A recurring series celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ’91 Braves
Hard to believe it’s been a quarter century since the best Braves season most of us will ever experience. No one saw it coming, and had JS succeeded in pulling off two rumored deals involving Tom Glavine, the Braves wouldn’t have won their division.
Glavine, entering his fourth year in the majors, had regressed badly in 1990. His ERA rose more than half-a-run from the previous season, his walks nearly doubled and he allowed more than a hit per IP. I doubt many would’ve complained had he been dealt.
The future HOF’er might’ve become a Cub, along with Jeff Blauser, had it not been for Shawon Dunston, a free agent following the ’91 season. His agent, Eric Goldschmidt told the AJC in December 1990 “there is no way Shawon would sign with Atlanta.”
“I’d go there and play as hard as I always do. But after the season, I’d be a free agent and go to the West Coast,” Dunston said.
Thank you, Shawon.
Later that offseason, The National, a sports daily based in New York, reported that “a well- placed management source said (Jose) Canseco would be traded to the Braves in exchange for National League Rookie of the Year David Justice, a left-handed pitcher (presumably Tom Glavine) and a couple of prospects.”
Canseco, then 26, had a stellar season in ’91, slugging 44 HR and stealing 26 bases. But he wouldn’t play more than 119 games in season again until 1998.
Going into Spring Training most figured the Braves would improve, but serious questions remained.
Who would close? The ‘pen, populated by the likes of Joe Hesketh, Charlie Kerfeld, Rick Luecken and Dwayne Henry, was atrocious in 1990, with Joe Boever’s eight saves leading the team. JS was rebuffed in his attempts to find a closer, settling for 36-year-old Juan Berenguer, who had 14 career saves. Senor Smoke responded with the best season of his career, dominating the late innings with a 2.24 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and 17 saves until a late season injury. Strong seasons from Mike Stanton, Kent Mercker, Marvin Freeman and (later) Al Pena turned a liability into a strength.
Who would play SS?
The favorite, entering camp, didn’t even make the team.
“Andres Thomas will have the best year of his career,” JS told the AJC in February 1991. “This guy has worked as hard, if not harder, than anyone on this team this winter.”
Who would bat lead-off?
It was supposed to be Lonnie Smith, but two days before the season began, JS acquired Otis Nixon, a 32-year-old journeyman who had never hit enough to earn regular playing time. Otis responded with a career-best .297 BA and 72 SB.
Would Nick Esasky contribute?
Nope. Fortunately Brian Hunter emerged as the right-handed complement to Sid Bream, coming out of nowhere to slug .450.