Top 100 Indians: #72 David Justice

Mike Zarrilli

Justice didn’t play for the Tribe all that long, but he put up one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history and was quite productive throughout his stay.

David Christopher Justice

Height: 6’3" Weight: 195 lbs.

Bats: Left Throws: Left

Acquired: March 25, 1997, traded to Cleveland (with Marquis Grissom) by the Atlanta Braves for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree

Left: June 29, 2000, traded by Cleveland to the New York Yankees for Zach Day, Ricky Ledee, and Jake Westbrook

David Justice was born on April 14, 1966, in Cincinnati. Justice was an only child and his father abandoned the family when David was very young. His mother worked jobs in order to take care of him and pushed him to become a success. She had him skip seventh and eighth grades and enrolled him at the academically rigorous Covington Latin High School in Covington, Kentucky when he was just twelve years old.

In addition to baseball, Justice played football and basketball while growing up, and it was on the hardwood that he excelled. He averaged 26 points a game as a senior, but as he was only 15 years old, Division I schools weren’t yet interested in his talents. Only little Thomas More College offered him a full scholarship. Justice felt the coach made the team run too much and was no longer enjoying basketball, leading him to join the baseball team instead. In his sophomore year, having just turn 18, he put up big numbers and after his junior year he was drafted in the fourth round by Atlanta.

Justice won the 1990 N.L. Rookie of the Year Award after hitting 28 home runs and driving in 78 runs. Justice continued to put up solid numbers in 1991 and 1992, but also developed a reputation for a poor attitude and selfishness. He met actress Halle Berry during the 1992 season and credited her with turning around his demeanor. They married and Justice went on to have a fine season in 1993, making his first All-Star team, hitting 40 home runs, and finishing third in the N.L. MVP voting. Indians fans will likely remember the highlight of Justice’s time with Atlanta, his 6th inning home run off the Indians’ Jim Poole in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series provided the only run in Atlanta’s championship clinching victory. The following May, Justice separated his shoulder, leading him to miss the remainder of the season.

Just days before the 1997 season began, the Indians and Braves worked out a trade that stunned the baseball world, as Justice and Marquis Grissom were sent to Cleveland in exchange for Kenny Lofton and relief pitcher Alan Embree. The Indians reportedly were concerned over their ability to re-sign Lofton when his contract expired at the end of the season and were also looking to replace the power they’d lost when Albert Belle signed with the White Sox. Given Justice’s $6.2 million salary and Tribe fans’ affection for Lofton, there was certainly a great deal of pressure on Justice.

On Opening Day, Justice started winning over the fans with a home run that broke a tie in Oakland. He hit three home runs in the season’s first week and when Cleveland’s home opener rolled around, Justice was cheered loudly. Justice was named to the All-Star Game (held in Cleveland that summer), but a hyper-extended left elbow caused him to miss two weeks of the regular season and the Midsummer Classic. He was also bothered by knee tendonitis, forcing him to mostly DH after he returned to the lineup and slowing his production during June and July. During the second game of an August 9th doubleheader against Texas, Justice hit two home runs. Between then and the end of the regular season, Justice put up a line of .362/.437/.678, with 14 home runs and 41 RBI in 47 games as the Tribe pulled away to its third straight division title. In the ALDS, with the Indians trailing New York, Justice hit an early Game 4 blast that started the Tribe on the comeback trail. The season ultimately fell just short of the Indians winning their first World Series in 41 years, but Justice finished with a 1.013 OPS and won a Silver Slugger award and both the Sporting News and MLBPA A.L. Comeback Player of the Year Awards. He also finished fifth in A.L. MVP balloting.

Justice got off to a great start in 1998, with 6 home runs and an OPS of 1.081 in April. He put up a more pedestrian .789 mark over the remainder of the season as minor aches and ailments took their toll, forcing him to DH in roughly 80% of the games in which he appeared. Still, he managed career highs in runs (94) and doubles (39) that year, with an OPS of .839. In Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston that October, Justice broke things open with a three-run home run in the 2nd inning. In Game 4, with the game still knotted at zero in the 8th, Justice lined a double to center, scoring the only two runs of the contest and leading the Tribe into the ALCS. He added another home run in Game 2 against the Yankees.

Justice’s 1999 was sort of the opposite of his ’98, in that he started off cold before getting things going for most of the year. Through May 6th Justice had missed 8 games and had a line of .210/.279/.387, with just 3 home runs. The next day, Justice went 4 for 4 with a pair of home runs, helping the Indians to a 20-11 victory in a game they’d trailed 9-1. It was the first time the Tribe scored twenty runs in Cleveland since 1950 and to this day is still the only time they’ve scored that many at Jacobs/Progressive. Justice put up a .300/.433/.490 line the rest of the season. Justice was again battling injuries as the season wound down. He went 0 for 8 in the first three games of the ALDS against Boston and didn’t play in the final two games.

Through June 28, 2000 Justice was in the midst of his best season since 1997. He’d hit 21 home runs in just 68 games (making him just the ninth player in team history with four consecutive seasons of 20+ HR) and had a line of .265/.361/.582. The Indians were 8.5 back of Chicago though, and to the surprise of most, Justice was traded to the hated Yankees. The company line was that the move was made to clear the way for Richie Sexson and Russell Branyan to play more while acquiring prospects for the future, but many saw it as a cost-cutting measure and in hindsight the trade looks like the beginning of the end for the Indians time as competitive spenders (though Jake Westbrook’s production meant the trade wasn’t a total bust for the Indians).

The Indians put together the best record in the A.L. from that point on and finished five games back of the White Sox. It’s not likely they’d have won the Central even with Justice, who hit another 20 home runs for New York (for a career high 41 altogether), but they also finished only a game out of the wildcard and it’s reasonable to think the Indians would have finished ahead of Seattle and made the playoffs if not for the trade. Instead, Indians fans had to watch as Justice won the ALCS MVP Award for New York and helped them win their third straight World Series.

Justice played for the Yankees again in 2001. His production fell off and following the season he was traded to the Mets. A week later, he was traded again, this time to Oakland. He played there in 2002 (that was the "Moneyball" team) and for the eleventh straight season, his team made the postseason (not counting 1994, when there were no playoffs). When Justice retired in February of 2003, he held the records for most postseason RBI (63) and walks (64). He finished with career totals 305 home runs and 1,017 RBI, with a .500 slugging percentage. Those aren’t Hall of Fame totals, but they’re the numbers of a very, very good hitter.

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1997 31 CLE 139 582 84 163 31 1 33 101 80 79 .329 .418 .596 1.013 158
1998 32 CLE 146 625 94 151 39 2 21 88 76 98 .280 .363 .476 .839 114
1999 33 CLE 133 530 75 123 18 0 21 88 94 90 .287 .413 .476 .889 124
2000 34 CLE 68 288 46 66 14 1 21 58 38 49 .265 .361 .582 .943 133
CLE (4 yrs) 486 2025 299 503 102 4 96 335 288 316 .294 .392 .526 .918 132

Indians Career Ranks (rate stats for players with 1,000+ PA):

25th in home runs (96)

46th in walks (288)

t-13th in intentional walks (31)

34th in batting average (.294)

12th in on-base percentage (.392)

7th in slugging percentage (.526)

9th in OPS (.918)

23rd in OPS+ (132)

Indians Single Season Ranks:

t-23rd in home runs (33 in 1997)

t-33th in walks (94 in 1999)

t-17th in intentional walks (11 in 1997 and in 1999)

38th in on-base percentage (.418 in 1997)

45th in on-base percentage (.413 in 1999)

20th in slugging percentage (.596 in 1997)

21st in OPS (1.013 in 1997)

t-35th in OPS+ (158 in 1997)

A.L. Awards/Honors:

1997: American League All-Star

1997: Silver Slugger

1997: American League Comeback Player of the Year

1997: 5th in American League MVP voting

1997 A.L. Ranks:

t-10th in home runs (33)

3rd in batting average (.329)

5th in on-base percentage (.418)

3rd in slugging percentage (.596)

3rd in OPS (1.013)

4th in OPS+ (158)

2000 A.L. Ranks:

4th in home runs (41)

9th in slugging percentage (.584)

9th in OPS (1.013)

10th in OPS+ (139)

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