AS HAPPY endings go, this was a weird one: On eve of World
Series Game 6, rightfielder blasts home fans for not hiking
decibel level high enough to suit him, saying, "You have to do
something great to get them out of their seats.... If we don't
win, they'll probably burn our houses down." During pregame
introductions, smarting fans crank it up, booing rightfielder,
who sports .214 postseason average. Rightfielder homers to
account for only run in victory that brings fans first world
championship. Fans cheer rightfielder. Rightfielder thanks fans
on national TV for their outstanding support.
David Justice--now you hate him, now you don't. Just when it
appeared he had opened his big mouth one too many times,
Justice, the Atlanta Braves' rightfielder for the past six
years, turned one of the worst days of his life into his best
night. Rattled early last Saturday by the sight of his own harsh
words plastered across the Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports
section, Justice tried to make amends by belting his homer off
Cleveland Indian reliever Jim Poole and throwing bouquets to the
Brave faithful during the postgame celebration. "The fans proved
me wrong," Justice said. "They were gems tonight."
He wasn't too thrilled on the off day before Game 6, when he
went on about how much more fired up Cleveland fans were
compared with Atlanta's. Maybe so. But this was the Braves'
third World Series in five seasons, and the Indians hadn't been
in the Fall Classic in 41 years. The 1991 and '92 World Series,
both of which the Braves lost, were among the most exciting ever
played; this latest edition wasn't nearly as compelling.
It was just the latest case of Justice popping off at the wrong
time, which hasn't endeared him to fans or teammates. During the
1992 World Series, with Atlanta trailing the Toronto Blue Jays,
three games to one, he went on the radio and said his teammates
weren't playing as hard as they should--a comment that upset
Big talkers had best be able to back up their words with big
production, and this fall Justice was coming off a regular
season in which his average (.253) had plunged 60 points from
the year before. When asked before the World Series about his
postseason struggles, Justice was indignant. "It depends how you
define struggling," he said. "I got some key walks."
Key walks? The No. 5 hitter in the order, a 40-homer man in
1993, talking about key walks? It was typical Justice, in that
he does not react well to criticism and usually has an inflated
opinion of himself. But the Saturday headlines, coupled with his
fear that the Braves might somehow lose another Series, Justice
said, made for "the most pressure I've ever felt in my life."
Before Game 6, he said, he had to go off by himself to "clear my
mind. My head hurt, my stomach hurt, and all I could think
about was going out on the field and getting booed by 50,000
fans. I really don't know how I got through today. The pressure
The pressure started to let up after he doubled in the fourth,
for his first extra-base hit in 43 postseason at bats. "After
that, the controversy was gone," Justice said. "I was helping
the team. I figured, If they don't like me, they don't like me."
Then, when Justice nailed Poole's high fastball for his first
homer in 20 games, all was forgiven.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Series hero Justice has always been his own No. 1 fan.[David Justice giving "No. 1" sign with hand]