When I saw that Barb from Gallimauphry chose the word “justice” as today’s prompt in Linda Hill’s Just Jot It January blog hop, I had a bunch of ideas of what to write about, but one in particular stood out in my mind, especially since pitchers and catchers report to baseball’s Spring Training in less than a month, and the season starts in 73 days…
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We moved to Atlanta at the end of 1987, and while maintaining my allegiance to the White Sox, I adopted the Atlanta Braves as my hometown baseball team. Not really the best time to do that, since at that point the team was just awful, but hey, I had been a White Sox fan my entire life and more often than not they were just awful. In other words, I had experience.
During the 1989 season, a young guy named David Justice came up from Richmond to play first base, briefly in May and again in September. He didn’t have a great year, but we could tell he’d be around to stay before too long. He started 1990 at Richmond and was called up to the Braves to stay in May.
Initially, he played first base, though normally a right fielder, because right field belonged to Dale Murphy, an Atlanta legend. As the season dragged on, Murph realized that the team would do better if Justice played in right field, and told Braves management that he wouldn’t block a trade if the opportunity presented itself. Murph was traded to the Phillies on August 4, and David took over in right field and went on a tear. Over the next 59 games, he batted .324 with 20 home runs and 50 runs batted in and was named National League Rookie of the Year.
He was a key player on the Braves teams from 1991 through 1996, during which time the Braves won their division five times (a player strike prematurely ended the 1994 season and delayed the start of the 1995 season), went to the World Series four times, winning it in 1995. In the deciding game, Justice hit a home run, which proved to be the only run scored in the ballgame as Tom Glavine, with help from Mark Wohlers, shut the Cleveland Indians out. A couple of days before that game, he caused some controversy by complaining about the lackluster support he felt Braves fans were giving the team. (Which was true, by the way.) He was booed when he came to bat until the sixth inning, when he hit the homer. All was forgiven.
He was traded to the Indians during the winter of 1996, and spent four seasons with them, two seasons with the Yankees, and one with the Athletics, finishing his career with a .279 batting average, 305 home runs, 1,017 runs batted in, was an All-Star three times and was on World Series-winning teams twice. He was named to the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame in 2007, but only received one vote for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, tainted by the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which he denies.
One evening in 1990, I was staying with Mom and Tex while in Chicago on business, and Uncle Jack and Aunt Loretta were over for dinner. I was watching the game on TBS, and Jack came out and watched with me briefly. He said, “I’ve been watching Braves games lately, and you have some guys that can really rip the cover off the ball.” As I remember it, David Justice was at bat and lined a home run into the upper deck at Fulton County Stadium.
In another game, the pitcher brushed David back, i.e. threw the ball so far inside that David had to fall to keep from being hit. David picked himself up and homered on the next pitch.
There were some not-so-great moments, too. He was married for a couple of years to Halle Berry, with whom he shared a lot in common (both were biracial and came from Ohio, Halle from Cleveland, David from Cincinnati), but the marriage ended badly, with her getting a restraining order against him. And the PED accusations will probably keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he might receive some consideration from the Old Timer’s Committee in the future.
The highest honor that a team can bestow on a player is to have his uniform number retired. For whatever reason, the Braves haven’t retired David’s #23 yet. I hope they do some day.
(With apologies to anyone who has no idea what I just talked about…)