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The Ultimate Braves Lineup Of The Bobby Cox Era: Center Field Edition

Counting down the remaining weeks of the Bobby Cox era by selecting his best all-time Braves lineup, position by position.

Andruw Jones is running for the position of Bobby Cox's ultimate center fielder.  Image via randomduck on flickr.
Andruw Jones is running for the position of Bobby Cox's ultimate center fielder. Image via randomduck on flickr.

As Bobby Cox's final season of managing the Braves winds down, we continue to pay tribute to him through a series of articles which will determine the ultimate Braves players to have played for Mr. Cox. In the first article we took a look back at the individuals that played right field for the Braves during the Bobby Cox era. As a result of your votes, I am proud to announce that the winner of the coveted award of the Ultimate Braves Right Fielder of the Bobby Cox Era is... David Justice, with 80% of the votes. The Shef was the first loser, picking up 14% of the votes, and sadly, Michael Tucker did not receive a single vote. Better luck with the Royals ultimate line-up, Michael. So, one round in, and our line-up begins to take shape:

Current Ultimate Line-Up

RF = David Justice #23

In this second article in the series, we will analyze the players who played the 8 spot, center field, and scientifically determine who was the ultimate center fielder of the Bobby Cox era. As a reminder, the ground rules we are using through this process are as follows:

  1. We will only consider players that played during Cox's current run as Manager of the Atlanta Braves (June of 1990 - Present), not those that played under him during his first time around as the Braves Manager (1978 - 1981).
  2. For a player to be eligible, he must have been an everyday player for the Braves for at least two seasons. No rental players will be granted the honor of being part of the Ultimate Braves Lineup of the Cox Era.
  3. Readers will vote to make the determination of who wins the coveted roster spot. I will lay out my analysis and leave it up to you to decide the outcome.
  4. A player may only win for one position.
  5. I reserve the right to add any more "ground rules" that may assist in the process.

So without further ado, off we go. Today's contenders are Ron Gant (1990 - 1991 CF, 1992 - 1993 LF), Otis Nixon (1992 - 1993), Marquis Grissom (1995 - 1996), and Andruw Jones (1996 - 1997 RF, 1998 - 2007 CF). The answer already appears clear, but lets run through the exercise, just in case.

Ron Gant

When Bobby Cox took over as manager of the Braves in 1990, he inherited Ron Gant as his everyday center fielder. Gant was a product of the Braves farm system and had played with the Major League club since 1987. Gant proved to be one of those rare players who was capable of hitting for power and average, and had the speed to swipe bases. 1990 was Gant's breakthrough season where he hit .303/.357/.539, blasted 32 home runs, and stole 33 bases. Gant was by far the best offensive player for the Braves in 1990, a season where they won only 67 games.

In 1991, Gant again joined the 30-30 Club becoming only the third player to reach this feat two years in a row. The two players to do this before Gant were WIllie Mays and Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds joined the group after Gant; not bad company. Despite Gant's power and speed still leading the Braves in 1991, he slipped to .251/.338/.496 and accumulated 104 strikeouts. He did however, win his only Silver Slugger award this year. In his first postseason appearance, Gant went 15 for 57 with 1 home run and 7 runs batted in. During the NL Championship series against the Pirates, Gant scurried around the bases racking up 7 stolen bases during the 7 game series. Ron was involved in one noteworthy occurence in the 1991 World Series against the Minnesota Twins. In game 2, while Gant was on first base, Twins' pitcher Kevin Tapani threw over to first baseman Kent Hrbek in a pick-off attempt. It appeared that Hrbek pulled Gant's leg off the base when applying the tag and Gant was called out. The Braves bench cleared as part of the argument, but no umpires were injured. This call came in 10th on an ESPN list of worst calls in sports history.

After the 1991 season, Gant changed positions and spent the 1992 and 1993 seasons in left field. During these seasons he hit .259/.321/.415 with 17 home runs, 80 runs batted in, and 32 stolen bases and .274/.345/.510 36 home runs, 117 runs batted in, and 26 stolen bases, respectively. Gant hit below .200 in each series of the 1992 and 1993 postseason, though he did hit a Grand Slam against the Pirates in 1992 NL Championship series. One standout factor in Gant's postseason play was his base running. During the 1992 postseason, Gant set a Major League record by stealing his ninth consecutive stolen base.

The Braves rewarded Gant for his solid 1993 numbers with the largest singe-season contract in history. Within one week of signing the contract, Gant broke his leg in an ATV accident and thus, was unable to play a single game in 1994. His Braves career was over. In 2005 Gant worked as a commentator for the Braves and currently works for SportsSouth.

Super Fun Fact: Ron Gant received zero votes in the year he became eligible for the MLB Hall of Fame.

Otis Nixon

Otis Nixon was traded from the Montreal Expos to the Braves on April 1, 1991 and throughout his Braves run, he played all three outfield positions. Nixon spent most of 1991 in left field, then transitioned over to center field for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. Otis Nixon was a speedster. In 1991 he stole 72 bases (a Braves single-season record), in 1992 he stole 41, and in 1993 he stole 47. Nixon compiled 620 stolen bases over his 17 year career, landing him 16th on the all-time stolen base leader list.

In 1991, Nixon hit .297/.371/.327, almost hit a home run, and drove in 26 runs. Due to injuries and suspensions, Nixon only played about 120 - 135 games a season as a Braves, but he made the most of his time when he was in the game. On June 6, 1991, Nixon tied the single-game stolen base record, by stealing 6 bases. As the Braves made their march to become the NL West Division champions, it was discovered there was a reason Nixon had an extra pep in his step. In September of 1991, Nixon, who had a history with cocaine, failed a drug test, causing him to be suspended for 60 days and miss the entire 1991 post season. So what did the Braves do? Re-sign him of course, and give him a raise!

In 1992, Nixon hit .294/.348/.346, smashed TWO home runs, and drove in 22 runs. What many people remember about Otis is the spectacular home run-saving catch he made during the 1992 season. 1992 also provided Nixon his first chance at the postseason. Overall he played well, but will be remembered as the individual who made the final out in the 1992 World Series, as he tried to bunt his way on base.

In his final year with the Braves, Nixon hit .269/.351/.315, racking up ANOTHER home run, and 24 RBIs. Nixon hit .348/.464/.435 during the Braves' losing efforts in the 1993 NL Championship series. Nixon was a free agent after the 1993 season and signed with the Boston Red Sox. As the Braves are known to do, they brought Nixon back in 1999 for his final MLB season. His 1999 statistics are not worth discussing, other than that he stole 26 bases during the season despite only accumulating 176 plate appearances.

Nowadays, Nixon has apparently turned his life around, kicked the coke, and found god. He stays busy running On-Track Ministries and he recently married gospel singer Candi Staton.

Super Fun Fact: Otis Nixon has, at some point, apparently played for the U.S. cricket team.

Marquis Grissom

Marquis, an Atlanta native, joined the Braves in April of 1995, when the Braves traded Tony Tarasco, Roberto Kelly, and Esteban Yan to the Montreal Expos. Marquis was brought in to take over center field and lead-off hitter duties for Otis Nixon. In 1995 he hit .258/.317/.376, sent 12 balls into orbit, drove in 42 runs, and stole 29 bases. Grissom also earned the third Gold Glove award of his career. 1995 marked Grissom's first postseason appearance and he had a huge impact in the Braves' World Series Championship run. He went 25 for 65 in the postseason, hit 3 longballs (all in the NL Division Series), and stole 5 bases. He also caught the final fly-ball out of the 1995 World Series, bringing home Bobby Cox's sole World Series championship.

In 1996, Grissom had close to a career year as he hit .308/.349/.489, shot 23 balls over the fence, drove in 74 runs, and swiped 28 bases. Once again Grissom won a Golden Glove award for his play in center field. Offensively, Grissom played well in the 1996 postseason, but he made a couple of errors/lapses in judgement on defense during close games in the 1996 World Series.

With Marquis coming off a career year, the Braves took the opportunity to sell high and traded him, along with David Justice, to the Cleveland Indians for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree.

Super Fun Fact: Marquis is "an avid movie buff and loves watching movies."

Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones signed with the Atlanta Braves when he was 16 years old. Three years later, Jones was on the Major League ball club and quickly became a staple of the Braves' line-up and commander of the Braves' outfield. Andruw Jones was an everyday player for the Braves from 1997 through 2007. During this period, Jones hit .263/.342/.497, tallied 368 home runs, 1117 runs batted in, and stole 138 bases. As a Brave, he was a 10-time Gold Glove winner for his work in center field, a 5-time All-Star, and a 1-time Silver Slugger. Andruw hit above .300 once as a Brave (2000) and hit over 50 home runs once as well (2005). The 51 home runs he hit in 2005 set a Braves record for single-season home runs.

Though he missed out on the Braves' World Series Championship, Jones played in 75 postseason games. Andruw's postseason numbers include hitting .273/.365/.433, with 10 home runs, 33 runs batted in, and 5 stolen bases. Jones made a huge statement during the postseason of his first partial Major League season, 1996. In the first game of that year's World Series, Jones homered in his first two at bats and became the youngest player to hit a World Series home run.

Andruw put up great offensive numbers from 1997 through 2006. In the early years he stole more bases, but in the later years he hit for more power. But in 2007, the final year of his contract with the Braves, Andruw fell-off offensively. He finished the year hitting .222/.311/.413, spiking 26 home runs, knocking in 94 runs, and striking out 138 times. Andruw had 11 more strikeouts than hits in the season. Jones' offensive down fall was like taking the downturn of Jeff Francoeur's situation to the extreme. Jones had proven himself as an All-Star caliber hitter for many years and then all of a sudden he lost it. Some speculate that starting his career at such an early age may have played in to his downfall, or perhaps his weight gain. All I know is that I am glad the Braves did not re-sign Jones after the 2007 season, because he has yet to return to his pre-2007 form. Despite working with a number of hitting coaches, in the three seasons since leaving the Braves (and as of this writing), Andruw has stuck out 218 times and only picked up 153 base hits.

Some people rank Andruw as one of the top two center fielders on defense of all-time and despite his downfall, some argue that Jones belongs in the Hall of Fame. Andruw had many great years as a Brave and his Braves legacy should not be tarnished dramatically by his 2007 season.

Super Fun Fact: Andruw Jones's home was featured on MTV's Cribs.

Well those are all of the qualified contestants for the center field spot on Bobby Cox's ultimate line-up. Sorry Nate McClouth fans, he was so close to qualifying! Anyway, it looks like we have another obvious answer here, let's see how it turns out.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.