Even if the Yankees win the 1999 World Series, the Braves are still the team of the decade.
Yes, that obviously would be a debatable point if the Yankees ended the decade with a 3-0 Series record and the Braves ended at 1-4, with two of the losses to the Yankees.
But there's much more to the issue than that one statistic, as important as it is.
In a sport in which making seven outs in 10 at-bats is considered successful, and an industry in which free agency has made personnel overhauls as common as ground balls, winning it all isn't necessarily as difficult as winning, period, over an extended time as long as a decade.
And other than the Yankees at various points during the glory years of Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle, few teams have won, period, for longer than the Braves in the '90s.
The Yankees have crammed all of their success into the second half of the decade, making them, more accurately, the "Team of the Second Half of the '90s." They didn't even make the playoffs until 1995, and they didn't win a division title until 1996.
That's a team that dominated a decade?
The Braves' record of eight division titles, five National League pennants and one Series title (in 1995) is a better example of genuine, decade-long excellence.
Not only did they finish 74 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in the decade's 10 regular seasons combined, but their 925-win total was the second highest in the last 40 years (behind the '70s Reds), and their five Series appearances was the most since the Yankees (eight) in the '50s.
"It's purely a subjective thing, but the Braves, for me, are the team of the decade, regardless of wins this World Series," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week. "Yes, getting to the Series is the goal of every team, but consistency is more important. That's the No. 1 criteria for evaluating a franchise. It's not by a landslide vote, believe me. But I do feel the Braves are clearly the team of the decade."
Granted, the Yankees are held to a higher standard as the "Team of the Decade" of the '20s, '30s, '40 and '50s, and the undisputed "Team of the Century," with 24 World Series titles.
You can bet Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wouldn't celebrate "consistency" or any other measurement that didn't include World Series titles.
"When you work for George, just getting to the postseason isn't enough," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
But Torre also said he believed the Braves -- a team he managed in the '80s -- are the decade's best team.
"They're there every single year," Torre said.
Anyone who has followed the Orioles in the '90s knows how difficult that is. Putting together a winning nucleus and keeping it together for more than a year is a feat with a high degree of difficulty. The Braves have done it on the run for a decade, faithfully continuing to put up first-place finishes despite constant roster changes.
Only pitchers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are left from the Braves team that lost the Series to the Twins in 1991. And only seven, including just one starter, are left from the team that lost to the Yankees in 1996.
The Yankees, with a more solid nucleus, have 12 players left from that 1996 team.
With all due respect to the Yankees' success since then, the Braves' feat of maintaining a place at the top of the industry for the whole decade was harder to pull off.
Granted, the load-carrying pitching of Glavine, Smoltz and Greg Maddux has remained a constant, making staying on top a lot easier. But the Braves' organization has supported that pitching with the steady development of home-grown stars such as Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones, and the brilliant signings of free agents such as Maddux and Brian Jordan.
So confident was the franchise of its ability to keep fielding winners that it had the words "Team of the Decade" engraved on the World Series rings after beating the Indians in the 1995 Fall Classic.
That was quite a move, especially since the Blue Jays had won two Series in the '90s at that point and the Braves had won only one.
"Just words on a ring," Glavine shrugged recently, trying to downplay the gesture.
Four years later, the Braves' competition for the title claimed on their rings is now the Yankees, not the Blue Jays. The Yankees will claim the title, in fact, if they beat the Braves again this year.
"We're playing for one year, but really, for 10 years," Yankees pitcher David Cone said last week.
They have every right to believe that, and the record to back it up. But a team of the decade should be just that -- a team that sustained a level of excellence through a whole decade, not just half of a decade. And that's the Braves in the '90s, regardless of what happens in the coming week.