April 26, 1995: Braves prevail on Opening Day with small crowd, high expectations
While most teams enter a new season with a sense of optimism, few have faced the level of expectations placed on the 1995 Atlanta Braves. After acquiring center fielder and leadoff man Marquis Grissom from the Expos before the season, general manager John Schuerholz went so far as to say, “We’re the first team to ever win the World Series in April.”1 While the statement was undoubtedly made tongue-in-cheek, and Schuerholz would also make the somewhat contradictory statement that “we have high expectations, but no pressure,” there was no disputing that the Braves were the class of the National League heading into the season.2
Typically, such lofty expectations are accompanied by an increase in attendance. But 1995 was not a typical year for major-league baseball; the prior season had been cut short due to the players strike and fans across the country were reluctant to return. Even the New York Yankees coming to town for the final exhibition game of the spring resulted in only “between 8,000 and 9,000” actually in attendance (though the team announced a crowd of 25,309).3
The sparse crowd did not go unnoticed by the players. Outfielder David Justice said, “There’s nobody here. The fans are upset at what’s gone on. [T]hey’re showing it by not showing up. I can’t blame them.”4 Player representative Tom Glavine was more optimistic, attributing the sparse crowd to a number of factors: “It’s cold. [I]t’s an exhibition, and it’s a school night.”5 Glavine added, “I think it’s foolish or naïve to think that everyone who wasn’t here stayed away because of the strike’ … [But] every time there’s a low crowd, people are going to blame the strike.”6
Whatever the reason for the low turnout for the exhibition game, the Braves hoped for a livelier crowd for Opening Day, April 26. A 4:05 P.M. start time on a Wednesday did not help matters, though, and only 24,091 showed up at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves open the season against the San Francisco Giants.7 One local writer opined that such an attendance figure was “the sort of crowd once reserved for Sunday afternoons in the ’80s.”8 The team was even “greeted by scattered boos” to start the game.9 On the field, however, the Braves wasted little time giving those who did show up something to cheer about.
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, who had made only one spring-training start due to a bout with chickenpox,10 got the season off on the right foot by setting down the Giants in order in the top of the first. In the Braves’ first, the newly acquired Grissom got an early start toward endearing himself to Atlanta fans as he led off with a double. Five consecutive singles followed, by Jeff Blauser, Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff, Justice, and Javy Lopez, and the Braves took an early 4-0 lead.
After the game, Giants manager Dusty Baker lamented his club’s poor start. “Maddux is the premier pitcher in baseball,” and if you “spot him four runs it’s just about over,” he said.11 That was just about right, as Maddux did not allow a hit until J.R. Phillips connected for a solo home run with one out in the fifth inning. By that time, even Maddux himself had a hit, having led off the second inning with an infield single. Maddux scored on a throwing error as the Giants tried to turn a double play to get out of the inning, and McGriff singled home another run to make the score 6-0 after two innings.
The score remained the same until the fourth inning, when McGriff tallied his third hit, a solo home run to right field. McGriff, in the last year of the contract he had signed with the San Diego Padres before being traded to Atlanta, showed that a slow spring training, in which he hit only .240 with one home run, was nothing to worry about. Manager Bobby Cox said he never had any doubt that McGriff would be ready to go at the opening bell. Cox said McGriff “starts out slow, but he’s always working on things. Everything he does builds up to Opening Day.”12
Phillips’s home run in the fifth put the Giants on the board, and accounted for the first run Maddux had surrendered in three previous Opening Day starts, over a span of 20⅔ innings.13 The Giants added two more runs in the sixth with an RBI single and groundout from Robby Thompson and Matt Williams, respectively. An RBI single by Brad Woodall in the seventh pushed Atlanta’s lead to 8-3, but the Giants continued to pull closer in the eighth, when a single by John Patterson and a home run by Robby Thompson made the score 8-5.
But the Braves would not be overtaken on this day. Jeff Blauser doubled to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Chipper Jones, making the first Opening Day start, followed with an RBI single to center field. Jones had actually won the Braves’ shortstop job in the spring of 1994, but a knee injury sidelined him for the year and he re-emerged in 1995 as the team’s third baseman for the foreseeable future.14 Following Jones was McGriff, who continued to have a memorable day by blasting his second home run, giving himself five RBIs for the game. David Justice capped the scoring with a solo home run, and the Braves had a 12-5 lead. Brad Clontz closed out the game for the Braves with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Braves’ 12 Opening Day runs were their third highest total in 1995, surpassed only by outbursts of 15 and 17 against the Rockies and Cubs, respectively. The victory was also part of the team’s fast start, as they won seven of their first eight games on their way to 90 wins and the National League East crown. That title would of course later be overshadowed when the Braves topped the Cleveland Indians to win the 1995 World Series, proving general manager Schuerholz’s April prediction correct.
In addition to the sources noted in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 “NL East: The Best, Braves, Just Got Better,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26, 1995: 61.
2 “Astros, Padres Test Value of Big Trade,” Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, Louisiana), April 26, 1995: 25.
3 Tom Saladino, “Braves Searching for Fan Support at Home,” Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana), April 25, 1995: 7.
6 Mark Bradley, “Braves Fans Reveal Remaining Ill Will by Their Absence,” Atlanta Constitution April 27, 1995: 50.
7 Rand Cawthon, “24,091 Respond to National Pastime’s Lure,” Atlanta Constitution, April 25,1995: 50. The announced attendance for the game was 32,045, but actual attendance in the “half-filled” ballpark seemed to belie that figure. Mark Bradley’s accompanying article cited the same “actual attendance” figure of 24,091.
9 “Braves Start Fast, Rout Giants, 12-5,” Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel, April 27, 1995: 13.
10 Denise N. Maloof, “McGriff Quickly Resumes Role as Braves’ Main Power Source,” Atlanta Constitution, April 27, 1995: 50.
11 “McGriff Crushes 2 HRs, Braves Rip Giants 12-5,” Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), April 27, 1995: 25.
12 “McGriff Quickly Resumes Role as Braves’ Main Power Source.”
13 “Braves Beat Giants 12-5,” Selma (Alabama) Times-Journal, April 27, 1995: 9.
14 “Atlanta Braves,” New York Daily News, April 23, 1995: 15C.
Atlanta Braves 12
San Francisco Giants 5
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
Box Score + PBP:
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