Originally created 02/25/97

Grissom more than `decent' in '96



WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - When the results from National League MVP voting were announced last November, Marquis Grissom's name was glaringly absent.

Despite the most productive season of his career, one of the best all-around seasons of any player in either league, the Braves' center fielder didn't receive any recognition.

Listing the 10 most valuable players on their ballots, one member of the Baseball Writers Association of America gave Grissom a fifth-place vote, two others listed him sixth and seventh, and two more gave him eighth-place votes. Grissom finished a distant 13th with 23 points, out of sight of winner Ken Caminiti's 392 points.

"If anybody else had a year like that, it would be headlines all over the world," manager Bobby Cox said.

All Grissom did was win a fourth straight Gold Glove, set two franchise records, reach career-highs in hits, home runs and triples, and finish among the league's top 10 in four offensive categories.

His numbers read like this: A .308 batting average, 207 hits, 23 home runs, 74 RBI, 28 steals and a franchise-record 671 at-bats. He became the first Brave since Ralph Garr in 1975 to reach double figures in home runs, triples and doubles, and set a franchise fielding mark with just one error in 349 total chances.

Yet, 12 players were listed before him when MVP ballots were tallied.

"I'm a pretty low-key guy," Grissom said. "I don't worry about recognition. I'm not worried about MVP voting and things like that."

Grissom, who grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Red Oak and recently built a house in Fairburn, 17 miles south of the city, is focused on a team concept, on and off the field. His goals remain as simple as his personality. He wants to win another world championship with the Braves and complete a housing project that has provided homes for his 14 brothers and sisters.

All-Star games? Individual honors? Let someone else handle the plaques and speeches.

"As long as my teammates and coaches know I'm going out and giving 100 percent every day, that's all that matters," he said. "Baseball people know I can play a little bit, I'm a decent ballplayer."

Now there's a classic understatement. Cox describes him as one of the game's best center fielders and he's right. Grissom has committed only three errors in his last 669 chances during the last two seasons and has a career fielding percentage of .987. His speed and ability to go back on a ball allows him to play shallow and take away line drives that would otherwise be singles.

"He's one of those guys who's mistake-proof," Cox said. "He catches everything that goes up. Nothing falls in. He runs down everything."

Until last year, Grissom's defense had always been ahead of his offense. He headed into last season with a respectable .275 career batting average, but had never reached the .300 mark in seven seasons in the majors. After a solid first half last year in which he batted .294, he tore through the second half, reeling off a career-best 28-game hitting streak and batted .326 after the All-Star break.

Grissom credits hitting coach Clarence Jones and a book on hitting written by the last man to hit .400 for his success.

"The first five or six years, I was surviving off natural talent," Grissom said. "Hitting is probably the toughest thing for me. I worked with CJ on my bat angle and I read Ted Williams' book and talked to a lot of other hitters. I realized what my ability was and what I could and couldn't do."

Off the field, what Grissom decided he could do was use a portion of the four-year, $19.5 million contract he signed following the 1995 season to buy homes for his family. He's already purchased 11 houses and has three to go.

"You're supposed to share," Grissom said. "If somebody does something good for you, you're supposed to help. That's the message I'm sending to my family and everybody."

The message he's sending to National League pitchers is, look out, I'm going to be even better this season.

"I'm always trying to improve," Grissom said. "If I hit .309, get one more RBI, hit one more home run, that would good. I'm just trying to improve a little bit more than I did last year. You can never get satisfied in this game."