After an early professional career filled with numerous false starts, position changes, injuries, and demotions, Jeff Blauser carved out 13 seasons in the major leagues, primarily as an offense-first shortstop. In 11 years with the Atlanta Braves (1987-97) and two with the Chicago Cubs (1998-99), he was a two-time All-Star and played on four World Series teams.
Blauser was a first-round pick by the Braves in 1984, when the team was about to begin a stretch of five 90-loss seasons in six years. By the time he left as a free agent more than a decade later, he’d helped transform Atlanta into one of baseball’s model franchises.
Born on November 8, 1965, in Los Gatos, California, and raised just northeast of Sacramento in Auburn, Blauser first received baseball acclaim as a pitcher. He pitched two no-hitters in a three-week span for the Placer Savers Little League team when he was 12 years old,1 then pitched another for the Value Giant Babe Ruth team two years later.2
At Placer High School, Blauser also excelled in football. He was a wide receiver, safety, kicker, and punter, once scoring 18 of his team’s 24 points in a 1982 game against Woodland.3 As a senior Blauser was named to the All-Capital Athletic League first-team as a kicker.4
Blauser also earned All-CAL honors as a shortstop in baseball the following spring, when he batted .347 with 33 hits, 8 doubles, 19 runs batted in, and 19 steals. He was chosen to play in the Optimist All-Star Game in Sacramento that summer.5
Blauser was not selected in the June 1983 draft, and signed a baseball scholarship with Sacramento City College. While playing in unofficial summer and winter games with the Sacramento City team, Blauser was able to improve his speed, which apparently impressed the St. Louis Cardinals enough for them to select him eighth overall in the January phase of the 1984 amateur draft.6
Draft rules at the time stipulated that Blauser had to finish his college season before he could turn pro, and he earned all-conference honors that spring, when he hit .383 with 26 RBIs. Two of his teammates at Sacramento City during that 1984 season were future major leaguers Greg Vaughn and Joe Bitker.7
Unable to come to terms with the Cardinals, Blauser re-entered the June draft, and the Braves selected him with the number-four overall pick in the secondary phase. At the time, the secondary phase was set aside for college players who had already been drafted at least once.
Blauser was being recruited by such NCAA baseball powers as Miami, Arizona State, and USC,8 but this time elected to begin a professional career.9 He was assigned to the Pulaski Braves of the rookie-level Appalachian League.
“He was our first choice all the way around,” Braves scout Bill Wight said. “He’s really come on in the last year and I think he’ll make the big leagues within three or four years.”10
Wight ended up being correct, as Blauser reached the majors with the Braves on July 5, 1987, a little more than three years after he was drafted. He spent the 1984 season at Pulaski, batting .249/.367/.327 in 62 games.
Blauser played the 1985 season at Low-A Sumter (South Atlantic League), batting .235/.367/.315 with 49 RBIs and 36 steals for a club that also included future Braves mainstays Tom Glavine, Ron Gant, and Mark Lemke. Blauser’s defense was shaky, however; he made 24 errors in 58 games in 1984, 35 in 117 games in 1985, and 25 in 120 games in 1986.
By early 1986, Blauser began to catch the eye of the big-league Braves. An Atlanta Journal Constitution story that spring included him as the second baseman on a hypothetical “possible lineup: Opening Day 1990” along with Glavine, Bob Horner, and Dale Murphy.11 Hank Aaron, then the Braves’ director of player development, described Blauser as a “very intelligent player,” adding, “You don’t have to tell him anything twice.”12
It was at High-A Durham in 1986 that Blauser started to develop his power stroke. He batted .286/.399/.447 with 27 doubles, 13 home runs, and 94 runs scored in a lineup that also featured Gant and David Justice.
Blauser was placed on the Braves’ 40-man roster prior to the 1987 season,13 and the club — then in the midst of five 90-loss seasons in six years — briefly toyed with the idea of elevating him straight to the major leagues after he hit .344 in spring training. “I love the kid,” Braves manager Chuck Tanner told the Atlanta Constitution. “I don’t care if he played in the North County League last year. He can play in the major leagues right now at second or short. There’s no question about it.”14
The Braves eventually reassigned Blauser to their minor-league camp. He began the 1987 season at Triple-A Richmond; there were plans to convert him to a second baseman.15
Blauser struggled at Richmond, however, batting .177/.244/.212 with only two extra-base hits in 33 games. By late May, he was demoted to Double-A Greenville and returned to shortstop.
On July 2 Blauser was hitting just .203 in 40 games at Greenville when he was summoned to Atlanta after starting shortstop Rafael Ramirez suffered a knee injury. (Ramirez’s backup, Andres Thomas, was also hobbled by a sprained ankle.)16 His stay in the big leagues was a short one; he was returned to Greenville after making just one pinch-hitting appearance.17
Blauser spent the next month at Double-A Greenville, raising his slash line to .249/.338/.366, and the Braves called him up again to replace the injured Thomas on August 10.18 He started at shortstop the next night in San Diego, batting sixth and going 0-for-3 in a 7-6 Atlanta loss.
Blauser’s first major-league hit came the next day, a third-inning infield single off the Padres’ Eric Nolte. He hit his first big-league homer on August 16 in Houston, a solo shot against Jim Deshaies in the fourth inning of a 6-2 Braves loss.
Blauser got into 51 games for the Braves the remainder of the 1987 season, batting .242/.328/.352 with 2 home runs, 15 RBIs, and 7 stolen bases. But his big-league career didn’t quite take off in 1988.
With Thomas back from injury the following spring to play shortstop, Blauser was sent back to Triple-A Richmond so he could play every day.19 He batted .284/.340/.417 with 25 extra-base hits in 69 games, earning a call-up to Atlanta when rosters expanded in September.
Though he hit just .239/.268/.403 in 18 September games for the Braves, Blauser would never play in the minor leagues again. He made the big-league club out of spring training in 1989, playing in 142 games and posting a .735 OPS while seeing extensive time at third base and second base — and even one game in center field — in addition to shortstop. On August 26, 1989, Blauser began what would be a career-long habit of terrorizing the Chicago Cubs, homering twice in a 5-3 Braves victory at Wrigley Field.20
Blauser began the 1990 season as the Braves’ starting shortstop, and on May 7 had another two-homer game in Chicago, including a two-run shot off Mitch Williams in the top of the ninth inning to give Atlanta a 9-8 victory. Blauser homered again the next day, a two-run blast in a 10-8 Braves loss.
Blauser missed nearly three weeks later that month with a thigh injury,21 but finished the 1990 season batting .269/.338/.409 with 8 homers and 39 RBIs in 115 games for a last-place team. The Braves’ fortunes soon improved dramatically.
Atlanta acquired third baseman Terry Pendleton and shortstop Rafael Belliard in free agency before the 1991 season, and had Lemke and Jeff Treadway set to platoon at second base. That relegated the 25-year-old Blauser to a utility role, and he hit .259/.358/.409 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs in 129 games while playing shortstop, second base, and third base.
Blauser homered in three consecutive games against the Phillies in early June, including a three-run shot off Terry Mulholland as part of a six-RBI day in the opener.22 The Braves rolled to 94 victories and the National League pennant that season, losing the World Series to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.
Injuries — including a stiff shoulder, a fractured toe, and torn cartilage in his knee that required surgery — hampered Blauser in the second half, and he started just five games after September 3.23 He totaled just nine plate appearances in the postseason, going 1-for-8 with a walk.
The light-hitting Belliard was again back to play shortstop in 1992, and Blauser was again a utility player. He started 72 games at shortstop and 18 at second base, but was often replaced by Belliard or Lemke for defensive purposes in the later innings.
Blauser had the only three-homer game of his career on July 12, 1992, the final game before the All-Star break. It happened, of course, in Chicago, as Blauser hit solo shots off Frank Castillo in the second and sixth innings, then a three-run blast against Paul Assenmacher in the top of the 10th to hand Atlanta a 7-4 victory.
“I guess I do well here because I love the atmosphere,” Blauser said of his success at Wrigley. “It’s a real ballpark.”24
Blauser’s three-homer game had helped the Braves cut their National League West deficit to two games behind Cincinnati at the break, and they eventually won the division by eight games. This time, Blauser started all 13 games for Atlanta in the postseason.
Blauser went 5-for-25 in the 1992 NLCS against Pittsburgh, including a home run off Doug Drabek in a 5-1 victory in Game One and an RBI triple against Danny Jackson in a 13-5 win in Game Two. He went 6-for-24, but did not have an extra-base hit or an RBI in the six-game World Series loss to Toronto.
Blauser enjoyed the best season of his career to that point in 1993, when the Braves won 104 games and edged out the San Francisco Giants by one game in the NL West. Blauser played in a career-high 161 games, batting .305/.401/.436 with 29 doubles, 15 homers, 73 RBIs, 16 steals, and 110 runs scored. He finished 16th in balloting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.25
Blauser earned the first of two All-Star berths in 1993, but the game was not a memorable one for the Atlanta shortstop. He struck out in his only plate appearance and booted Carlos Baerga‘s grounder with two outs in the sixth inning, leading to a three-run inning as part of a 9-3 American League victory at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Of Blauser’s 15 home runs in 1993, four came against the Colorado Rockies and two more against the Cubs (the latter on back-to-back days in late August). He had his third career two-homer game on May 7 in Colorado, driving in four runs in a 13-5 Atlanta victory.
The Braves lost the NLCS in six games to Philadelphia, though Blauser hit well in the series. He batted .280 with three extra-base hits, including home runs in Games Two and Six.
Blauser got a major salary bump for 1994, his final season before he could become a free agent. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.75 million deal.26
Blauser was slowed for much of May by an oblique injury,27 and his stats suffered during that strike-shortened season. He played in 96 games, and batted .258/.329/.382 with 6 homers and 45 RBIs.
Blauser hit the only walk-off homer of his career on June 17, a two-run shot off Cincinnati’s Jeff Brantley to give the Braves a 6-5 victory. The homer came after Atlanta’s Greg McMichael had blown the save in the top of the inning, and handed manager Bobby Cox his 1,000th victory as a manager.28
The players strike ended the 1994 season on August 12 and left many potential free agents — Blauser included — in limbo that offseason. He was one of more than 200 veteran players who remained unsigned when the strike was finally settled the following April.29
“It’s all new, nobody knows what to expect,” Blauser said. “We’ll have to get in contact with teams to see what their stance is, but time is of the essence.”30
Blauser re-signed with the Braves on April 12, agreeing to a three-year, $10 million contract. The deal was sealed after more than seven hours of negotiating between Blauser’s agent, Scott Boras, and Braves front-office officials.31
“It was hardball negotiating,” Blauser said. “I got a first-hand picture of what it was like to be a general manager or agent, and I know now I belong in the locker room and not behind a desk.”32
Though the Braves cruised to the NL East title and won their first World Series championship in Atlanta in 1995, Blauser suffered through a terrible season at the plate. He batted .211/.319/.341 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs, and his .660 OPS and 73 OPS+ were the lowest of his career to that point.
Blauser’s troubles continued in the postseason, as a bruised thigh33 limited him to just three games in the National League Division Series win over Colorado and just one game in the NLCS against Cincinnati (he went a combined 0-for-10). Blauser did not play at all in the World Series against Cleveland, with Belliard starting all six games at shortstop.
Blauser was again the Braves’ primary shortstop to start 1996, but endured another injury-marred season. He injured his right knee on April 13 in San Diego, and went to the disabled list four days later with a slight tear of the posterior capsule.34
Blauser returned to the lineup on May 4, and drove in four runs with a homer and a double four days later vs. Colorado. He knocked in a career-best seven runs with two homers — including a first-inning grand slam — in an 11-3 victory over Philadelphia on May 11.
Blauser stayed in the lineup until July 15, when he suffered a broken left hand when he was hit by a pitch from Montreal’s Jeff Juden.35 He made a pinch-running appearance September 1, but did not start again until September 22.36
Blauser ended the 1996 season with serviceable numbers considering the injuries, batting .245/.356/.419 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 83 games. He started every game of the postseason at shortstop, but went a combined 7-for-44 with just three RBIs as Atlanta swept the Dodgers in the NLDS and beat the Cardinals in seven games in the NLCS before losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Atlanta won the NL East again in 1997, and this time Blauser stayed healthy and productive. He played in 151 games and set numerous career highs, including batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.405), slugging percentage (.482), doubles (31), home runs (17), and RBIs (70), earning the National League’s Silver Slugger Award at shortstop.
Blauser was an All-Star for the second and final time in 1997, starting the game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland when Barry Larkin sat out with an injury.37 Blauser went 1-for-2 in the game, singling off Roger Clemens in the third inning of a 3-1 AL victory.
Atlanta swept Houston in three games in the NLDS before falling to the wild-card Florida Marlins in six games in the NLCS. Blauser hit .300 with one home run in each series, including a three-run shot against Mike Hampton in Game Two vs. the Astros.
Blauser singled and scored in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Braves’ 7-4 loss to Florida in Game Six of the NLCS, which would be his last appearance in an Atlanta uniform. His contract expired, Blauser entered the free-agent market.
On December 9, 1997, Blauser signed with the club he’d been tormenting his entire career, agreeing with the Cubs on a two-year, $8.4 million deal39 with an option for a third season. Cox, who’d managed Blauser for seven seasons, lamented the 32-year-old shortstop’s departure.
“It’s hard to part with guys like that because they’ve helped us so much and they can still play,” Cox said. “But it’s like everything else in baseball. You adjust. We’re still going to have a good ballclub, period.”40
Buoyed by MVP Sammy Sosa, the 1998 Cubs won 90 games and secured the NL wild card, their first postseason trip in nine years. However, Blauser had one of his worst seasons, batting .219/.340/.299 with 4 homers and 26 RBIs in 119 games, posting a career-low OPS+ of 69.
Blauser also began having trouble throwing the ball to second base. Skip Bayless of the Chicago Tribune wrote an especially scathing column on Blauser’s struggles, alternately referring to him as “Jeff Blooper” and “Jeff Lousy.”41
With the Cubs in a pennant race, Blauser was benched for much of September, with Jose Hernandez moving over from third base and Gary Gaetti stepping in for Hernandez.42 Blauser did not play in Chicago’s 5-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants in a one-game tiebreaker, then got just two at-bats as a pinch-hitter in a three-game NLDS sweep by his old team, the Braves.43
Entering 1999, Blauser was coming off elbow surgery44 and was not guaranteed a starting job for the first time since 1992. With Gaetti back for a second season, Hernandez was penciled in to start at shortstop.45
Blauser started at second base in the Cubs’ second game of the season, his first appearance at anywhere other than shortstop or designated hitter in seven years. He started only one other game for the remainder of April, and didn’t hit his first home run until May 21.46
With the 40-year-old Gaetti finally starting to show his age, Blauser began receiving regular starts at third base in June. Hernandez was traded to Atlanta on July 31, but it was 24-year-old José Nieves — not Blauser — that the Cubs plugged in at shortstop down the stretch.47
Blauser played in 104 games for the Cubs in 1999, batting .240/.347/.420 with 9 homers and 26 RBIs. He started 14 games at second base, 14 at shortstop, and 12 at third base.48
The Cubs declined their $7 million option on Blauser at the end of the 1999 season, making him a free agent.49 When no team signed him for the 2000 season, his playing career was over at age 34.
Blauser played in 1,407 major-league games, batting .262/.354/.406 with 122 home runs and 513 RBIs. He was worth 20.9 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference, 19.7 according to FanGraphs.50
Blauser remained in baseball for a time, working as a roving instructor in the Braves’ minor-league system for three years before being hired as manager at Double-A Mississippi in 2006.51 However, he lasted just one season as a manager, guiding the Mississippi Braves to a 58-80 record.52
By 2011, Blauser and his family — wife Andee, son Cooper, and daughter Abbie — had returned to live in the Atlanta area.53 As of late 2019, Blauser held the position of senior partner at StaffMetrix HR,54 a human resources firm.
In the spring of 2019, Cooper Blauser was a freshman on the baseball team at Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. Also on the team was Druw Jones, the son of Andruw Jones, one of Jeff Blauser’s teammates with the 1996 and 1997 Atlanta Braves.55
Last revised: February 12, 2021
In addition to the sources mentioned in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, TheBaseballCube.com and Fangraphs.com.
1 “Auburn Little Leaguers Win First All-Star Tilt,” Auburn (California) Journal, July 24, 1978: 8.
2 “Blauser Throws No-Hitter,” Auburn Journal, May 28, 1980: 35.
3 Rob Knies, “Hillman Blauser Does It All,” Auburn Journal, September 19, 1982: 27.
4 “Five Hillmen Named All-CAL,” Auburn Journal, November 21, 1982: 37.
5 Jim Caster, “Beaver Named Top Player,” Auburn Journal, May 26, 1983: 8.
6 Jim Caster, “Cards Pick Placers’ Blauser in Draft,” Auburn Journal, January 18, 1984: 15.
7 “Blauser Earns All-CNC Honors,” Auburn Journal, May 20, 1984: 33.
8 Jim Caster, “Auburn’s Blauser Picked by Braves,” Auburn Journal, June 5, 1984: 7.
9 At some point during his minor-league career, Blauser switched from batting exclusively left-handed to his natural right-handed side. Numerous photos published in the Auburn Journal during his amateur career show him batting from the left side. In addition, the Journal story from after he was drafted by the Braves refers to him as a “left-handed hitting slugger.”
10 “Auburn’s Blauser Signs Braves Pact,” Auburn Journal, June 14, 1984: 11.
11 Gerry Fraley, “Braves Find Northeast to Be Full of Prospects,” Atlanta Constitution, April 6, 1986: 327.
12 Fraley, “Braves Find Northeast.“
13 “Braves 40-Man Roster Going into Spring Training,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 7, 1987: 35.
14 Gerry Fraley, “Blauser Forces His Way into Braves’ Infield Plans Ahead of Schedule,” Atlanta Constitution, March 12, 1987: 95.
15 Gerry Fraley, “Roster Moves Held Up by Garcia’s Condition,” Atlanta Constitution, March 29, 1987: 69. Second baseman Damaso Garcia, who had played for Braves general manager Bobby Cox in Toronto, missed all of 1987 with a knee injury.
16 Gerry Fraley, “Blauser May Be More than Backup Brave,” Atlanta Constitution, July 3, 1987: 89-90.
17 Pinch-hitting for Doyle Alexander in the eighth inning of a 4-1 loss to St. Louis on July 5, Blauser grounded out to shortstop off Greg Mathews. Infielder Ken Oberkfell came off the disabled list two days later, prompting Blauser’s demotion back to the minors.
18 Jeffery Weidel, “Braves Recall Blauser,” Auburn Journal, August 11, 1987: 9.
19 Gerry Fraley, “Thomas, Garcia Will Start; Blauser, Gant Going to AAA,” Atlanta Constitution, March 28, 1988: 41. After Garcia hit .117 in 21 games to start the 1988 season, he was released. Gant played second base for the Braves’ big-league club the rest of the year, slugging 19 homers and finishing fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
20 Blauser batted .351/.413/.611 with 15 doubles, 15 home runs, and 48 RBIs in 78 career games vs. the Cubs. His OPS of 1.023 vs Chicago is the second highest against teams he faced in more than four games, just behind the 1.024 he posted in 57 games against the Colorado Rockies.
21 Joe Strauss, “Blauser Joins Disabled List,” Atlanta Constitution, May 17, 1990: 80.
22 The opener of that series was Dale Murphy Night, as the Braves honored their former All-Star who was by then playing for the Phillies. The game was marred by a bench-clearing brawl in the eighth inning, when Otis Nixon charged the mound after being brushed back by Philadelphia reliever Wally Ritchie.
23 Joe Strauss, “Pendleton, Blauser Face Knee Operations Today,” Atlanta Constitution, October 30, 1991: 34.
24 I.J. Rosenberg, “Blauser Has a 3-HR Bash,” Atlanta Constitution, July 13, 1992: 52.
25 Blauser was also hit by pitch an NL-high 16 times in 1993. He ended his career with 91 HBPs, 122nd on the all-time list.
26 “Blauser, Braves Avoid Arbitration,” Tallahassee Democrat, February 14, 1994: 36.
27 Thomas Stinson, “Blauser Feels Better but Still a Little Sore,” Atlanta Constitution, May 8, 1994: 44.
28 I.J. Rosenberg, “Blauser’s HR in 9th stems Reds rally,” Atlanta Constitution, June 18, 1994: 49. Blauser’s heroics were understandably overshadowed by a number of major events in the sports world that day, including Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Arnold Palmer’s final US Open and the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase.
29 “End of Strike Doesn’t Mean Quiet Return to Status Quo,” Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1995: 35.
30 “End of Strike.“
31 Tim Tucker, “Braves’ Deal with Blauser Worth Losing Sleep Over,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 13, 1995: D2.
33 I.J. Rosenberg, “Daughter Helps Cox in Scouting,” Atlanta Constitution, October 17, 1995: 48.
34 Associated Press, “Braves 4, Marlins 2,” Louisville Courier-Journal, April 18, 1996: 40.
35 I.J. Rosenberg, “Braves’ Streak Grows, but Blauser Gets a Bad Break,” Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1996: 70.
36 Belliard, and later rookie Ed Giovanola, initially filled in at shortstop for Blauser. However, both hit so poorly that the Braves moved All-Star Chipper Jones from third to short for much of August and September.
37 I.J. Rosenberg, “Starters Pitching Tributes,” Atlanta Constitution, July 8, 1997: 63.
38 Thomas Stinson, “Weiss In, Blauser Out for Braves,” Atlanta Constitution, November 18, 1997: 57. Blauser was reportedly offered a deal similar to Weiss’s, but did not immediately accept it and instead went pheasant hunting out of state. By the time he returned from his hunt, Weiss had signed with the Braves.
39 Associated Press, “Cubs Sign Shortstop Blauser, Eck to Red Sox,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald and Review, December 10, 1997: 15.
40 Paul Newberry (Associated Press), “Braves Introduce New Shortstop Walt Weiss,” Anniston (Alabama) Star, December 9, 1997: 13.
41 Skip Bayless, “Still a Cubs Killer: Blauser Eroding Before Our Eyes,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1998.
42 The 39-year-old Gaetti began the season with the St. Louis Cardinals, but was released in mid-August before signing with the Cubs on August 19. He batted .320/.397/594 with 8 home runs in 37 games for Chicago the rest of the way.
45 Paul Sullivan “No Extra Protection for Sosa,” Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1999: 29. Hernandez was also the top backup to center fielder Lance Johnson, meaning Blauser was set to start at shortstop when Hernandez was in the outfield.
47 Sosa hit 63 homers and drove in 141 runs in 1999, but the Cubs largely collapsed around him. Pitching phenom Kerry Wood missed the entire season with an elbow injury, and Chicago finished 67-95 and in last place in the NL Central.
48 Blauser also made his first appearance in the outfield since 1990, playing 2⅔ innings in center field on June 29 against Milwaukee.
49 Associated Press, “Diamondbacks Strike Out with Benes,” Southern Illinoisan, October 30, 1999: 26.
50 According to FanGraphs, Blauser was worth 31.9 WAR on offense, but cost his teams 11.5 WAR on defense. The Baseball Reference numbers are 27.7 and 0.2, respectively.
51 Mike Christensen, “M-Braves Introduce Manager Blauser,” Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, December 13, 2005: 19.
52 Guy Curtright, “Blauser Loses Job with Class AA Team,” Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 2006: D5.
55 David Friedlander, “Jones, Blauser Bring Major League Bloodlines to Wesleyan Baseball,” GwinnettPrepSports.com, May 11, 2019.