Every major leaguer dreams of making the postseason and hoisting the World Series trophy. A few will get to not only hoist the trophy, but be the hero of the World Series. Not many players can say that they hit a home run to win the deciding game of the World Series, or that they hit a go-ahead three-run homer to clinch a World Series berth, or that they went to the postseason in 11 straight seasons and won two World Series trophies. David Justice, one of the most prolific postseason heroes of the 1990s, can say all of those things.
Justice, a Braves right fielder from his 16-game debut in 1989 until the end of the 1996 season, was a part of five major-league organizations and played in the majors for four of them: the Braves (1989-1996), Cleveland Indians (1997-2000), New York Yankees (2000-2001), New York Mets (offseason 2001) and the Moneyball Oakland Athletics (2002, his final season). In his 14 major-league seasons, Justice compiled a slash line of .266/.376/.410, with 305 home runs, 1,571 hits, and 1,017 RBIs.
David Christopher Justice was born on April 14, 1966, in Cincinnati to Robert and Nettie Justice. His father, a security guard, left the family when Justice was a child, and Nettie took care of him as a housekeeper and caterer.1 He attended a Catholic high school, Covington Latin High School, in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The school is known for its academic excellence, and Justice excelled while there; He skipped both seventh and eighth grades and graduated at the age of 16. While in high school he was a star basketball player, holding the school’s all-time scoring record and averaging nearly 26 points a game during his senior season. Covington Latin did not have a baseball team; Justice played American Legion baseball over the summers during his high-school years. Justice attended Thomas More College in nearby Crestview Hills, Kentucky, on a basketball scholarship, and once said, “I didn’t love baseball back then.”2 Scouts from the Braves had seen the potential in the multisport star and the Braves drafted him in the fourth round of the June 1985 amateur draft.
The Braves sent Justice to the Pulaski Braves of the rookie-level Appalachian League. He batted just .245, but after hitting 10 home runs in 66 games and posting an OPS of .793 he was promoted to the low Class-A Sumter Braves in 1986. There Justice had his best minor-league season, slashing .300/.425/.509 with 10 home runs and 61 RBIs in 61 games. Justice led the team in most offensive categories. (His future Atlanta teammate Mark Lemke led the team in most of the others.)
Justice was promoted to the Durham Bulls (Class A-advanced) in midseason and finished the season with a combined .290/.419/.497 line with 22 home runs and 105 RBIs. His performance, particularly his power bat, earned him a move up to Double-A Greenville for 1987.
Justice struggled to adjust to Double-A ball as a 21-year-old (.227, 6 home runs), and was again at Greenville to start the 1988 season. Justice showed progress that season (.278, 9 home runs in 58 games) and was promoted to Triple-A Richmond, where he batted only .203 in 70 games. But in 1989 Justice put together a solid season: .261/.360/.430, a team-high 12 home runs, and a .789 OPS, second highest on the team. After the season Baseball America ranked him the number-nine prospect in the International League.
Justice was called up by the Braves for a week in late May. He made his major-league debut on May 24, starting in right field in a home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first at-bat, against righty Bob Walk, Justice grounded out to shortstop. The game went into extra innings, and in the 12th Justice got his first major-league hit, a line-drive single to right off Randy Kramer. Justice had only the one hit in 20 at-bats before being sent back to Richmond on the 31st. He was called back up in September and on the 19th hit his first major-league home run, off Houston ace Mike Scott. Justice started the 1990 season with Richmond but was brought up after batting .356 in 12 games. Justice hit 28 home runs playing either right field or first base in 127 games and was voted the National League Rookie of the Year.
From 1990 to 1996 Justice was a staple in the Braves lineup. In 801 games over that period he posted a .276/.375/.501 slash line with an .877 OPS. Justice was one of 25 players who hit over 150 homers and had more than 500 RBIs during the seven-year period, despite being hurt for most of the ’96 season.
Dale Murphy‘s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in early August 1990 paved the way for Justice to be moved permanently to right field. Francisco Cabrera replaced Justice at first base for the remainder of the season. Justice opened the 1991 season as the Braves’ regular right fielder. That season he missed more than 50 games with injuries but returned with plenty of time to help the Braves World Series push. In 109 games he drove in 87 runs. During the NLCS vs. Pittsburgh, Justice hit his first postseason home run, off Pirates pitcher Bob Walk (the same pitcher he faced for his first major-league at-bat in 1989). In the World Series Atlanta faced the Minnesota Twins in what became known as the “Worst to First” Series. In 1990 both the Twins and the Braves had finished in last place in their divisions.
The Series went seven games; five were decided by a single run, and three games went into extra innings. The Series was headlined by the Game Seven pitching matchup of veteran Jack Morris and 24-year-old John Smoltz. The two dueled for nearly eight innings, with Smoltz leaving in the eighth inning with one out and giving up no runs. The Twins won the game and the Series in the 10th on Gene Larkin’s RBI single. Morris went all the way for the shutout. Justice hit two homers and drove in six runs in the Series.
On face value some of Justice’s numbers didn’t look so good for the 1992 season but it was in part due to a slow start at the plate. Through May he hit just .190 with 4 homers and 11 RBIs in 35 games. For the remaining 109 games, Justice hit .279 with 17 homers and 61 RBIs. He posted one of his highest WAR totals for his career during the season, with a bWAR of 4.9 and an fWAR of 5.1. The Braves once again won the NL West in 1992 with a record of 98-64, and faced the Pittsburgh Pirates again in the NL Championship Series. During the NLCS, Justice hit .280 with two homers, but perhaps his biggest at-bat was in the ninth inning of Game Seven, when with the Braves losing 2-0 he hit a groundball off Doug Drabek that was booted by Pirates second baseman José Lind, which allowed Terry Pendleton to move to third base and Justice to reach first. Pendleton scored on a fly ball, which set the stage later in the inning for pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera. On Cabrera’s two-out single, Justice scored the tying run from third base and watched as Sid Bream rumbled home to send Atlanta into hysterics with a walk-off win. Justice had a disappointing World Series, going 3-for-19 as the Braves dropped their second straight Series, to Toronto in six games. That offseason, Justice married actress Halle Berry shortly after midnight on January 1, 1993 (though the wedding began on December 31, 1992) in a ceremony at their Atlanta-area home.3
In 1993 Justice arguably had his best season in the majors: a .270/.357/.515 slash line with 40 homers and 120 RBIs. He batted .288 and slugged .518 with runners in scoring position. He made his first All-Star team as the National League’s starting right fielder and had one hit in the game. The Braves, and Justice, had a disappointing postseason as they fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games of the NLCS. Justice batted .143 with no homers and four RBIs. He placed third in the MVP voting behind Barry Bonds and Lenny Dykstra, and won his first Silver Slugger award.
The major leagues saw some reshuffling in 1994, with the Central Division being added to both leagues after the expansion in ’93. In the strike-shortened season of 1994 Justice was batting .313 when the season came to a sudden halt. He made his second straight All-Star team, starting in right field again. Atlanta was down six games to Montreal in the NL East when the strike ended the season in August, maintaining their streak of division titles since the season hadn’t been completed.
The strike settled, the 1995 season began with great expectations for the Braves, who were seemingly a staple in the NL postseason, having won their division the previous three seasons (excluding the 1994 season). The expansion to three divisions required the creation of a division series and a wild-card team. Justice had a down year at the plate (.253, 24 home runs, 78 RBIs in 120 games) but made headlines for very different reasons during the Braves’ 1995 World Series year.
The Braves defeated Colorado in the NLDS and Cincinnati in the NLCS. They faced Cleveland in the World Series. Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel said of the Braves: “They know they can’t win a World Series. … They already lost twice. When you have that on your mind, it’s tough to get out.”4 It was no secret that the two teams were in for a difficult Series, with Cleveland having one of the more elite offenses and the Braves having the three-headed monster of Glavine–Maddux-Smoltz on the mound. Before Game Six, Justice criticized Braves fans in the media, saying, “If we get down 1-0 tonight the fans probably will boo us out of the stadium. … You have to do something great to get them out of their seats. Shoot, up in Cleveland, they were down three runs in the ninth inning and were still on their feet.”5 Justice was voicing his concern, as he felt that the fans weren’t as excited and into the games as they were back when the Braves’ great run began in 1991. Justice was booed by the Atlanta fans in the introductions before Game, Six, which Justice afterward admitted that he deserved, and that he had learned his lesson.6
Game Six of the World Series was possibly the biggest game of Justice’s life. The Braves were leading the Series, three games to two. After his comments, which the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran under the headline “Justice Takes a Rip at Braves Fans,” he was not the Atlanta crowd’s favorite player. After he drew a seven-pitch walk in the bottom of the second inning, there was a mixture of boos and cheers from the crowd. In the bottom of the fourth, Justice crashed a two-out double into the left-center gap and off the wall, but was stranded at third with the bases loaded to end the inning. (The double was Justice’s first extra-base hit of the 1995 postseason.) In the bottom of the sixth, Justice, leading off against Indians lefty reliever Jim Poole, unloaded on a 1-and-1 inside fastball and drove it over the right-field fence, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead. On the national broadcast Bob Costas said, “Dave Justice, all is forgiven in Atlanta.” The lead held, as Tom Glavine threw eight shutout innings, turning it over to Mark Wohlers, who locked up the victory for Atlanta and clinched the city’s first World Series triumph. Justice was Atlanta’s hero.
After playing in only 40 games in 1996 season because of a shoulder injury, Justice was traded on March 25, 1997, to the Indians along with Marquis Grissom for outfielder Kenny Lofton and reliever Alan Embree. Braves GM John Schuerholz said in 2016 that it was the most difficult trade he’s ever had to make, but cited a need to clear some payroll and acquire pitching as the motives behind the deal.7
After spending 12 years with the Braves organization, Justice moved to Cleveland, where he became the starting left fielder and had a career year. He made his third All-Star team and won his second Silver Slugger Award. He had a slash of .329/.418/.596 with a career-high 1.013 OPS. The Indians ran through the first two rounds of the playoffs, with Justice batting.300 average with two RBIs in the first two rounds. He batted only .185 in the World Series against the Florida Marlins, but had four RBIs as the Indians dropped the Series in seven games. After the season he was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year. He and Halle Berry divorced in June.8
Justice hit career home run 200 on May 3, 1998, off Jason Johnson of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But in that season and the next, his home-run production fell off to 21 each season, but with 88 RBIs each season. In 2000 he played relatively well for the first three months, hitting .262 with 21 homers and 58 RBIs through June. The New York Yankees were in the market for a power outfield bat, and obtained Justice for three players on June 29. For the Yankees, Justice split time between left field, right field, and DH, and went on a tear. He slashed .321/.402/.614 for the second half of the season, with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs. Justice finished the season with a .961 OPS.
The Yankees made the postseason and took on Oakland in the ALDS. Justice had a rather unspectacular ALDS (4-for-21) but stole the show in the ALCS against Seattle. In Game Six the Yankees (leading the Series three games to two) were down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh. After Jose Vizcaino and Derek Jeter reached base, Justice, facing Arthur Rhodes, launched a 3-and-1 fastball off the upper-deck façade of Yankee Stadium, giving the Yankees a 6-4 lead that they held for a 9-6 victory and the pennant. Justice was named the ALCS MVP after mashing two homers and two doubles and driving in eight runs. He won his second career World Series as the Yankees defeated the Mets in five games. Justice didn’t play his best in the Series but did collect three RBIs despite batting just .158 and going homerless.
Before the 2001 season, Justice married Rebecca Villalobos in February.9 In 2001, at age 35, Justice played in only 111 games and his offense fell off sharply (.241, 51 RBIs). The Yankees traded him to the Mets after the season for Robin Ventura. After only seven days in the Mets organization, he was traded to Oakland for Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates. Justice played in 118 games, mostly in left field or as the DH, and hit 11 homers with 49 RBIs. On July 28 he hit his 300th major-league home run, and went on to hit just five more. He was 37 years old in 2002 and retired as a player after the Athletics dropped Game Five of the ALDS to the Minnesota Twins.
Justice worked as a broadcaster for ESPN for two seasons. He also was an analyst for the Yankees’ YES network for a few years, before leaving the network in 2008 after the 2007 California wildfires destroyed his family’s home in San Diego County.10 Justice was mentioned in the Mitchell Report in December 2007 that tied numerous players from the ’90s and early 2000’s to steroid and HGH use. Justice denied the claims on numerous occasions and said he hoped that other players in the report would do the same if the reports were untrue.11 On August 17, 2007, Justice became the first player from the Braves run of 14 straight division titles to be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame.12 He also became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, but received only one vote, which removed him from the ballot.
Justice and his wife, Rebecca, have three children: David Jr., Dionisio, and Raquel.13 In the 2011 film Moneyball, Justice was portrayed by actor Steven Bishop in the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s. (He said none of his scenes in the film actually happened in real life.)
Justice finished his 14-year major-league career with 305 home runs, 1,017 RBIs, and 1,571 hits. He is third in postseason RBIs with 63, fourth in postseason games played (112), and ninth in postseason hits (89). He finished with two top-five MVP finishes, a three-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year award, two-time Silver Slugger, an ALCS MVP, and two World Series championships. As of 2020 he resided in San Diego with his family.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com.
1 “Justice, David 1966,” Encyclopedia.com, encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/justice-david-1966. Accessed December 11, 2019.
2 I.J. Rosenberg, “Whatever Happened to … David Justice,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, September 17, 2015.
3 Don O’Briant, “Ringing in ’93 — with Wedding Bells,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 10, 1993.
4 Buster Olney, “Justice Asks Braves Fans to Prove Comments Wrong/Outfielder Says Support Isn’t What It Was in ’91,” Baltimore Sun, October 29, 1995.
5 Jerome Holtzman, “In 1 Swing, Justice’s Jeers Turn to Cheers,” Chicago Tribune, October 29, 1995.
7 I.J. Rosenberg, “Schuerholz: David Justice Trade Was Hardest to Make,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 31, 2016.
8 “Divorce Between Halle Berry, David Justice Final,” Albany (Georgia) Herald, June 25, 1997.
9 Michael Miller, “David Justice Opens Up about His Divorce from Halle Berry,” People, November 9, 2015.
10 Andrea Naversen, “At Home with David & Rebecca Justice,” Ranch & Coast, March 5, 2012.
11 “Justice Denies Claims Against Him in Mitchell Report,” ESPN, December 14, 2007.
12 I.J. Rosenberg, “Whatever Happened to … David Justice.”