Whatever happened to … David Justice


What he did: While David Justice will always be known to Braves fans as the player whose solo homer in 1995 brought Atlanta what is still its only world championship, a case could be made that he deserves his own little postseason corner at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Think about this: From 1991 until his career ended in 2002, he never missed the postseason except for ’94, when there was none because of the strike, and he didn’t play in the ’96 postseason because of injury but was on the team and in uniform in the dugout.

With a picture-perfect left-handed hitting swing, Justice is thought by many to be the best clutch hitter in franchise history and played in 112 postseason games, including 36 in six World Series, winning two titles, one with the Braves and the other with the Yankees. While he was only a .224 hitter in October, he did smack 14 home runs and 63 RBIs, none bigger than the homer he hit in the 1-0 World Series-clinching win for the Braves in Game 6 against Cleveland in 1995.

Justice was born in Cincinnati, actually skipping two grades (seventh and eighth) and graduating when he was 16. He went to Thomas More College in Kentucky, and his favorite sport was basketball, saying, “I didn’t love baseball back then.’’ But the Braves drafted him in the fourth round of the 1985 MLB draft and he spent three-plus years in the minors with players like Ron Gant, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Mark Lemke. Then in 1988 at Double-A Greenville in the Southern League and Triple-A Richmond in the International League, he hit a combined .238 with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs and was penciled in as the Braves future right fielder.

He got a September call-up to Atlanta in 1989 and was moved to first base the next season and won National League Rookie of the Year honors in ’90 when he hit .282 with 28 homers and 78 RBIs in 127 games. While the Braves finished last that season in the NL West losing 97 games, Justice’s performance was really the very beginning of the team’s great run and 14 consecutive division titles.

The next season with Sid Bream arriving, he was moved back to right field, and while there were times he had to deal with injuries, such as ’91 when he played in 109 games, Justice developed into one of baseball’s better power hitters. He had a monster season in ’93, hitting 40 homers and 120 RBIs and one clutch hit after another in what was one of the great division battles in baseball history, when the Braves won 104 games and finished one game ahead of San Francisco.

But his mark in history in Atlanta came with the homer in ’95 against the Indians in the World Series, the day after he made headlines when he criticized the Atlanta fans, saying, “If we get down 1-0 tonight the fans probably will boo us out of the stadium.’’ It didn’t matter as Justice’s home run in the sixth and Glavine’s eight scoreless innings were enough to win it all.

But in ’96 in May, he separated his shoulder and it would be his last game as a Brave as the next spring he was traded to Cleveland. Justice was upset with being traded, but his production didn’t stop. In his first season with the Indians he hit .329 with 33 homers and went back to the World Series.

In June 2000, the Yankees were desperate for power and traded for Justice. That year in New York and Cleveland he combined to smash 41 homers and drive in 118 runs, won MVP of the American League Championship Series and the second of his world titles.

After the 2001 season, he was traded to Oakland and again went to the postseason, a season made popular later by the film “Moneyball’’ — in which Justice was played by actor Stephen Bishop.

Always very opinionated during his career, Justice was named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People’’ in 1994 and was married for five years to actress Halle Berry. After he retired, he went into broadcasting, working two years for ESPN and then for the Yankees and the YES network. He was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2007 and recently returned for the 20th anniversary of the ’95 title team.

Where he lives: Now 49, Justice lives in San Diego and has been married to Rebecca for 14 years. He has three children: There is David Jr. who they call J.R., Dionisio, who they call D.J., and Raquel.

What he does now: Justice said he feels like he has a taxi service driving around his children and spends most of his time coaching them in everything from baseball to football to soccer. He will make an occasional appearance at spring training and while doing this interview said, “I wouldn’t have been able to do this today if one of my kid’s practice wasn’t rained out.’’

On what he said about the fans before Game 6 in ’95: “I remember I felt like I would get booed at the stadium. I remember all the media and answering a bunch of questions about the story. As the game got closer so did my resolve. In the on-deck circle on my first at-bat. I remember getting down on a knee and saying, ‘God, I have been in a lot of tough situations in my life and please bring me out of this.’’’

On the sixth-inning homer: “(Giants reliever) Jim Poole had been brought in the inning before to pitch to Fred McGriff, and he struck him out. My normal approach against lefties was to never swing at a curveball until I had two strikes on me. He had thrown three curveballs to Fred and I said I am going to kill the third one if he throws me two curveballs. The first pitch was a fastball away and I didn’t think it was a strike (but it was called one). The second was another fastball away and it was a ball. Typically on a 1-1, I would have thought I would get a curveball, but I was staying with the fastball and sure enough it was another fastball. I was a good hitter inside. He wanted it away, but it came inside. I knew I didn’t hit a bomb, but I knew it was gone.’’

On the title: “Words can’t describe how I felt. We had a chance to beat Minnesota and Toronto in the Series and had lost twice. I guess what made it even more special was we won it with all the guys I came up through the minors with.’’

On being a clutch hitter: “I think with me, I played the game to win. I never played for stats. If you watched me on a daily basis and if there was a leadoff double I would try to get that runner to third base. If we were up 5-0 in the eighth inning and knew we were going to win, there were times I was not at the plate hitting 100 percent. But if it was 3-3 in eighth inning, it was another story. I was never afraid to fail. I always felt like when I was hot and whenever I was doing well, we would win a lot of games.’’

On his long postseason experience: “There are guys that played in the big leagues and there are guys that really played in the big leagues. When you play in the playoffs every year you are having a career in the big leagues. I played in some of the biggest games ever played in the 1990s.’’

On one at-bat he remembers the most other than his homer in ’95: “It was in Game 6 of the ’91 Series (fifth inning) against Minnesota. I had Scott Erickson set up for a fastball inside and he just missed by an inch or two, and I hit the ball down the right-field line, but couldn’t keep it fair. If Scott hits the inside corner there that ball goes out we win that game and the series (game went into extra innings).’’


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