The day of July 20th, 1993 will live in baseball and Atlanta infamy. It was a Tuesday. Bill Clinton had just been sworn into the White House exactly 6 months prior. Blockbuster was still the place to be on a Friday night. Yokozuna had just started his 2nd WWF Championship reign which he had won at the King of the Ring pay per view. It was the same summer that George Costaza “double dipped” the chip. Friends hadn’t even premiered on NBC yet. The Atlanta Braves were still in the NL West. Padres’ Fred McGriff? He was becoming the best 1st baseman at the time in Major League Baseball.
The Braves, however, were not the best team in the National League at the time, as they were sitting 53-41 and 9 games back of the first place SF Giants in the division. With the July 31st trade deadline looming, Hall of Fame general manager John Schuerholz knew he needed to make a splash to have a chance down the stretch. Sid Bream was Atlanta’s starting 1st baseman, in his final year with the club, and hit .260 with 9 homeruns in 117 games. However, if there was any hole in the Braves loaded lineup that featured 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton, fan-favorite slugger David Justice and explosive dual sport athlete “PrimeTime” Deion Sanders, it was 1st base. A year removed from his first All-Star nod, “Crime Dog” had already hit 18 homeruns on the season at that point, with a .275 average, .858 OPS and driven in 46 runs for a Padres team that had already traded another future Brave Gary Sheffield.
Schuerholz made the call to the division rival and in exchange, Melvin Nieves and prospects Donnie Elliott and Vince Moore went to blister in the California Sun. With the Braves looking for that spark in the offense, there was more than just a spark in the offense at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium just hours after McGriff suited up in the uniform for the very first time.
A luxury press box caught aflame, but the players? They just continued to hit batting practice as the fans evacuated. Eventually, the fire moved over and both the Braves and Cardinals exited the premises. Jeff Blauser, Braves shortstop, had the best remark saying that “this might’ve been what it looked like when Sherman rolled through town.” Blauser was of course referencing William Sherman, the colonel of the Union’s 13th infantry in the 1861 Battle of Bull Run in the U.S. Civil War. Sherman later became a general known for being a lunatic, and he infamously burned down the city of Atlanta following the defeat of the Confederate Army. Almost half the city was left in ashes.
The media was quick with the wit, with most making jokes regarding the arrival of Fred McGriff. Hall of Fame southpaw and the heart of the Braves pitching staff through the ’90s dynasty, Tom Glavine, was quoted saying “Fred sure lit a fire under us, I guess, it’s kind of a strange set of circumstances because I don’t think any of us have been in an experience like this.” Cardinals Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck, father of Joe Back, said he’s been “rained out, snowed out, cold out of games but not fired out, only fired” in a nonchalant, Jack Buck fashion. The game saw a 2 hour delay, but that hardly threw off the timing of McGriff, who delivered in his first game in front of a new faithful.
St Louis immediately had a 5-0 lead, and the Braves continued to be no hit through the fifth inning. The sixth came, however, and Atlanta started to chip away. With one out in the inning, Bill Pecota and the aforementioned PrimeTime singled for Atlanta’s first two hits. Blauser hit a towering three run shot to make it 5-3 and put the Braves on the board. Ron Gant reached on a single and McGriff stepped into the box 0-2 on the night. Then, in one smooth motion, McGriff hit the ball over the centerfield wall to tie the ballgame and provide the spark Schuerholz brought him in for. The Braves won the ballgame 8-5.
That ballgame, however, wasn’t the only game they won. From that day forward, they went 50-17 until Game 162. For Fred McGriff, he slugged .612 the rest of the way with an OPS over 1.000, hitting .310 with 19 homeruns and 55 RBI. On the final day of the season of the season, the Braves won and the Giants lost. The Braves finished with a 104-58 record, 1 game ahead of the second place Giants in their final year in the Western division. They lost to the Phillies in the NLCS, but McGriff finished fourth in MVP voting behind Giants’ Barry Bonds, Phillies’ Lenny Dykstra and teammate David Justice. 1993 marked a major paradigm shift in Atlanta baseball, as it saw the arrival of McGriff, 1993 Cy Young winner Greg Maddux and franchise cornerstone Chipper Jones. Justice, McGriff, Blauser, Ron Gant, Maddux and Glavine all received MVP votes in 1993. The next World Champions? The 1995 Atlanta Braves.
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For the Braves, they won in 1995 thanks in part to the pitching core and the offensive prowess of Jones, Justice and McGriff. McGriff left Atlanta after 1997 when they left him unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft and he went onto play for his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Overall for his career, he played for Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers. He hit 493 homeruns with the 1994 strike costing him 500. He had 2,490 hits and many consider him to be the biggest Cooperstown snub of recent memory. For the Braves, they won 14 consecutive division championships, a streak that ended in 2006. The Braves needed a spark and Fred McGriff provided it.
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