There wasn’t a *cooler man to wear a Braves uniform than David Justice, who backed up his swagger by delivering some of the biggest hits — including the biggest — in franchise history.
Then there was that swing. Ever seen a prettier one?
Justice’s career was a triumph of scouting. He didn’t even play baseball in high school. But Paul Snyder saw that swing and was hooked, drafting Justice in the 4th round out of Thomas More College in Kentucky.
Though had little seasoning, DJ demonstrated outstanding plate discipline, never striking out more than 100 times in a minor or major league season. He got the call to Atlanta in 1990 to replace Nick Esasky, the big free agent acquisition sidelined by vertigo. Though he was still considered a prospect, his minor league numbers were underwhelming, and he ended the first half with just 5 homers and a .261 BA. Justice didn’t flourish until Bobby traded Dale Murphy to the Phils, replacing the most popular Brave in RF and discovering his power stroke.
Justice hit .295 after the All-Star break, with 23 HR and 58 RBI. He was even better vs. lefties (.366-.443-.656) than righties and turned himself into a solid fielder in right. The Braves may have finished in last in 1990, but the emergence of Justice and Ron Gant (.303-32-84), along with the pitching, had me optimistic going into ’91. Not that I expected a pennant.
This Oct. 1 homer by Justice, capping a 6-run comeback vs. the Reds, helped make it possible.
Four years later, during the ’95 World Series, Justice challenged Atlanta’s somnambulant fans to match the enthusiasm of Cleveland’s crowd as the series returned to Atlanta. He got a lot of flack for stating the obvious but brought the fans to their feet when he did this:
Justice would play only 40 more games in a Braves uniform. He missed the ’96 postseason due to a shoulder injury and was dealt, along with Marquis Grissom, during the last week of Spring Training to the Indians. The Braves were never the same.
“I’ve cried twice in a baseball uniform,” said Chipper. “Once when I was 8-years-old I lost my first game ever. Second was the day when he and Marquis Grissom got traded.”
I interviewed Justice prior to his induction into the Braves Hall of Fame and came away surprised by just how much being a Brave meant to him. The emotion demonstrated in this clip was genuine.
Would the Braves have won more championships had JS not traded Justice? Impossible to say, but without him they wouldn’t have the one.
*I qualify that designation by noting an allegation of spousal abuse by a former girlfriend (not Halle Berry). It was lodged within a palimony suit, so there’s no physical evidence to back it up. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Hopefully not.