No, this won’t be as dull as the title suggests. Ok, it might be dull, but it won’t be dull in the same way the title suggests. I was an avid baseball card collector as a kid, and never got rid of the cards. They’re doing nothing for me now except sitting in boxes, so they might as well help me cure my writer’s block. These posts won’t be about the card as much as a look back at the player. Also, I’ll be choosing the cards randomly, just to keep it fun. Today’s initial post will be a career retrospect of the player featured on 1992 Score #66, Expos CF Marquis Grissom:
Back of card text: “Marquis and Delino DeShields gave the Expos two of the league’s prime table setters in ’91. With Marquis batting leadoff and DeShields in the No. 2 spot, the two ’90 rookies set the tone for the Expo offense. Marquis showed a nifty combination of speed and power to the gaps. A free swinger with an excellent knowledge of the strike zone, he is a line drive hitter to all fields. His bat is quick and he has unbelievable patience at the plate. Marquis also has good instincts and speed on the bases (he led the NL with 76 stolen bases in 93 attempts). In the field, he has great range and a strong arm.”
That was an awfully glowing review for a player coming off a .267 season, but Grissom did turn all those skills into a very nice MLB career. Here’s a look back at it.
After a career at Lakeshore HS in College Park, GA, he attended Florida A&M, the same college that produced 3 other quality major leaguers – Andre Dawson, Vince Coleman, and Hal McRae. Drafted by the Expos in the 3rd round of the 1988 draft, his pro debut was with low A Jamestown, where he won the NYPL batting crown en route to a .323/.393/.502 line with 23 steals. After the season he was named the #3 prospect in the Expos organization.
He started off 1989 at AA Jacksonville, and after 78 games and a .299/.365/.414 line, was called up to AAA Indianapolis where he batted .278/.327/.406 over his final 49 games. The solid season earned him an 87 plate appearance call-up to the big league club where he batted .257/.360/.324, and collected his first hit and first RBI in his MLB debut. After 1989, Baseball America named Grissom the #2 prospect in the Montreal system (after Delino Deshields) and #17 in all of baseball (#1 that year was Steve Avery). In their 1990 baseball preview, Street & Smith’s asked of Grissom, “is [he] another Andre Dawson?” Needless to say, the hype was high as Grissom prepared for his first full MLB season. S&S did suggest Grissom would struggle to immediately replace the production of the departed Hubie Brooks. They were right – Grissom played like you’d expect a rookie to play (.257/.320/.351) while Brooks had a good season in LA. Despite just 320 plate appearances, Grissom’s 22 SB propelled him to a 7th place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year race.
In 1991, Grissom took over Montreal’s starting CF job. In his first full season, he batted .267/.310/.373 and led the NL with 76 stolen bases. In 1992, Grissom blossomed into one of the best outfielders in the game. The steals remained the same, at 78, but he added power to his big league game for the first time, ripping a career high 39 doubles, leading the league in at-bats, and finishing 9th in the MVP race.
Grissom had arguably his best all-around season in 1993: .298/.351/.438 with 104 runs scored, 27 doubles, 19 HR, 53 stolen bases, and Gold Glove defense to boot (his first of 4 straight). He played in his first all-star game and finished a career-high 8th in the MVP race.
As with most players in Montreal, Grissom’s 1994 season was going well when the strike ended everything prematurely. After the season, owner Claude Brochu ordered a fire sale, and Grissom was dealt to Atlanta for Roberto Kelly, Tony Tarasco, and Esteban Yan. Kelly would last less than 2 months with the Expos, contributing -0.3 WAR before a May trade sent him to the Dodgers. Tarasco posted 0.4 WAR in his single season in Montreal before the Expos dealt him to Baltimore for Sherman Obando. Yan lasted one season in the minors before the Orioles purchased his contract exactly one year after the Grissom trade. All in all, Montreal dealt one of the best players in baseball and received nothing. Not that getting fleeced by the Braves was a rare thing in the 1990’s, of course.
Atlanta fans probably don’t recall that Grissom was underwhelming in his first year in Atlanta. His .258/.317/.376 line was not nearly as good as what he’d done in Montreal. His phenomenal defense continued, as he had arguably his best defensive season en route to a 3rd Gold Glove, but with just 29 steals to go along with the depressed power numbers, his first season didn’t live up the excitement. That is, at least, until the playoffs began. In the LDS against Colorado, Grissom batted .524 with 3 homers and 11 total hits in just 4 games. He cooled off a bit in the LCS sweep of the Reds, but batted .360/.407/.400 in the World Series against the Indians. Grissom would go on to make the most important putout in Atlanta Braves history:
1996’s Grissom was the Braves had initially traded for, batting .308/.349/.489 as he set career highs with 23 HR, 207 hits, and 106 runs. The Braves returned to the World Series to heartbreakingly blow a 2-0 series lead as they returned home, but Grissom wasn’t to blame: he batted .444 with 12 Series hits. Had the Braves won, Grissom likely would have been in consideration for Series MVP.
Prior to the 1997 season, Atlanta’s costs of keeping the pitching staff together grew higher. Greg Maddux got a small raise to $6.7M, but he was due for a big upcoming payday a year later. Tom Glavine earned $5M, but was also in the last year of a deal. John Smoltz, fresh off a Cy Young season, was due a raise to $7M. Fred McGriff got a raise and Chipper Jones started making 7 figures for the first time. In a money saving effort, the Braves dealt Grissom and David Justice to the Indians for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. The move didn’t work out in Atlanta’s favor – the Indians would return to the World Series while Lofton would be very disliked in the Atlanta clubhouse. The trade likely remains one of the few regrets of John Schuerholz’s career.
For all the ways in which the deal didn’t work out for Atlanta, they didn’t make a real miscalculation specifically with Grissom. As Grissom entered his 30’s his production fell off mostly for good. He still played well enough on defense to be helpful in ’97, but the bat disappeared, on par with his 1995 season in Atlanta. However, yet again Grissom shone through in the playoffs, winning the ALCS MVP. He didn’t have a series on par with those in Atlanta, but he scored a game-winning run on a steal of home in game 3. As usual, he saved his best for the Fall Classic, batting .360/.448/.400 against the Marlins. His 3rd consecutive World Series was his last, and in 19 World Series games, Grissom batted .390/.440/.468 with 30 hits and 12 runs scored. In December, Cleveland traded Grissom and Jeff Juden to Milwaukee for Mike Fetters, Ben McDonald, and Ron Villone.
His three seasons in Milwaukee were his worst, as his meager power (44 HR over 3 years) wasn’t enough to overcome his inability to get on base (.304 OBP). The defense declined as Grissom lost a step as players usually do as they exit their prime. In ’99, Grissom even managed a 20/20 season, but it wasn’t enough to salvage his time with the team. In February of 2001, Milwaukee traded Grissom and Ruddy Lugo to the Dodgers for Devon White. In ’01, Grissom hit 21 HR but was otherwise an out machine with a dreadfully low .250 OBP. Marquis bounced back for a strong 2002 in LA (career high .510 SLG), and, testing free agency for the first time, signed a 3-year deal with the Giants following the season. 2003 served as his last great hurrah, batting .300/.322/.468 with 20 HR for the Giants. 2004 was decent as well, at .279/.323/.450 and 22 HR, 90 RBI. The wheels came off in 2005, as the 38 year old OPS-ed .533 before getting released in August. Grissom attempted a 2006 season with the Cubs but was cut in spring training, where he announced his retirement.
In his 17 years, Marquis Grissom collected 2251 hits, 227 HR, 429 steals (58th all-time), and was a career .317 hitter in the postseason. A 2 time all-star, 4 times he received MVP votes, and he won 4 straight Gold Gloves. Only 8 players in the history of the game have played more total games in center field. He had a 15 game World Series hitting streak, the 2nd longest in history.
There are 10 players in the history of the game with over 200 HR and 400 SB:
and Marquis Grissom.
Where is he now? Grissom now operates the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, a non-profit in the Atlanta area which “provides coaching, mentoring, college placement assistance, tutoring, and scholarship assistance” to local kids.