What he did: For a player who made a tremendous impact on the field including helping lead the Braves to Atlanta’s only world championship, Marquis Grissom may be making a bigger difference off the diamond.
Grissom grew up in Red Oak, just south of College Park, with 14 brothers and sisters. Today, Grissom is focused on taking care of his 91-year-old mother and 93-year-old father as well as the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, which “promotes life skills for both boys and girls and encourages academic success, even providing scholarships through its youth foundation to Atlanta youth willing to work hard.’’
Grissom was a three-sport star at Lakeshore High School (baseball, football and basketball) and played at Florida A&M before he was drafted in 1988 by the Montreal Expos in the third round (76th overall), both as a pitcher and outfielder. He breezed through the Expos’ minor league system, making his major league debut in August 1989 and quickly made an impact. In 1991 and ’92, he led the National League in stolen bases, with 76 and 78 respectively, and made the All-Star team in back-to-back seasons in ’93 and ’94, while getting his first of three Gold Gloves.
He was on the 1994 Expos team that was leading the NL East (best record in the majors at 74-40) when the strike hit in August. The club was six games up on the Braves and thought by many to be the favorite to win the only World Series never played.
When the strike ended, Montreal started unloading their bigger contracts, and the Braves needed a leadoff hitter. Grissom’s move to the Braves likely was one of the shortest walks in major league history, as the two clubs shared a spring-training complex in West Palm Beach. All he had to do was stroll from behind the third-base dugout to the first-base dugout and the Braves’ clubhouse.
Grissom was a perfect fit for the Braves, giving them a consistent leadoff hitter and strong glove in center and was the only player on the Braves’ championship team who was born and raised in Atlanta. He caught the final out of the World Series and the next season hit a career-high .308 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs, helping the Braves get back to the Series.
But in what was a blockbuster trade after the 1996 season, the Braves sent Grissom and David Justice to Cleveland for outfielder Kenny Lofton and setup man Alan Embree.
The deal worked out much better for Cleveland, as they went to the World Series to face Florida and Grissom was the MVP of the American League Championship Series against Baltimore, including stealing home to win Game 3. He ran a World Series hitting streak to 15 games over three October Classics, which is second only to Hank Bauer’s 17 with the New York Yankees (1956-58).
But Grissom’s stay in Cleveland was short-lived as they re-signed Lofton, a free agent, and traded Grissom to Milwaukee, where he spent three seasons with an under-performing club. Grissom’s numbers dropped and in the spring of 2001 he was sent to the Dodgers for two years.
He then had a big bounce-back season after signing with San Francisco as a free agent, hitting .300 at the age of 36 in 2003 and hit 42 homers and 169 RBIs over a two-year period. He tried to make a comeback with the Cubs in 2006 but retired after not making the team out of spring training.
Grissom played 17 years in the majors, appearing in 2,165 games including 52 in the postseason where he was a .317 hitter in 231 at-bats. He hit 227 homers, stole 429 bases and finished with a batting average of .272 over his lengthy career.
Having made more than $51 million over his career, he came back to Atlanta and started his foundation and also worked one year as the Washington Nationals’ first base coach in 2009.
Where he lives: Grissom, now 48, has homes in Fayetteville and Sandy Springs. He has been married to Sharron for three years and has five children: Micah (23), D’monte (22), Tiana (20), Marquis Jr. (13) and Gabriella (11).
What he does now: Grissom spends most of his time supporting his foundation as well as coaching youth baseball teams, including working with his son Marquis Jr., who is considered a strong young pitching prospect.
On starting his foundation: “I started a couple of months after I retired. It is mostly focused on being a tutorial program for kids, helping them with math and language and to prepare for the ACT and SAT. We have a lot of great sponsors and are trying to make well-rounded athletes. I got so much out of my youth coaches and what they taught me at an early age really made a difference. When I was young, I didn’t have a ride to practice, I didn’t have equipment, I didn’t have much at all, but those coaches were there for me and made a real impact on my life. I decided I wanted to do the same thing. I have made a lot of money, saved a lot of money and thrown away a lot of money, but now it is time to give back.’’
On taking care of his parents: “That’s a no-brainer. We had eight boys and seven girls in my family, and they did everything to take care of us. I’m going to take care of them.’’
On his home life when he was small: “I played three sports because I wanted to stay out of trouble and off the streets. Maybe it also had something to do with running from all the work at home. We didn’t have air conditioning until I was older, and I used to draw water from a well to cook and use as drinking water.’’
On the small number of blacks playing in the major leagues: “Here is what has to happen: These kids have to have the fundamentals and the mental capacity to be the best. They also have to have character. For the most part, African-American players are not real consistent in their work habits and their focus. The reason I made it was because I had those things. They were taught to me. We are trying to do the same thing now with young players. You get past 9-, 10- and 11-years old and baseball is not as fun. At that point you have to be focused and dedicated to take it to the next year level.’’
On making the major leagues so quickly: “I set small goals, and once I got to the big leagues I watched Otis Nixon come off the bench and everybody knew he was going to steal and they could do nothing about it. I saw that and it drove me. I got a chance a couple of weeks later and all of sudden my highlights were on ESPN. It was very gratifying.’’
On the ’94 Expos: “We had Larry Walker, Moises Alou and myself in the outfield. We had Pedro Martinez on the mound. We had this tremendous chemistry. It’s a shame we never got a chance to see if we would have won it all. We really loved each other on that team.’’
On coming to the Braves: “Even though I really liked Montreal, I was real happy about coming to the Braves because of what they had become. I realized they needed a leadoff hitter and I fit right in. I also had the best manager in baseball in Bobby Cox. And I can’t say enough good things about (general manager) John Schuerholz, and I tell him that when I see him now. It was the ultimate to win a World Series in your own hometown. How many players have done that?”
On being traded to Cleveland: “It was a surprise, but I knew it was business. I was hurt at first and then we have a great season and go to the World Series. It was pretty cool playing in the World Series one year for a National League team and an American League team the next. I saw two very different perspectives.’’
On why he retired: “I decided to hang it up when it was taking longer in hours for me to prepare for a game then playing the game itself.’’