Twenty-five years after coming up short of their ultimate goal, the ’98 Braves are scoring more wins.
Morgan Wallen’s “’98 Braves” is a bittersweet ode to Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, who won 106 regular-season games in 1998 — a single-season best over the franchise’s century-and-a-half history (including its eras as the Milwaukee and Boston Braves) — but didn’t win the World Series that year. The track debuts on the March 18-dated Billboard Hot 100 at No. 27 (a fitting number when it comes to baseball).
Morgan, who co-wrote the song with John Byron, Josh Miller and Travis Wood, sings to his long-lost love, “Just like that season, girl, you and me didn’t end with a ring on a hand.”
The track also starts at No. 11 on Hot Country Songs and No. 56 on Country Airplay – where it’s one of six songs from Wallen’s new 36-cut album that, released March 3, launches as his second No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with the largest streaming week ever for a country title. It also boasts the biggest week by equivalent album units for any album, among all genres, in 2023: 501,000 in the United States through March 9, according to Luminate.
Concurrently, the LP’s “Last Night” becomes Wallen’s first No. 1 on the Hot 100. He also claims five of the top 10 – becoming the first core country act to infuse half the top 10 in a single week – and sends all 36 songs on the set onto the Hot 100, rewriting the record for the most simultaneous entries in the chart’s history.
“’98 Braves” starts with 15.6 million official streams and 1,300 sold – as well as 891,000 in radio airplay audience, a notable sum given that it’s not being actively promoted by Republic/Big Loud Records to radio; the new album’s title cut is being worked to country and bounds 36-25 on the Country Airplay chart, joining “Last Night” (41-29), which is being promoted to pop and adult radio and ranks at No. 32 on Pop Airplay and No. 40 on Adult Pop Airplay.
Unsurprisingly, Atlanta’s Country Airplay reporters WKHX and WUBL are leading the way at radio on “’98 Braves.”
“We think it’s a great song,” says Mike Moore, program director of Cumulus-owned WKHX. “It talks about our hometown team and we’re about to start baseball season. What’s not to like?”
“‘’98 Braves’ hits at the heart of country music: It’s about a love that couldn’t make it through to the end, like the ’98 Braves,” muses Meg Stevens, WUBL pd and senior vp of programming for iHeartMedia Atlanta. “The song is well-crafted story with so many great lines, like, ‘If we were a team and love was a game, we’d have been the ’98 Braves.’ We’ve had great feedback. Listeners – longtime Braves fans – love Morgan. It’s a no-brainer for us.”
The song’s inherent fandom and heartbreak – The ’98 Braves swept the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series before falling in the NL Championship Series to San Diego (“As fate would have it, that Atlanta magic got put out by them damn Padres,” Wallen rues in it) – is authentic. Co-writer Miller “grew up in that ’90s era when they were so good and baseball was my life. Chipper Jones was my childhood hero and I always wore No. 10 playing ball because of him. I’ve got the rookie cards, the autographs, the whole nine. I believe Morgan pulls for the Braves and grew up playing ball, too.”
No surprise then that Miller, with Byron and Wood, worked his favorite player, among other ’98 Braves, into the song’s clever lyrics: “Between them Big Three pitchers, Andruw (Jones) and Chipper, it was gonna be hard to keep up with the Joneses.”
Despite a rich history of baseball hits in the musical field – Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” Alabama’s “The Cheap Seats,” Kenny Rogers’ “The Greatest” (with a shoutout to pop-rockers The Outfield) – Miller says that those weren’t his inspiration for “’98 Braves.” The team itself was – and perhaps its creation helped spark championship Atlanta magic after all.
“I think I was singing in the shower when I came up with the, ‘If we were a team, and love was a game, we’d have been the ’98 Braves’ hook,” he recalls. “I think I had just been watching a lot of Braves games and felt nostalgic. The idea kinda just fell on me. I threw it in my phone in May 2021, we wrote it in June 2021, Morgan cut it soon after – and the Braves won their first World Series in 25 years after that.” (“Sidenote,” Miller shares, “I was able to take my dad to game five.”)
Miller – who also co-penned Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant To Be,” which notched a record 50 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart – remembers that he, Byron and Wood were subsequently batting around song ideas. “When I finally got to [‘’98 Braves’] in my phone,” he says, they “were both like, ‘Yep, that’s what we’re doing.’ I definitely wrote it on the right day with the right guys. They’re a couple of my favorites and handled that idea with care.”
Also fans of the song? The ’23 Braves.
Despite its journey-is-the-destination theme – and since the Braves are only a year removed from winning it all (as they did in Atlanta in 1995, adding to World Series titles won in Milwaukee in 1957 and Boston in 1914) – the song seems a strong bet to be in the lineup when Wallen’s One Night at a Time World Tour, set to run through Oct. 7 (four days after MLB’s postseason is scheduled to begin), hits the home of the Braves June 2.
“It’s incredibly cool to have a chart hit written about the Braves,” says Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves president and CEO. “We are looking forward to hearing Morgan Wallen play it live when his tour comes to Truist Park.”