritage. In the early morning hours of November 3, 2021, he finally got a different twist on this question: “Does it feel good to know that we can never ask you about the Atlanta sports story?”

Freeman could only glow.

“We killed the narrative,” he says. “And we can kill him for a long time.”

More Braves coverage:
• Membership paid in full, the Braves are world champions
• Max Fried finds another level to win it for Atlanta
• Brian Snitker is from the old school. It doesn’t embrace analytics. And he thrives.
• Pearls Before Swing: meet the man behind Joctober Bling

Get the SI Atlanta Braves World Series Champions commemorative number here.

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