ATLANTA -- It worked for the Oakland Athletics in the early 1970s. It worked for the New York Yankees later in that same decade. Maybe a little fussin' and fightin' is just what the Atlanta Braves need to carry them to a World Series championship.
Exhibit A: Controversy erupts when outfielder Deion Sanders tries to pull the athletic publicity stunt of the decade by playing in an NFL game and a National League playoff game the same day. He doesn't get into the playoff game, but he gets under the skin of general manager John Schuerholz. The Braves go on to win the series in seven games.
Exhibit B: Left fielder Ron Gant is unhappy after manager Bobby Cox benches him in favor of Sanders for Games 2, 3 and 5, but Neon Deion reaches base eight times in 14 plate appearances and antagonizes opposing pitchers on the bases.
Exhibit C: Right fielder David Justice blasts the team on Atlanta radio for being spiritless after the Braves dropped two low-scoring games at SkyDome. Cox calls the comments "a crock of crap," but first baseman Sid Bream says essentially the same things during pre-game interviews Thursday night. The Braves score a lopsided victory in Game 5 and send the World Series back to Atlanta.
But if the team appears to be in turmoil, Schuerholz claims that a few isolated incidents have been enlarged under the microscope of postseason press coverage.
"What turmoil?" he said. "I don't think those are major issues. Those types of things might be perceived by people with outside views as being major issues. They usually aren't. When you've been with a group of guys as long as this team or any other professional sports team has been together, there are going to be days when everybody is not on the same wavelength. There might seem to be some dissension, to use an overused word, but I don't make much of that."
, Maybe the Braves can take ad
vantage of it. The A's won three straight World Series (1972, '73 and '74) with a group of players who openly feuded among themselves. The Yankees won in 1977 and '78 with a team bathed in controversy.
Schuerholz would not play along. He challenged the comments made by Justice and Bream that the club lacked spirit and was "out of sync."
"They may feel that way, but I don't," Schuerholz said. "I don't think you can play a game as well as we played yesterday if there is great discord among the players."
Still, the Braves do not seem like a happy group. Justice is rumored to be unpopular in the clubhouse. Sanders has become unpopular with the front office. And Lonnie Smith appears to be bitter about the way he has been treated by baseball and the media.
Smith turned one of his finest major-league moments into a soapbox Thursday night, charging that he has faced more media criticism because he is black and contending that baseball gave him a raw deal after the Pittsburgh drug scandal.
Nevertheless, the Braves are still alive in the World Series, where you don't necessarily have to be happy to be good.