Let’s pick up the Fred McGriff story we started the other day…
There was a lot of anticipation about McGriff’s arrival in Atlanta. The team was desperate to try to find some way, any way, to claw back into contention. The Crime Dog projected to be a huge upgrade at first base…which is not meant to be any disrepect to the two-headed platoon of Sid Bream and Brian Hunter that was manning the position. Bream was a veteran, a solid defender with a bit of power from the left side of the plate, and a hero from the previous year’s championship series (which I must highlight at some point). Hunter was the young righty with more power and more sporadic defense. But “Scooter” Bream played on bad knees and struggled to run anymore, and Hunter was too inconsistent for an everyday gig. And McGriff was an established superstar. For those reasons, he was a fantastic addition.
So on July 20, 1993, I turned on my TV, excited for the prospect of seeing McGriff in our uniform, and glad that the muscle strain issue he had wouldn’t keep him off the field. But as the TV powered up and the Braves intro music faded out, it was clear that another factor might cancel the game altogether.
Fire…Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, the home of the Braves, was on fire.
During batting practice, a fire has started in the press box and was burning. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished, but there was still doubt as to whether the game against the Cardinals would be played. The fire marshals did their thing and I, along with a bunch of other Braves fans, watched and waited. It’s foggy now, but I think it took about two hours for decision to be made to allow the game.
I seem to remember just three things about the game. First, Fred McGriff unloading his unusual windmill swing and launching an 8th-inning homerun to right-center field. Second, as he rounded the bases, announcer Don Sutton hollering, “Welcome to Atlanta Fred McGriff!!”. And third, the Braves winning the game 8-5. But of course, there was a season to complete, 70 games to play, and the Giants to catch…an almost impossible task.
McGriff’s arrival lit a fire under the Braves, and game-by-game, they slowly began to reel in the division-leading Giants. And our acquisition didn’t simply cause the team by the Bay to fold their tents and go home. They played great baseball, winning an astounding 103 games in 1993. But the Braves won an incredible 51 of their final 70 games and finished the regular season…with 104 wins. It was one of the most remarkable, and most exciting, pennant races ever…one for the ages…and it came down to the final game of the season, when the Braves won and the Giants were shut down by Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers to give Atlanta its 3rd straight division title.
Greg Maddux had been signed during the offseason, and would go on to anchor this generation’s greatest starting rotation, which dominated opposing hitting for a decade. But it was the hitting of Fred McGriff that made the biggest difference in the 1993 season, elevating the Braves from goodness to greatness, and pulling off a comeback that, 17 years later, still borders on miraculous.