CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Marquis Grissom returned to Cleveland this week a conquering hero. That much was apparent from the loud ovation he received during introductions for Game 3 of the 93rd World Series last night.
How things have changed. This is the same guy who struggled through the first half of the regular season and eventually lost his place at the top of the Indians' batting order, which was not exactly the kind of first impression he had hoped to make when he was acquired from the Atlanta Braves for popular Kenny TC Lofton.
His numbers improved down the stretch, but Grissom didn't really carve his initials into the hearts of Cleveland baseball fans until he cranked a three-run home run off Orioles reliever Armando Benitez to turn around the American League Championship Series. He didn't stop there.
Since leaving for Baltimore last week, he has been named Most Valuable Player of the ALCS and has forced his way into the World Series record book with seven hits in the first three games. He has the highest career batting average (.452, 28-for-62) of any hitter with at least 40 lifetime at-bats in the history of the Fall Classic.
Plus he has never been held hitless in 15 World Series games -- two behind Hank Bauer's record -- and has built a reputation as a very tough hitter in pressure-packed situations.
It may be difficult to maintain the record batting average, but Grissom seems more concerned with maintaining the momentum that has carried the Indians through two playoff series and into the World Series.
"I'm looking at it now because [the media] are bringing it up," he said before going 2-for-3 with an RBI last night, "but I just go out and play. I'm trying to help my team as much as I can, because those guys have picked me up all season, and it takes a total team effort to go out and win. And I never really looked at a batting average or anything. It's about going out there, how 25 guys can come together and win."
Still, it has to be nice to be in a position to make everyone forget the trouble he had adjusting to the American League and replacing a player (Lofton) of such prominence.
Grissom had to overcome a hamstring injury in April and struggled at the plate well into the summer. He was batting just .260 with two home runs and an unimpressive .319 on-base average at the All-Star break -- not quite what the Indians were looking for when the club acquired Grissom along with David Justice for Lofton and reliever Alan Embree late in spring training.
It was a frustrating time, but Grissom claims he never felt pressure to replace Lofton.
"I came here with the attitude to be myself," Grissom said. "I knew there was going to be a lot of talk about me getting traded for Kenny Lofton. I came here with my work habits and came here to try to win and not fill nobody's shoes. Kenny is a great player and a good friend of mine, too."
Manager Mike Hargrove eventually moved Grissom to the bottom of the batting order and he bounced back to make a solid offensive contribution in the second half, but nothing to compare with his clutch performance in the postseason.
"I think I was trying too hard," he explained. "I wanted to do too well, too quick, too soon. I went to the game and didn't let the game come to me. Bobby Cox did the same thing [moved him down in the lineup] and Felipe Alou did the same thing," Grissom said of his managers in Atlanta and Montreal. "I think you want to get a different look."
Grissom would have had a completely different look if he had succeeded in escaping the Montreal Expos before they traded him to the Braves for outfielder Roberto Kelly and current Orioles Tony Tarasco and Esteban Yan. He was very close to a contract with the Florida Marlins after the 1994 baseball strike, but the deal was voided when he and other potential free agents were not given service credit for the games lost during the work stoppage.
"I think it would have happened," Grissom said.
"I don't know what became of it, but I think none of the guys could sign during that period, so nobody did. But I definitely had the intention of going to the Florida Marlins."
It worked out for the best. Grissom got to the World Series two years sooner than he would have in Florida, and has played in it every season since he left Montreal.
Pub Date: 10/22/97