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Gracious Atlanta in no hurry to change Yanks are champions, but Braves are secure

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- The outcome of the 92nd World Series was not predictable, and neither will be the aftermath. The New York Yankees are on top of the baseball world, thanks to an unlikely six-game victory over the heavily favored Atlanta Braves, but it might be hard to tell the winners from the losers in the next few weeks.

The Braves' organization, clearly disappointed at its failure to secure a second straight world championship, nonetheless is preparing to move toward 1997 without rancor or self-doubt. If only the same could be said for the euphoric Yankees, who still have some troubling questions to resolve.

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"Any season that ends in the World Series cannot be considered a bad year," Braves president Stan Kasten said soon after Saturday night's 3-2 loss in the decisive Game 6 of his club's fourth World Series in six years.

Kasten was neither red-eyed nor forlorn. He is one of the architects of a National League dynasty that could remain in place for several more seasons. The Braves unveiled a couple of more promising young players last season and seem to have struck the perfect balance of emerging youth and established talent to be a perennial postseason presence.

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"Right now, we think that next year's team is the best team we've ever had," Kasten said.

That assumes that the Braves will re-sign presumptive Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz and exercise a club option on former Cy Young pitcher Tom Glavine, which are good assumptions.

It also presumes the continued development of bright young outfielders Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye. When all the indicators are pointing in the right direction, it's easy to be gracious in defeat.

"A lot of times, the hardest part about getting close and not getting it done is wondering who won't be here next year," Glavine said, "but we've got a lot of good, young guys here. The nucleus is still here. I suspect this is not going to be our last shot at a world championship."

The Yankees have to wonder. They had a terrific season, interrupted only by an August slide that injected some suspense into the American League East race, but the magical quality of their postseason run -- and the inherent volatility of the club's front office -- makes the prospects for 1997 less certain.

How many general managers have to answer questions about job security 45 minutes after winning the World Series?

Only one.

Bob Watson could not say with any certainty that he would continue as Yankees GM this winter, even though he became the first minority general manager to win a world championship.

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Postgame question: "Have you received a vote of confidence [from owner George Steinbrenner]?"

Answer: "No."

Question: "What do you expect?"

Answer: "I don't know."

The concept of stability is everything to the Braves' organization, but it is alien to the Yankees. Steinbrenner apparently likes his people to feel insecure, and Watson set himself up for a fall when he acquired two injured players from the Milwaukee Brewers.

He avoided any hint of confrontation after Game 6, choosing to focus on an achievement that could have far-reaching implications for minority baseball executives. He was given every opportunity to answer the critics who blasted him in August and predicted his demise, but tried to keep the focus on the triumph of the club.

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"The way I feel right now is very, very happy," Watson said. "I was part of a group of men that put together what is now the world championship team. There were a number of people who go into making trades, but I am held accountable. Vindicated? I don't think that's the word I want to use. I feel really good right now."

The biggest winner was Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose star has risen so high that Steinbrenner will be under immediate pressure to sign him to a contract extension.

If Watson struck a blow for minority executives, Torre struck a rare blow for baseball's much-maligned, good-old-boy managerial network. He was the three-time retread who replaced respected Buck Showalter, but he turned out to be the perfect counterbalance to the Yankees' fractious owner and the compass that kept the Yankees pointed in the right direction.

Torre was so calm -- even as his team floundered in August and his brother lay in a hospital bed waiting for a new heart -- that his team could not help but reflect his confidence.

The question is whether this is the beginning of an era of such good feeling in New York or the end of a single, magical season.

No doubt, the oddsmakers will establish the Braves as the early favorite to win the next World Series, and it seemed late Saturday night that the Yankees would not waste valuable party time to argue.

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"They're the team of the '90s, but we're the best team of 1996," said Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, who was not the MVP of the World Series -- that was closer John Wetteland -- but might be the MVP of the postseason.

Pub Date: 10/28/96


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