Marquis Grissom - BR Bullpen

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Marquis Grissom

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Marquis Deon Grissom
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[edit] Biographical Information

Marquis Grissom was a centerfielder who played 17 seasons in the major leagues, led his league in stolen bases twice, and once played in three consecutive World Series.

In 1988, in college, Grissom was 9-3 with a 2.40 ERA as a pitcher, and hit .448 with 12 HR as an outfielder. He was signed as a 3rd round pick in the 1988 amateur draft by the Montreal Expos and scout Ed Creech. He attended Florida A&M University, the same college as former Expos outfielder Andre Dawson; he was regularly compared to Dawson in his first few seasons as a pro. Like Dawson, he raced through the minor leagues. In his pro debut, he hit .323 with 69 runs in 74 games for the Jamestown Expos in 1988, then was in the major leagues by the end of August in 1989 after hitting .299 in 78 games for the AA Jacksonville Expos and .278 in 49 games for the AAA Indianapolis Indians after being promoted in mid-year. Dawson had had a similar course to his career after being drafted by Montreal in 1975, burning up a short-season league his first year, and following that by racing through AA and AAA all the way to the majors the second, and then staying in the big leagues for a long, long time.

The last weeks of the 1989 season was not a great time for the Expos, as they were hopelessly spinning out of contention after leading the NL East for most of the summer, but Grissom was one of the few bright spots coming out of that late season, hitting .257 with a .360 OBP in 26 games. He was, by default, the team's best rookie that season even though he did not exhaust his rookie eligibility. The Expos re-tooled before the 1990 season after losing a number of players to free agency, opening the door for three rookies to be in the Opening Day starting line-up: CF Grissom, RF Larry Walker and 2B Delino DeShields. Walker and DeShields both had very solid seasons and kept their job all year, but it was harder for Marquis, who hit .257 in 98 games and had to share playing time with Dave Martinez and Otis Nixon, with Tim Raines in left field. In 1991, the Expos still had four men for three outfield jobs, having traded long-time star Raines for Ivan Calderon; Nixon was traded away in spring training, but Martinez was still fighting Grissom for playing time. Grissom's coming out party took place on April 28th against the St. Louis Cardinals, when he went 4 for 5 with a double, a homer and 5 RBIs to lead his team to a 9-6 win. That secured his spot in the starting line-up for the remainder of the season, and he hit .267 in 148 games as the team's lead-off hitter and most importantly led the National League in stolen bases with 76. However, it was a tough year for the team. which finished in last place and replaced long-time manager Buck Rodgers with Tom Runnells in mid-season.

1992 was the year in which the Expos put together one of the best outfields in the majors, with Walker in right, Grissom in center and rookie Moises Alou taking over for an injured Calderon in left. Moises' father, Felipe Alou took over for the unpopular Runnels in May, and the Expos immediately began winning. Grissom improved all of his numbers, hitting .276 in 159 games, once again leading the NL in stolen bases with 78. He also led the league in at-bats with 653, scored 99 runs and had 180 hits. He finished 9th in the vote for the 1992 National League Most Valuable Player Award. In 1993, he was named to the All-Star team for the first time, scored 104 runs on 188 hits, hit 19 homers and drove in 95 runs while hitting .298 and stealing 53 bases. To cap it off, he won a Gold Glove for his defensive play in centerfield as the Expos battled the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East title until the last days of September. He finished 8th in the MVP vote.

In 1994, the Expos were supposed to return to the postseason for the first time since 1981. They were loaded with young star players, and Grissom was right at the center of things as the lead-off hitter and key defensive player. He returned to the All-Star Game, won another Gold Glove and hit .288. The Expos began to pull away from the pack, and by early August they had the best record in the majors. Then the 1994 strike suspended play, and eventually wiped out the postseason and the Expos had nothing to show for their great team. Grissom's most impressive statistic that season was scoring 96 runs in 110 games, second in the NL behind MVP Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros; he finished 12th in that year's vote, as teammate Moises Alou, who had a tremendous season, finished third in the voting while teammates Walker and Ken Hill had similar vote totals as Marquis.

The Expos' ownership took a fateful decision after the strike was finally settled in late March of 1995, one which to many minds doomed the franchise and led to its relocation less than a decade later: they decided to dismantle the great young team they had put together, not offering salary arbitration to Larry Walker, who left as a free agent without compensation, and trading three other stars for prospects in a fire sale. Those were Hill, closer John Wetteland and Grissom. He was sent to the Atlanta Braves, his hometown team, in return for youngsters Tony Tarasco, Esteban Yan and veteran Roberto Kelly. While this was traumatic for Montreal, it was great for Marquis even though he had an off-year. He played 139 games for the Braves in 1995, hit .258 and scored 80 runs. He did win a third straight Gold Glove. However, the Braves became World Champions that year, with Grissom shining in the postseason: he hit .524 against the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS and .360 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. In 1996, he played 158 games, scored a career-high 106 runs and hit .308, another career-high, as were his 207 hits, 10 triples and 23 homers. He won another Gold Glove and was 13th in the MVP vote. The Braves returned to the World Series. Marquis hit .286 in NLCS against the Cardinals and .444 against the New York Yankees in the Series, but the Braves were upset in six games.

Just like it looked like Grissom was going to settle into being a long-time star for his hometown team, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians just before the start of the 1997 season, with the Braves receiving a very similar player in return in CF Kenny Lofton, as well as reliever Alan Embree. At age 30, Grissom made it to the World Series for the third straight year that season, when he hit .262 with 74 runs scored for the Indians. Grissom scored the winning run in Game 3 of the 1997 American League Championship Series when his former teammate, the Baltimore Orioles' Lenny Webster, misplayed a Randy Myers pitch. The play was officially scored a steal of home. He was named the MVP of the ALCS then hit .360 against the Florida Marlins in a losing cause in the World Series.

After the season, however, he was traded again, this time to the Milwaukee Brewers with P Jeff Juden in return for Ps Mike Fetters, Ben McDonald and Ron Villone. For all his high profile, Grissom was a bit overrated, because he did not draw many walks as a lead-off hitter. He needed a high batting average to compensate, but when he hit in the .260s like he had in 1997, he was actually a below-average offensive player, and with his speed and defense on the decline, he was becoming a bit of a risk. The Brewers took the gamble because they were moving to the National League in 1998 and saw him as player whose style was well adapted to the NL game. However, he did not really help them over the next few seasons. He hit .271 in 1998, but his OPS+ was only 79 and he scored only 57 runs. He did however tie his career-high with 5 RBIs in a game against the Chicago Cubs on July 9th. In 1999 he hit .267 with 27 doubles, 20 homers and 92 runs scored, but in those days of high-octane offense, it was worth only an OPS+ of 86. In 2000, he fell some more, to an OPS+ of 63 as he hit only .244 in 146 games. He had not given the Brewers what they had expected over those three seasons, and on February 24, 2001, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for another aging centerfielder, Devon White. He had another poor season, hitting only .221 in 135 games, then he bounced back in 2002 when he hit .277 with 21 doubles and 17 homers and drove in 60 runs, bringing his OPS+ all the way to 123 - the highest of his career.

A free agent after the 2002 season, he reunited with his one-time Expos manager, Felipe Alou, as he joined the San Francisco Giants for 2003. He was now 36, but was still playing centerfield every day and had another good season, hitting an even .300 in 149 games, with 33 doubles and 22 homers, scoring 82 runs and driving in 79. He followed that in 2004 with a .279 average in 145 games, 78 runs scored and 90 RBI. Those two years were worth an OPS+ of 104 and 97, respectively. However, he fell precipitously in 2005, losing his starting job when he hit .212 in 44 games. Grissom officially retired on March 28, 2006, while in camp with the Chicago Cubs. He had played 17 seasons in the majors, during which he hit .272, collected 2251 hits, including 227 homers, scored 1187 runs and stole 429 bases. Among his ten most similar players, according to similarity scores, was the man he had once been traded for at number 1, Devon White, followed by two centerfielders from the 1970s, Amos Otis and Cesar Cedeno, and his former manager Felipe Alou in 7th place. Only White was above 900, however, showing that Grissom was a rather exceptional player.

After his retirement, Grissom set up the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, a non-profit organization whose aim is to teach baseball to underprivileged kids aged 8 to 18 so that they can qualify for university scholarships. He spent much of the money that remained from what he earned during his career in this project, and in 2009, he accepted a job as a coach for the Washington Nationals in order to help with paying the running costs of the Academy. He had already demonstrated his generosity by buying houses for each of his fourteen siblings and for his mother from his baseball earnings. One of his most important tasks with the Nationals was to work with young outfielder Lastings Milledge in order to help him fulfill his enormous potential, although that mission was ultimately crowned with failure.

His brother, Antonio Grissom, played several seasons in the minors.

"He doesn't think he can be thrown out, which is why he's the best base stealer in the game." - Tommy Harper

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time NL All-Star (1993 & 1994)
  • 1997 ALCS MVP
  • 4-time NL Gold Glove Winner (1993-1996)
  • NL At Bats Leader (1992)
  • 2-time NL Stolen Bases Leader (1991 & 1992)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1996, 1999, 2001, 2003 & 2004)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1993 & 1996)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (1996)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 3 (1991-1993)
  • Won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995

[edit] Further Reading

  • Danny Gallagher: "Grissom's career up and down" in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 206-208.
  • Chico Harlan: "A Career and a Calling: Marquis Grissom Made a Living Playing Baseball, Now It's His Life's Work", The Washington Post, March 18, 2009 [1]
  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Outfielder Marquis Grissom", Baseball Digest, December 1993, p. 51. [2]

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