Matt Clairmont's Truth

The collected musings of an emerging Canadian author

In memory of Charlie Adams

Coming soon...

David Justice

     David Justice is a former major league baseball player whose career I've followed since his Rookie of the Year season in 1990. In this section I'll be chronicling some of the more intriguing experiences I've had in the fifteen+ years being a serious sports collector. Many of the items I've accumulated are pictured at left. (view large) Check out some custom cards I've made (here). For a complete list of items in my collections, click here.

      Why David Justice? I've been asked that several times. It seems strange that a kid from Nova Scotia would devote a substantial collection to a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, who played for an American baseball team in Atlanta, and I suppose it is. The easy answer dates back to one of my first memories of baseball cards, when I bought my first pack of 1991 Upper Deck. As I remember, it was the first card in the pack, #363 David Justice. I still have that original card, as well as fifty or so duplicates.

     Justice was a superstar in 1990. Ranked the #8 prospect in the minor leagues the year before, he was slated to join the Braves full time in 1990. However, a freak accident in Spring Training resulted in a broken cheek bone and sidelined him for two months. When he finally did make it back to the Big Leagues, he was there to stay. He played first base for two months before right fielder and fan-favorite Dale Murphy was traded to Philadelphia. At that point, Justice returned to his natural position and starting to hit the cover off the ball.

     He went on a tear of historic proportions, hitting ten homeruns in eleven games, finishing his injury-abbreviated year with 28 homeruns and 78 RBI's. This strong performance earned him twenty-four of twenty-five votes for Rookie of the Year in November 1990.

     For the Braves, his arrival was right on cue. Perennial cellar-dwellers, the Braves invested in their farm system to get them going, but didn't expect it to happen so fast. In 1991, a year away from a last-place finish, they reached the World Series. Justice had another great year, leading the league in RBI's for much of the season, until a back injury again sidelined him. The upstart Braves lost the World Series to the equally surprising Minnesota Twins in what is considered one of the most dramatic championships in the history of the sport.

     1992 was something of an instant replay for the Braves, who defeated the Pirates in the NLCS for a second straight year, before losing the World Series to defending champions, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays used timely hitting and speed to stop the Atlanta pitching, and the Braves lost in six games. In 1993 David Justice had one of his finest offensive performances, hitting 40 homeruns and driving in 120 runs. His teammates Ron Gant and Fred McGriff combined to each hit over 30 homeruns that year, with Justice leading the way. However, the offensive strengths were not enough, and the Philadelphia Phillies prematurely ended their season in the 1993 NLCS. Phillies pitchers Tommy Greene and Curt Schilling took turns disposing of the Atlanta batters, and like the Braves they too lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series.

     The team knew that some small changes needed to be made to get them over the hump - all the necessary parts were there. They added a few key players and lost some greats as well. Gone were Terry Pendleton and Ron Gant, both of whom were key contributors to the Braves success of recent years. In their place were rookie Chipper Jones and Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux. After the 1994 season was stopped due to a strike, the forecast for 1995 was grim. Fans boycotted the stadiums where multi-millionaires played a game and complained about salary caps. Opening Day 1995 was a bleak reminder that many fans had grown disenfranchised and could no longer spend so much money rewarding athletes with inexplicable payrolls.

     The Braves started strong that year, and for the fourth straight season finished at the top of the division. There were moments that year that gradually brought the fans back - like Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak that broke Lou Gehrig's record - and the intensity of the playoff atmosphere was apparent from day one. Justice, playing through shoulder and knee injuries, was not doing particularly well, but the Braves were winning. As a young fan in love with the game of baseball, it was an absolute thrill to see my Braves up three games to two against the Cleveland Indians. Still, thoughts of how the Braves led the Twins 3-2 then blew the series, and how they seemed to have the reigns against the Blue Jays before falling, crept in. To be this close again and lose would be an absolute tragedy.

     History was not lost of Braves fans that’d followed their team’s improbable rise and ultimate fall each year since 1991. Cleveland fans hadn't reached the World Series in almost fifty years, and showed their appreciation during every treasured at-bat. Justice, touched by the Indians fans passion, called out Braves fans for more of the same. When the press reported on his comments, however, they were decidedly much more negative than he intended. "Justice Rips Fans" read the headline of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Justice spent much of the pre-game moments answering to the media and explaining himself.

     As a result, Justice was actually boo'd by Braves fans at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on October 28, 1995, game six. In his first at-bat fans hissed until he sent a deep drive that ended up as a double. The fans were excited to see him in scoring position and the boo's left. He would be stranded however, and the game remained scoreless until the sixth inning. That's when Jim Poole, a crafty left-hander who had just struck out Fred McGriff to end the fifth, threw a 1-1 fastball over the plate, which Justice firmly planted into the seats in Right Field. Manny Ramirez, the Indians outfielder, could only watch as the ball sailed overhead. Few would guess at the time, but it was the only run in a game that featured a pitching gem thrown by Tom Glavine, and a save by hurler Mark Wohlers.

    Jubilation. Absolute jubilation as the final out was made and Atlanta finally had their championship. Justice, who was so despised for his comments, was now universally loved. A fan who'd written a sign that read "Justice, I hope your bat is as big as your mouth" added the line: It is!". As he joined his teammates in the celebration, Justice reveled in the World Series title they'd coveted for so long. The core group of players on the 1995 team had been together since 1987 or 1988, and had progressed through the minor leagues together. It was a series that brought baseball back into the national consciousness - for the right reasons - and rewarded America's Team with a championship they thoroughly deserved.

     The next year Justice was on pace for his greatest outing in his brief career, but on May 15, 1996, he separated his shoulder swinging at a pitch, and ended his year altogether. Again the Braves made the World Series and were regarded as favorites against a strong New York Yankees team. After winning the first two games, the Braves suddenly fell in six, again losing the World Series in devastating fashion.

     During the off-season Justice was promised by Braves general manager John Schuerholz that he would not be traded, but contrary to that promise, he was sent to the Indians of all teams, in March 1997. The blockbuster deal sent Justice and Marquis Grissom to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. For Justice it was a horrible set of circumstances and he hated to leave his teammates, but it was also the opportunity for a fresh start. The Indians were known for their fan support, and welcomed Justice with open arms. In response, Justice remained among the leaders in most offensive categories and had what is considered the best season of his career. He was named the 1997 AL Comeback Player of the Year as a result.

     Fate being as cruel as it is, the Indians lost the 1997 World Series in seven games, in the tenth inning no less. The tide had almost completely turned, as now it was the Indians who had been through two remarkable World Series losses, and were looking to rebound. Despite strong efforts in 1998 and 1999, Justice and the Indians made the playoffs but were ousted each time. In 1999 the Braves again made the playoffs, but again were defeated by the Yankees.

     In 2000 Justice started off on a tear, hitting twenty-one homeruns in little less than half the season, but the Indians, looking to secure salary space for superstars Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, traded Justice to the New York Yankees on June 30, 2000. Justice would hit twenty more homeruns in a very brief stint with the Yankees, leading them to the playoffs at full speed. In the ALCS it looked like the Yankees would fall to the Mariners in Game 6, until Justice stepped up in the seventh and blasted a homerun to the upper deck, earning 2000 ALCS MVP honors. It also propelled the Yankees to the World Series, where they defeated the Mets in five games.

     The next year, 2001, was another injury-plagued year, and one of his worst in the majors. The Yankees made it to the World Series and, despite his difficulties, appeared to be wrapping up a fourth consecutive title. The Arizona Diamondbacks, on the strength of pitching duo Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, reversed there fortunes and won the championship. For the fifth time in his career, Justice lost the World Series, three in extra innings of game seven.

     In the off-season, the aging and oft-injured Justice was traded to the New York Mets, who traded him to the Oakland Athletics a week later. In Oakland he was a team leader, a veteran who started off strong and again brought his team into the playoffs. Justice was the AL Player of the Week for the first week of the season, but it was arguably his strongest week all year. In the 2002 ALDS, Justice's Athletics were outplayed by the Minnesota Twins and lost in five games. Justice doubled in his final at-bat and later came around to score, but it wasn't enough. Oakland went home, and Justice announced his retirement in the off-season. His career, which started on May 24, 1989, came to an end on October 6, 2002.

     So the last four years or so have been retrospective, looking back on a career dappled with honors but lacking something. David Justice was an astounding athlete and an exciting one to watch; it's disappointing to note that so much of his career was lost to injury, and had he been healthy, he would have remained one of the greatest players to ever play the game. As it is, however, Justice is an above-average who knew how to win but his contributions shrunk as his career went on. In 2007 Justice will be eligible for the Hall of Fame, but he will fall well short. I have no doubt that, like Darryl Strawberry, Bo Jackson, and so many other talented ball players of his generation, had he been able to attain a degree of consistency and longevity, Justice would be a first-ballot selection. Playing on winning teams doesn't get you into the Hall of Fame, nor does 300 career homeruns in this era. 

     So, I suppose a big part of my motivation for respecting and admiring this merely "above-average" career, is the sense of loss that I get when I look at it really hard. It serves as a reminder that talent and ability only go so far, and that real success requires something more. Don't get me wrong, Justice had a successful career, and what I can only assume is a successful life. He is a married father of two, a professional baseball analyst with the YES Network in New York, and from what I gather from interviews, a strong and confident human being.

     Someday I'd like to meet him and let him know that following his career was a lot of fun and excitement, for a very long time. I learned a lot of things, above all that success is what you make it, and hard work makes success possible. It would be nice to understand his perspective on his career, and someday I'd love to write his biography. But I reserve those thoughts for the Sunday afternoons watching the Blue Jays on Sportsnet, wishing I could go back to 1995 and watch the Braves do it all over again on TBS... wondering what it must have been like to hear your name chanted by the crowd, playing and winning it all under the Georgia sky... and remembering what it was like for me, as an eager-eyed thirteen year old fan, and how happy I was at that one moment in time.

     That's why, David Justice.

 

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Original Artwork

 

Click on each thumbnail image to enlarge.

I created the first Charcoal on canvas on April 16, 2007. This depicts David Justice rounding the bases in triumph after hitting a sixth inning homerun in the sixth game of the 1995 World Series.

The second image was created on September 20, 2007 and is pencil on canvas. It is from a detail of a popular image of Justice in the on-deck circle in the 1995 World Series.

The final image was created on February 3, 2008. It is a pencil on canvas recreation of a newly-released TIME Magazine photo of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Washington.

©2007-2008 Matt Clairmont

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Kirby Puckett 1960-2006

     

   

     My first memories of Kirby Puckett were at the same time humorous and dramatic. At the age of nine I was just coming of age as a baseball fan, not yet even gaining an understanding of the infield fly rule. Yet, I knew instinctively it was a magical time to be a young fan. My favorite player was and remains David Justice. A tall and sleek left-handed hitter with a powerful and graceful swing, he was an instant star in Atlanta and around the world.

 

     Today I've accumulated an impressive collection of his memorabilia, due largely because I link that brief time in the early 1990's as the most fun I've had as a sports fan in my life. On the other hand, Kirby Puckett is very much the antithesis of my favorite player. At 5'8 he resembled more closely an oversized bowling ball than a typical superstar athlete. By 1991, however, he had already established himself as a remarkable talent. 

 

     I started collecting baseball cards that year partially because my brother and his friend collected them too. My brother's favorite player was Tim Raines, which I could understand because he played for a Canadian team, but I couldn't see what they thought was so great about Kirby Puckett.

    Life was great for me at that time. I traded a couple of Frank Thomas cards for a Justice rookie, and on my birthday I was given a handful more. Then, like a story only Disney would tell, Justice and the Atlanta Braves made it from last place in the league in 1990, to make it all the way to the World Series in 1991.

    They were America's Team, owner Ted Turner used his vast fortunes to turn the tides and make what has become one of baseball's most dominant dynasties. I couldn't walk into a card store, and there were four in my small town, without someone peddling Atlanta Braves hats, or balls, or cards or something. From my point of view it was clear they were going to win it all, and David Justice was going to be an all-star for years to come. The only thing standing in their way was a bowling ball named Puckett.

    I didn't even get to stay up late enough to watch the end of most of the World Series games, in a series that has become one of the most discussed in history. I remember waking up each morning to see if the score in the fifth inning had changed since I went to bed, and it usually did. A number of times the Braves looked like it was all over and they had it wrapped up. History tells us that Mr. Puckett had another thought in mind.

 

     Without going into incredible detail, his efforts in games six and seven brought down America's Team and the Metrodome erupted into pure elation at the hands of their prodigal slugger. For years I hated him for ending the Braves' season, and my distaste of him as an opponent was held in check only by my respect of him as an athlete. The Braves made it to the World Series the following year, in 1992, only to fall in six games to Toronto. Finally when they won in 1995 I was absolutely thrilled. In fact, much of the memorabilia I own is a tribute to that magical season when it all came together for David Justice and the Atlanta Braves.

 

     At that point Kirby Puckett was a two-time World Champion, a 10-time All-Star, and a sure-bet Hall-of-Famer. It could have been accurately estimated that he had five or six more productive seasons left in his husky frame, or even more. But one horrible morning in March 1996 after he rose from his bed, he was terrified to realize he couldn't even see his wife in bed next to him. Glaucoma had caused severe vision loss in his right eye, and he would never play again.

 

     It was with considerable grief that Puckett finally abandoned the game he loved so dearly, in July 1996. The city of Minnesota, and Major League Baseball as a whole expressed their sympathy and their appreciation for his unrelenting efforts. It broke him down so much to stop playing the game that brought him out of the ghetto and into the national conscience.
 

     David Justice went on to win another world title with New York in 2000, and after a pair of disappointing seasons in 2001 and 2002 he retired, claiming that he had a "diminished desire to continue". I remember the feeling of being slapped in the face, as a loyal fan who would have given anything for the chance to throw one pitch in a major league game. Here, my favorite player, capable of contributing to the game, just didn't want to anymore. He was blessed with the natural ability, size and strength to excel, and he just gave up. Presently he is a quality commentator for the YES network.

 

    Kirby Puckett lived for baseball. He reminded the world how lucky major league ballplayers are. He was thrilled with every moment he spent on the diamond, and equally crushed when it all fell apart so quickly. As a true connoisseur of this wonderful game, it fills me with a deep sadness at his passing. His marriage fell apart, he was accused of sexual assault, and he let his body and mind go, to the point that he suffered a fatal stroke and left the world on March 6, 2006. He was by no means perfect, but in an age of steroid accusations and abhorrent salaries, Kirby Puckett stands out as one of the final ambassadors of baseball in its heyday. The fans, the game, and the world has lost a great man.

 

     I was 9 years old in 1991 and an avid Atlanta Braves fan. Kirby represented an enormous heartache when he nearly single-handedly downed Atlanta in seven games. I can't help but lament at how remarkable a human being he was, and how ironic it is that the big heart that made him more than just an athlete, but a hero, also became his undoing. I hope his eternity is an endless Game 7, except once and a while the Braves will win. Rest in peace.

 

     "Puck is the best dude in the game, hands down. And if somebody tells you otherwise, they probably ain't met him." -David Justice

 

 

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Did They Drop the Ball?

 

     (This article was written as a response to an article written by John Decoste at www.NovaNewsNow.com, for Transcontinental Media, in which he insinuates that Major League Baseball missed the opportunity to properly tribute recently deceased pitcher Cory Lidle when it announced it would resume a scheduled ball game that very day. As it turned out, rain caused the cancellation anyway.)

     I’m not so sure they did drop the ball. I understand the ‘show must go on’ mentality and how it has permeated professional sports, but that’s the beauty of it. Baseball is the wonderful game it is because it goes on, through all the madness in the world around us, through upheaval, impeachment, terrorism and even outright war.

     It was one of the more sobering moments in sports when Darryl Kile, pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals died on June 22, 2002. Joe Girardi, then catcher for the opposition, Chicago Cubs, tearfully announced the cancellation of the game to which more than twenty thousand fans had already shown up. In this case the deceased was a scheduled competitor in the afternoon game, and had perished of natural causes.

     But the situation here is much different. Lidle, who played for the Yankees, had been eliminated from the playoffs in the previous round. True, he had played for the Mets earlier in his career, but he had few ties to the current team that was hosting the Cardinals.

     Under fair weather, few things would have been accomplished by canceling the game. Everyone in the ballpark and around the world had seen the news reports over and over that afternoon, and by the time of the evening game, one would be hard pressed to find a baseball fan unaware of the tragic loss.

     Sending them home would be akin to turning away from tragedy, denying Major League Baseball’s most attractive quality: that it perseveres through everything. Even in 2001, amid the worst terrorist attacks we’ve ever seen, baseball played a vital role in healing society. 

     Amassing huge groups of like-minded people in tribute to the lives lost, with an enormous flag stretched out across the outfield, saluted by troops and players alike, both with their hats on their hearts...that was a spectacle that helped America move on.


     The game should not have been cancelled in the wake of Lidle’s death. What he deserved was a heartfelt and meaningful memorial service at the start of the game. He may have been a Yankee, but everyone in a sold-out stadium that seats some forty-five thousand can sympathize with a sudden and unfortunate accident.

     Had the weather been more accommodating, Major League Baseball could have made an impact on the players and fans present that night. Of all the history and dramatics that have made professional sport, consider the image of Darryl Kile’s diminutive son Kannon standing beside the Cardinals' starting lineup in his father’s uniform. Imagine some forty-five professional athletes moved to tears by the sentiment, honored to have the opportunity to have played with a great ballplayer, friend and father.


     That’s how Cory Lidle should be remembered.

 

 

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When will the Jays blame Gibbons?

    

    TSN commentator and former Blue Jay Pat Tabler summed it up well when he said "I thought this was going to be a laugher". When the Jays blew an early eight-run lead it indeed had the resonance of a cruel and unusual punch line.

     Thus, we are introduced to another chapter in what has become baseball's premier soap opera. The Jays, who appeared filled with zest and promise at the All-Star break, have faded from contention and are becoming something of a circus act.

     At the centre of the ring tonight, left-handed pitcher Ted Lilly fought with manager John Gibbons in the tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse after the former was yanked in the third inning of the eventual loss.

     A confrontation that began on the mound spewed over into the dugout, and the two actually started a brawl, tearing at each other's jerseys while security and Blue Jay teammates tried to intervene.

     Of course, we all remember the incident earlier this year when Gibbons challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight during a team meeting. This followed a discouraging sentiment written on on a clubhouse whiteboard by the former Jays infielder. Hillenbrand refused to fight his manager, was designated for assignment and later traded to San Francisco.

     So either the Blue Jay players are a collection of the worst attitudes and ego's ever assembled on the diamond, or John Gibbons has just forgotten the most fundamental principles of managing a professional ball club. A manager should not be entering into numerous altercations with his players, and Gibbons should have the respect of his players, especially with so many young talents coming up through the system. But he doesn't.

     The Blue Jays made a lot of great moves in the off-season, nabbing their corner infielders Overbay and Glaus, closer BJ Ryan and start AJ Burnett among others, but there's one that's long overdue. When players have lost respect for the man they play for, at some point it must become obvious that the nine on the field may not be the problem. Sometimes the man in the dugout is to blame.
 
     For the Jays in 2006 that's the problem. Hillenbrand called it a "sinking ship" and he was right. Gibbons has mismanaged the team from any serious threat at reaching the playoffs and should not be rewarded with the reigns in 2007. Bring in an experienced major league manager who understands how to interact with a range of individual talents, one who can maintain the peace and strive toward a common goal.

     And please, for goodness sake, bring in someone who won't pick fights in the clubhouse.

 

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Barry Bonds Indicted For Perjury, Obstruction

11/16/2007

 

     As you know, I grew up a die-hard David Justice fan. As such, with my adulthood came a reality that is often difficult to grasp, though equally inescapable. With a brief, injury-riddled yet illustrious career, David Justice will forever remain on the fringe of baseball immortality, a lost soul in limbo, a generation removed from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

     On August 17 this year, when the Atlanta Braves welcomed back their former slugger and enshrined him in their own Hall of Fame and Museum, I knew it was the highest honor he would ever receive. He played in an era where 60 homerun seasons were commonplace; his career high of 41 was hardly even impressive when considered under that token.

 

     Justice’s problem was sustained excellence. Only once did he play in more than 150 games in a season, and for much of his abbreviated 14-year career he battled knee, shoulder, back and groin injuries which limited his effectiveness, especially in the latter years. He was a phenomenal if perhaps natural talent, however, and left his mark with an unprecedented run of playoff successes.

 

     Baseball’s All-Time Homerun King, Barry Bonds, has had a different kind of career, one that culminated in his federal indictment for perjury and obstruction charges on November 15, 2007. Bonds came from baseball royalty, his father an outstanding mix of speed and power that set the tone for the kind of career his son would one day have. Near the end of the 1980’s, Barry Bonds began a dominant career the likes of which baseball had not seen since the days of Ruth, or possibly ever.

 

     By the time he was voted the NL MVP in 1990, Bonds had firmly established his superstardom, but it was his sustained excellence that created the legacy. Over his 22-year career, Bonds has suffered through a slew of injuries - including a remarkably debilitating knee injury which continues to torment – but he has always rebounded and remained effective. He was even able to return from the knee injury at the age of 41, which ended his 2005 season in March.

     Lesser athletes like Don Mattingly, Larry Bird, Cam Neely and David Justice lost their battles with injuries and were forced to retire from the game before loosing their effectiveness. All but Mattingly had a degree of success that has eluded Bonds his entire career – all of them were champions, with Mattingly’s Yankees winning the World Series the year after his playing days were over.

            
     
In a pastime that is as natural as apple pie, Bonds’ career has undoubtedly been lengthened and preserved by synthetic substances. The homerun itself is tainted, not just because the record holder is a fraud, but because every dramatic clout from an entire generation of athletes must carry with it a cloud of suspicion, and an asterisk.

            
     
David Justice played in the heart of the steroid era and could have been aided by the strength and endurance that such substances allow, but he wasn’t. He was a good ballplayer, confident and mighty, a clutch hitter who brought the city of Atlanta its first championship. But he will likely be remembered as a sub-par athlete because the bar was artificially raised far too high.

                        
     
Eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, Justice will fall short of induction. Though time may one day reward him for being a clean, natural athlete, simply too many players of his generation achieved greater success, greater longevity and made a bigger impact on the evolving state of the game.

 
     
Chief among them is Bonds, who will appear in court on December 7 and face charges that he knowingly took steroids, lied to a federal grand jury, an impeded the investigation.

            
     
Four counts of perjury, and obstruction of Justice.