I don't know how many times I've heard over the course of the ALCS and World Series about how the Kansas City Royals outfield is the best there is in baseball. About twenty months ago, after signing B.J. Upton and trading for his brother Justin, I thought that title would be bestowed upon the Up, Up and JHey trio in Atlanta. Like most other Braves fans, I was wrrrruuu....I was wrrrrrruuu...I was wrong.
While not my favorite Braves outfield of all-time (that would be the 1995 trio of Justice, Grissom, and Klesko), the men who patrolled the grassy grounds of Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium in 1991 were pretty dang good.
Coming off of a 1990 season in which he won the N.L. Rookie of the Year, David Justice started off slowly during the month of April. The month of May was a different story, however, as Justice hit .381 with five home runs and 28 RBI to win the Player of the Month in the National League. His fine play continued through the end of June until a sore back would put him on the D.L. for nearly two months. Thankfully the Braves were only 1.5 games out of first when David returned to the lineup on August 20th. His final stats weren't as good as they had been during his 1990 ROY season, but overall, Justice's .275/.377/.503 slash line and 21 homers and 87 RBI were very good considering missing essentially two months. He was also a popular choice among collectors.
Favorite 1991 Justice card: 1991 Leaf #77
I've heard many collectors say that they don't care for Leaf's follow up to the wildly popular 1990 release. Don't count me among them. What makes this card so great is the composition. The photo works really well with the landscape orientation and the photo corner tabs. A leading line that begins at David's right shoulder and finishes with his bat draws the viewers eyes through the photo. I can see in my mind's eye David's sweet swing- beginning in that top left corner and then coming whipping through the zone. It's quite the thing of beauty.
After struggling so badly that he got sent down to Class A during the 1989 season to learn a new position and to find his bat, Ron Gant came back with a vengeance in 1990. And though he would come back down to earth a bit during the 1991 season, Gant was still a very important part of the Braves turn-around. His final '91 totals read .251/.338/.496 with 32 Home Runs and 105 RBI. He would finish 6th in MVP voting and also go on to win his first and only Silver Slugger award.
Favorite 1991 Ron Gant card: 1991 Donruss Diamond Kings #10
Great and the blue border makes this card a winner.
Another key acquisition prior to the start of the 1991 regular season, Nixon brought a key ingredient to the Atlanta line-up: speed and the ability to get on base as a lead-off hitter. Otis would go on to set career highs in average (.297) and stolen bases (72- also a Braves record) during his first season in Atlanta. He would set an MLB record with 6 stolen bases in a game that season (June 16, against the Expos). Nixon's season would end prematurely on September 16, when he was suspended for testing positive for cocaine.
Favorite 1991 Otis Nixon card: 1991 Stadium Club
Er- I guess that would be Alex Cole card? Nixon's card in the set actually pictures him as an Expo. Just one of many error cards from the era.
Fourth outfielder for the '91 Braves, but became a starter once Nixon was suspended. Smith's career was winding down, but he was still a productive player at this point for the Braves. Atlanta would be the fourth organization that Lonnie would play in for the World Series- and the only one he wouldn't win a ring with.
Favorite 1991 Lonnie Smith Card: 1991 Fleer
The photography and/or editor for Fleer's baseball brand must have had a sense of humor. Otherwise, I don't know why they would have taken/used this photo. Smith, of course, was known as "Skates," a nickname given to him due to his misadventures in the field, on the bases, on his feet. In his locker during the Braves Cinderella Season sat, according to Mike Littwin of the Baltimore Sun, sat a trophy topped with a black baseball glove- the anti-Golden Glove, if you will. I can only imagine Smith here, in this photo shoot, eye on ball, backpedaling to his desired location to make the catch- only to trip and fall, or some other baseball blunder. Despite all the laughter brought about by his footwork, Smith was a pretty darn good player; underrated; a winner.
A relative unknown prior to the '91 season, Mitchell, the second-cousin of Giants Slugger Kevin Mitchell, received his call-up in July after slugging 12 homers and hitting .327 combined between AA and AAA. He would get 74 plate appearances over the last couple of months of the 1991 regular season, hitting .318/.392/.409 and 2 homers. He would make the post season roster and go 0-6 in the NLCS and World Series. He would never make it back up to Atlanta.
Favorite 1991 card of Keith Mitchell: 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition
His only true rookie card- this came from the set which included many other great cards. Too bad the set came during the junk era. Mitchell had four very short stints in the majors w/ four different teams. I still don't know why he never stuck anywhere. He was a decent player, who walked nearly as much as he struck out.
Signed as a free-agent prior to the '91 season, Deion spent the first month of the season as a starter, was benched come May and then optioned to AAA Richmond in late May. After being recalled at the end of June, Prime Time rode the bench once again, with only a few spot starts. He finished the '91 campaign with only 110 AB's, hitting .191/.281/.345 and 11 steals.
Favorite 1991 Deion Sanders Card: