Justice, David 1966–
David Justice 1966–
Professional baseball player
Halle Berry Changed His Life
David Justice’s rise to baseball stardom and World Series heroics was a journey that led to personal and professional growth. The National League’s Rookie of the Year was not the most personable player and although part of a team, he was not a team player. Justice let his talent speak for him, and led the Atlanta Braves all the way to the championship, where they were crowned kings of baseball. It took people close to Justice to finally change his outlook and endear him to his teammates and fans.
Justice was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 14, 1966. His parents were Nettie and Robert Justice. His father abandoned the family when Justice was a child, but his mother rose to the challenge and Justice grew up never thinking he was poor. His mother told Sports Illustrated, “It was a sacrifice, because I didn’t think of myself, I just thought of David. I mean, yes, it was hard, it was very hard. But we always had plenty of food. … There was nothing God, St. Jude and I couldn’t do together.”
When Justice was twelve, his mother enrolled him in Covington Latin School in Covington, Kentucky, only a short drive from his Cincinnati neighborhood. Covington was not a school for the weak. It required its students to be academically advanced enough to skip the seventh and eighth grades. Justice spoke with Sports Illustrated about his high school, “Everyone was smart. As a 13-year-old sophomore you take Latin, German, chemistry, computer science, biology, history and English. And every teacher treats you like his class is the only one you have, so the homework is unbelievable.”
Justice was the only African American in his class. He soared academically, but he excelled athletically, especially in basketball. As a senior, under the guidance of Father Heile—his basketball coach, school headmaster, and surrogate father—Justice averaged 25.9 points a game. Since he was 15 years old, many college recruiters stayed away from him. He made the Catholic All-America high school basketball team. Finally, a small NAIA school in Kentucky, Thomas More College, offered Justice a full scholarship.
At a Glance…
Born David Christopher Justice, April 14, 1966, in. Cincinnati, OH; son of Nettie (housekeeper caterer) and Robert Justice (security guard); married Halle Berry, January 1, 1993, divorced June 24, 1997; Education: Latin School, Covington, KY, 1978-82; Thomas More College at Crestview Hills, KY, 1983-85.
Career: Baseball player, Minor leagues, 1985-89; Atlanta Braves, 1989-96; Cleveland Indians, 1997—.
Awards: Catholic High School All-American in basketball; Named NL Rookie of the Year by Baseball Writers Association and by Sporting News, 1990; voted to National League Aiutar Team, 1993; 1994; named to Sporting News Silver Slugger Team, 1993; played in the World Series, 1991, 1992, 1995; won World Series, 1995.
Addresses; Home —Sandy Hills, GA; Office— Cleveland Indians, 2401 Ontario Street, Cleveland, OH44115.
At Thomas More, Justice found something he did not like: conditioning. His basketball coach would make the team run about three miles after practice. So one day, he walked over to baseball practice and joined. When told he would not start as a freshman, he quit that, too. However, he showed up for baseball practice his sophomore year and soon became the team’s best hitter. Soon scouts came in droves to watch the naturally talented 18-year-old.
The Atlanta Braves were among those watching Justice, and they signed him as a first baseman to play for them in the minor leagues. He spent a few years there. The minor league season lasted only five months and did not pay as well as the major leagues, so Justice worked at a number of menial jobs, including driving a shuttle bus at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, and working as an orderly at Cincinnati’s University Hospital. He was finally called up to replace Nick Esasky. During his first full season with the Braves he had 20 homeruns and 50 RBIs. In 1990 he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
After a very good start, Justice returned the following season sporting a new look and a snobbish attitude. He drove a Mercedes-Benz with a vanity plate that read “SWEET SWING,” and wore gaudy gold jewelry. He also began a hate-hate relationship with sports journalists that took a couple of years to change. He barely spoke to his teammates. He parked his car anywhere he pleased and owned a hand-held computer that contained a file with the names of sportswriters he would never speak to again, and he refused to sign autographs.
His batting average was just shy of .300 and he led the league with 51 RBIs, but he began complaining of back pain. Early X-rays showed everything normal and some questioned the validity of his ailment, even “WTBS announcer Skip Caray referred to it on the air as a ‘mysterious back injury,’” according to Sport Justice spent two months on the disabled list. He eventually had a batting average of .373 and had five RBIs during the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Later X-rays proved that Justice had suffered a stress fracture in his lower back.
The following season, Justice was still having problems. He became embroiled in a contract dispute and refused to pose for individual pictures in uniform. Finally, third baseman Terry Pendleton had a talk with Justice. He told Sports Illustrated that he said to him, “… you’re going to need to get with the program, or you’re going to have to pack up your stuff…. The only reason I’m sitting you down and talking to you is because I think Dave Justice can be one of the greatest players to ever play this game, but he’s not going to be that with this attitude.”
The lecture seemed to work, but when Justice shared his thoughts on racism in baseball, his popularity plummeted. He received hate mail. Fans booed everytime his name was announced. The media portrayed him as a big brat.
During this time, Justice happened to speak with an old friend who was going to interview Halle Berry, a former Miss Ohio and an up-and-coming actress. He asked his friend to get a picture for him. Berry, who first saw Justice while watching MTV’s Rock-N-Jock softball game, sent her phone number instead. When he called, they talked for hours. When they met face to face, she saw the multitude of jewelry. At the game, Berry noticed the banners and heard the boos. She spoke with Justice concerning this. He explained that he wore the jewelry because stars he admired wore a lot of jewelry. Berry told him to just be himself. She taught Justice a lot about the importance of a good public image. Berry told Sports Illustrated the advice she gave Justice: “Don’t give up now. Go out and keep playing hard, and don’t let them see you fold.”
Justice put away his jewelry. He began greeting people. He stuck around after batting practice and patiently signed autographs. His batting average for the season was .256, and he had 72 RBIs and 21 homeruns. He helped his team in their bid at the World Series, though they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays. Everyone noticed the change, and all attributed it to Berry.
Their whirlwind courtship ended in marriage January 1, 1993. The following season was one of Justice’s best—if not his best—he had 40 homeruns, 120 RBIs, and his average was at .270. Justice also finished at number three in the MVP balloting. His public image improved tremendously and so did his rapport with his teammates. Justice told Sport, “I want to be a good community person, a good teammate, a good player. I want to be someone that a teammate would want to come talk to. I don’t want to be someone my teammates and fans respect for their playing ability but not as person.”
Before spring training, the Braves gave Justice a five-year contract extension worth $27.5 million. Although hindered by an injury, Justice still had a good season with 19 homeruns, a batting average of .313, and 59 RBIs. But it was his 1995 season that proved his leadership capability.
Despite being hampered by a shoulder injury, Justice completed 24 homeruns, had 78 RBIs, and an average of .253. What made him a star was his homerun that gave the Braves a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the sixth and deciding game of the World Series. Justice was quoted in Jet saying, “I never felt so much pressure in my life but everything worked out today.” The following season started out great, but Justice suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Though Justice was excelling professionally, his married life was a struggle. The couple could not find a balance in their dual career, bicoastal marriage. After celebrating their third year anniversary, Justice decided to call it quits. A devastated Berry made the announcement to the world. He told People Weekly, “She wasn’t the same person I was with before we got married. She’d get mad when I watched ESPN…. She thought I was cheating. She carried a lot of baggage from her previous relationships.”
Things turned ugly during divorce proceedings with both sides asking for alimony, though each was a millionaire. Justice asked the court to make Berry disclose details of her past relationships. She obtained a restraining order against him after he tried to pick up his belongings from their Hollywood Hills home. Their divorce was finalized in June of 1997.
At the start of the 1997 season, Justice along with Marquis Grissom was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. What could have been devastating was anything but. Justice had a total of 101 RBIs, 33 homeruns, and a batting average of .329. After just two months with the Cleveland Indians, Justice’s contract was extended another four years at a reported $28 million.
David Justice started out his career as a basketball player. His switch to baseball during college proved to be one of his best moves. Though sidetracked by a negative attitude, Justice bounced back with the help of friends, especially his ex-wife. Their marriage could not withstand the test of time, but it did bring out his good side. At the rate he’s going, Justice will be considered one of the greatest players in the game of baseball.
Jet, Nov 28, 1994, p. 15; March 11, 1996, p. 65; June 3, 1996, p. 58; June 10, 1996, p. 52; July 29, 1996, p. 18.
People Weekly, May 9, 1994, p. 85; March 11, 1996, p. 46; May 13, 1996, p. 102; Oct 21, 1996, p. 64.
Sport, June 1994, p. 26; June 1996, p. 22.
The Sporting News, July 15, 1996, p. 10; April 7, 1997, p. 26.
Sports Illustrated, June 6, 1994, p. 66; Nov 6, 1995, p. 32; May 27, 1996, p. 64; June 2, 1997, p. 76.
Time, July 8, 1996, p. 73.
Atlanta Constitution, June 24, 1997, p. 1; Oct 9, 1997, p. 3.
—Dietrich Gruen and Ashyia N. Henderson
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