The Atlanta Braves won their first World Series in 26 years last week, but around mid-July that wasn't the finish anyone was expecting. Leading up to the All-Star break, they had a losing record and looked like they were headed for a sub-.500 season.
But instead of trading away their best players at the July 30 trade deadline, the Braves brought in four new outfielders: Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Jorge Soler. This isn't the move a losing team usually makes halfway through a season.
Compare them to the Cubs, who were also sitting just below .500 in mid-July. They gutted the core of the 2016 championship team, trading away Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez within 24 hours of each other.
The Cubs went on to finish with 91 losses -- the most for them since 2013 -- but the Braves went on to go 44-28 in the second half of the season. Atlanta won at a 61% clip from July through the end of the year. Across a full season, that's a 100-win pace.
One of Robert Frost's most well-known poems is "The Road Not Taken," first published in 1915. It's been called the most misread poem in America because we assume Frost is writing about striking off on an uncommon path and recalling the success that followed. The poem is often cited at times when we want to encourage someone to try something new or do something different. The differences in outcomes for the Braves and Cubs would be an easy instance for drawing a connection to Frost's poem.
It would be easy to wonder if the Cubs had taken a road similar to what the Braves did and lament "if only!" but that would be missing the point of Frost's famous poem.
According to David Orr, "The Road Not Taken" is not "a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives." In other words, the Braves are a bad example. They took a trade deadline gamble and it worked, but we will only remember them that way in retrospect. There are plenty of examples of teams that loaded up in an offseason or at a trade deadline that didn't go on to win a championship.
I respect the go-for-it attitude of the Braves and I'm glad it worked for them. I didn't enjoy seeing the Cubs trade those players, but I also respect having a long-term vision and sticking to it even when that's difficult and unpopular.
As Orr writes about "The Road Not Taken," we have a tendency to construct stories about our lives after the fact, and often we order these stories in a way that makes us feel better about the choices that we made. Frost didn't write the metaphor of two roads in the woods as an illustration of taking a risk or forging a little-used path. We don't know the outcome of individual decisions we make, but sometimes we feel like we need to justify those decisions in hindsight.
And we don't always have the benefit of seeing with certainty that we made the right choice. The 2021 Braves seem like a justification for going all in, but that's only because they won the World Series. Any other result and that decision isn't seen as the obviously right one.
Go read Frost's poem again, and think about it as a man trying to convince himself he's making the right choice, not as one assured that he has. He's hoping he's on the right path, not convinced that he is.
Jared is a freelance baseball writer who lives in suburban Chicago with his wife and four young children who share his love of baseball. When he's not doing that, he teaches and reads baseball history.