By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Who is the most exciting player in Montreal Expos history?
I’m not talking about the club’s best player or most productive hitter, but who’s the one Expo you found to be consistently electrifying? Who’s the one Expo whose athleticism regularly astounded you?
Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Vladimir Guerrero were definitely exciting. I marvelled at their talents. But in my mind, a good case could be made for Marquis Grissom.
If you need to be reminded of how exciting Grissom was, please watch this video:
This is footage of his inside-the-park, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals that gave the Expos a 3-2 win on August 1, 1994 at Olympic Stadium. According to Seamheads.com, it’s just one of 17 walk-off, inside-the-park home runs in major league history.
The main reason I’m thinking about Grissom is that it was 26 years ago today that the Expos dealt him to the Atlanta Braves for outfielders Roberto Kelly and Tony Tarasco, as well as pitching prospect Esteban Yan. It was another devastating trade for Expos fans, who watched helplessly as their championship calibre squad was disassembled in a fire sale due to financial constraints.
“This deal will make the Braves infinitely more fun to watch and you can argue he is the most exciting player in the league, the best lead-off hitter, the best defensive centre fielder,” wrote Tim Tucker of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution after the Braves acquired Grissom.
Grissom had batted .288 with 11 home runs and 36 stolen bases as the primary leadoff hitter for the Expos in 1994 when they finished 74-40, six games clear of the second-place Braves in the National League East before a players’ strike wiped out the rest of the season.
Not bad for a 5-foot-11 outfielder whom the Expos selected in the third round of the 1988 MLB draft.
Born in Atlanta in 1967, Grissom was the youngest of 14 children in his family. At Lakeshore High School, he excelled in basketball, football, baseball and on the track. The Cincinnati Reds drafted him in his senior year as a pitcher, but he did not sign.
Instead, he opted to attend Florida A&M on a baseball scholarship. And in his sophomore year, he batted .448 with 12 triples – which were the most in the nation. The Expos then chose him in the third round of the 1988 draft and he signed with the club.
Grissom impressed in Instructional League that fall and then rocketed through the club’s minor league ranks to make his big league debut on August 22, 1989. The following season, he was a regular in the Expos’ outfield and by 1991, he was the club’s regular centre fielder and a staple near the top of their lineup. He also wreaked havoc on the base paths, swiping a major league-leading 76 bases in 1991, only to top that with 78 stolen bases the ensuing year.
On top of his speed, Grissom also developed into a power threat. He recorded double-digit home run numbers in three seasons for the Expos. Defensively, he played one of the shallowest centre fields of his era, but his speed and range allowed him to track balls down and he blossomed into one of best defensive centre fielders in the game.
Grissom also loved Montreal. Unfortunately, an ugly arbitration hearing with the Expos in February 1993 soured him on the club’s front office. That winter, Grissom coveted a $1.95-million salary for 1993 and the Expos countered with a $1.5-million offer.
Expos lawyer Frank Casey argued vehemently at the hearing that beyond Grissom’s stolen base totals, he wasn’t a very productive player.
“I love playing with the Expos and I love the fans in Montreal,” said Grissom after the hearing. “I was thinking about wanting to play all of my baseball there. But not now. I got a lot of disrespect from them [the Expos front office]. I lost a lot of respect for the organization.”
To Grissom’s credit, he didn’t allow what was said at the hearing to impact his performance. He was an all-star and a Gold Glove Award winner in each of his next two seasons with the Expos.
Twenty-six years ago today, when Grissom was dealt to the Braves, he was heralded as the missing piece that would propel the Braves to their first World Series title in Atlanta. And he didn’t disappoint. Playing in his home city, Grissom captured another Gold Glove, but saved his best at the plate for the World Series, when he batted .360 in six games to help the Braves secure their elusive championship.
The speedy outfielder starred for the Braves again in 1996, helping them to a second consecutive National League pennant, before he was dealt to Cleveland, where he competed in his third consecutive Fall Classic. He finished his 17-year big league career with tenures with the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
In all, in 2,165 major league games, he batted .272 and registered 2,251 hits, including 227 home runs. He also swiped 429 bases, won four Gold Glove awards, and remains, without question, one of the most exciting players in Expos history.
Here are five more things you should know about Marquis Grissom:
-Grissom was drafted out of Florida A&M in 1988. The Expos had good luck with five-tool outfielders out of that college. Thirteen years earlier, they chose Hall of Famer Andre Dawson from Florida A&M in the 11th round of the MLB draft.
-Grissom’s major league leading 78 stolen bases with the Expos in 1992 is a total that has only been equalled by one major league player since. Jose Reyes had 78 steals for the New York Mets in 2007.
-Grissom has the second-most stolen bases in Expos history (266) behind only Raines (635). His 78 stolen bases in 1992 are tied with Raines for the third-most in a season by an Expo. Ron LeFlore had 97 steals in 1980 and Raines had 90 in 1983.
-Grissom had two memorable appearances representing the Expos in the 1993 and 1994 All-Star Games. In 1993, he started and batted leadoff for the National League and went 0-for-3 (Interestingly, he was replaced by Roberto Kelly in centre field – the player the Expos would receive from the Braves in the trade for him). In the 1994 Midsummer Classic, Grissom hit an opposite field home run off intimidating Seattle Mariners left-hander and former Expo Randy Johnson (See video below).
-Grissom caught the final out in centre field in Dennis Martinez’s perfect game for the Expos against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on July 28, 1991. Just over four years later, he caught the final out in Game 6 of the World Series for the Atlanta Braves.
-Grissom is one of 10 big league players to amass 2,000 hits, 200 home runs and 400 stolen bases. The others are Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, and Jimmy Rollins.