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Justice enshrined in Braves' Hall

Justice enshrined in Braves' Hall

ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepared to officially induct David Justice into their Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon at Turner Field, general manager John Schuerholz provided Justice with a message that certainly proved to be true.

"I hope you enjoy this day better than the last one we shared together," said Schuerholz, who shocked many on a late March morning in 1997, when he decided to trade both Marquis Grissom and Justice to Cleveland in the trade that brought Kenny Lofton to Atlanta.

As Justice exited the Braves clubhouse on that morning more than 10 years ago, he displayed the same misty eyes that were evidenced multiple times during Friday's ceremonies.

With Grissom, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz being some of his teammates from the Braves 1995 world championship team that were in attendance, Justice couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the memories created by an organization that had given him the opportunity to experience so much at the Major League level.

"I left here with my heart broken," Justice said. "But today, my heart has been mended."

After leaving the Braves, Justice had the opportunity to win a world championship with the Yankees and experience the postseason during each of his final six big league seasons. But his finest October memory will always center around his sixth-inning solo homer that gave the Braves a 1-0 win in their decisive Game 6 victory over the Indians in the 1995 World Series.

All of this came just hours after the city of Atlanta awoke to find its morning newspaper including a challenge from Justice, who simply believed it was time for Braves fans to react with the same fervor that the Indians fans had displayed in Cleveland earlier in the week.

"If there was really a fan who still truly believed that I was really attacking them, I don't want them to believe that," Justice said. "I want them to understand what I was trying to say was, 'if you cheer the way Cleveland fans cheer, it's going to help us win,' and in my eyes it did because that night they cheered their butts off."

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium rocked when Justice drilled a Jim Poole pitch over the right field wall. Three innings later, when Tom Glavine and Mark Wohlers completed their combined shutout, the city of Atlanta celebrated what remains its only world championship in major professional sports.

"The one thing that David could always do was talk the talk and then walk the walk," Jones said. "That's the one of thing I always respected about him."

When it's all said and done, Justice won't be considered the most prominent member of that 1995 world championship team. That honor would be more likely bestowed on Smoltz, Jones, Glavine or Greg Maddux. And obviously manager Bobby Cox and Schuerholz will both be remembered as being greater influences on the organization than the Hall of Fame's newest member.

But with all of these figures still enjoying their careers, Justice, whose Atlanta career began with his 1989 National League Rookie of the Year campaign and extended through 1996, gladly accepted being the team's first member and then made a point to say this honor was a product of the combined efforts of his teammates.

"If you saw my speech today, there wasn't a whole lot of 'I', 'I', 'I' because it wasn't I who helped us win," Justice said. "It was all of us collectively. So the fact that I was first was probably because I'm the only one who's retired. Once they're retired, they'll be coming right behind me."

As Justice delivered his speech, he looked out into an audience to see both Grissom, who he considers one of his best friends, and Ron Gant, who he shared many experiences with during the early portions of his professional career.

More upsetting to Justice than not being able to spend his entire career in Atlanta, is the fact that the Braves finally won their world championship after Gant had left.

Justice joins a Hall of Fame that already includes greats like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro. But the co-member that he shares the longest bond with is Paul Snyder, the legendary scout who decided this high school basketball star could make a difference in the Major Leagues.

During his high school years in the Cincinnati area, Justice's only baseball experience came during the summer months. Fortunately some of those teams he played for during the summer included Andrew Denson, who the Braves selected during the first round of the 1984 First-Year Player Draft.

Denson's house was right behind Justice's and Justice's strict mother, who had visions of her highly intellectual son becoming a doctor or lawyer, only allowed the future Braves Hall of Famer to be out after dark if he was at the Denson residence.

"Mama did a good job," said Snyder, who went to see Justice play at Thomas More College before the Braves took him in the fourth round of the 1985 Draft.

As Justice looked out and saw Snyder in Friday's crowd, he reminisced about that day more than 20 years ago, when the legendary scout sat on the hill above right field, puffing on his cigar and evaluating a powerful left-handed swing that would one day produce the most beneficial homer in Atlanta history.

"I'm just amazed that I could be a professional baseball player because never once in my life in my household -- I was raised by my mama -- did we ever discuss me being a professional athlete," said Justice, who indicated the only reason he decided to play that one year of college ball was to give him an opportunity to skip the basketball team's offseason conditioning drills.

After being introduced by Jones, Justice wiped away his tears and jokingly said he had "an active eye gland." His playful reference followed one made by Ernie Johnson, Sr., who served as the lone representative of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves world championship team, which was also recognized during these ceremonies.

Aaron, another member of that team that is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their championship, delivered congratulations to Justice with a video message. As did former team owner Ted Turner.

Johnson, who celebrated his 83rd birthday in June, brought some early laughs when he told the crowd that his dentist had told him he's battling an active salivary gland. The long-time legendary broadcaster responded, "I said, is that the same thing as drooling?"

This started an afternoon filled with laughs and memories, some of which fittingly brought tears of joy to Justice's eyes.

"Anywhere you go in America today and mention the Braves, people think professional," Justice said. "They think classy. That's how they think of the Braves and that's a great feeling for me because I'm forever associated with the Braves."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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