The Bag Swipin’ Otis Nixon
"But for one day, I controlled the world."
Thirty years ago, huge things were brewing at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The 1990 Braves finished as the worst team in baseball, but there was hope. Talent was evident in their young pitching and hitting and when they replaced Russ Nixon with Bobby Cox, the Braves had a proven winner to help lead a resurgence.
In 1991, the Braves made an incomprehensible turnaround and landed in the World Series. They remained as the kings of the National League for a solid 15 years and will go down in history as one of the great dynasties in the sport.
While the Braves turnaround is often attributed to the development of three Hall of Fame pitchers, an aspect that is sometimes overlooked on those teams was the dangerous speed that was added to the lineup.
Otis Nixon, the main man in Atlanta when it came to burning up the basepaths, joins us for this week’s edition of Spitballin’.
It’s still a little surprising that Nixon only spent three years in Atlanta because he was so prevalent in their turnaround. He teamed with Ron Gant and Deion Sanders to electrify the top of the Braves lineup with their speed and he covered more ground than just about anyone in the outfield.
Nixon stole a career-high 72 bases in 1991, the season in which the Braves went from worst to first. As he put it, as the leadoff man, if he could get on, steal a couple of bases and score a couple of runs, all his teammates had to do is get another run or two and that was all the Braves needed with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz and their bullpen.
Although he only stayed in Atlanta for three seasons, he established himself as a clutch postseason performer and cemented his spot in Braves lore with an incredible catch where he robbed Andy Van Slyke of a home run in a big spot by climbing the 10-foot outfield fence.
Today, Nixon is committed to giving back to the community and helping disadvantaged youngsters through the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation. He has fought a winning battle against addiction and is now spreading positivity and support to the youth of his community.
According to the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation, “Otis found his purpose off the field by starting a faith-based ministry to serve the youth of Atlanta through motivational speaking and life coaching. His focus was to help youth avoid or overcome many of the problems he faced. He said, ‘If I can save one person’s life, I will have fulfilled a goal more valuable to me than winning a World Series.’”
Nixon also runs a large successful charity golf outing in which he enlists the support of his legendary Braves teammates, Hall of Famers from other sports and celebrities as well.
Nixon may have been born in North Carolina and he played for nine different teams, but Atlanta is his home.
He’s one of the fastest players and best base stealers of his generation, so don’t blink as we go Spitballin’ with Otis Nixon.
“We were game changers. We didn’t have to hit the ball out of the park. We changed the game by stealing bases.”
Thanks for joining us today Mr. Nixon. I am sure you’re busy rooting for your Braves, so I appreciate the time you’re taking with us. I want to talk about the great work you’re doing for youngsters with the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation as well as your book, Keeping it Real. But first, let’s talk about your career. You and your younger brother Donnell both made it to the Majors and were tremendous athletes. Can you talk about your sports background as a kid?
Donnell and I were three-sport stars growing up. We played baseball, football and baseball. He was two years younger than me, so he followed in my footsteps from Little League right on up to the Major Leagues.
I was actually better in football than baseball, but I had a concussion and that told me that I might want to go in a different direction than playing a contact sport. It worked out great.
I would say so for sure. In the Majors you were one of the most dangerous base stealers in the game. You were fun to watch when you weren’t playing against my Mets. Just having blazing speed isn’t good enough, can you talk about the art of base stealing and how did you prepare?
I wanted to become a leadoff hitter than can steal bases. I know some guys who could steal bases but were not great leadoff hitters.
Those kinds of guys are game changers. Guys like me, Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Willie Wilson. We were game changers. We didn’t have to hit the ball out of the park. We changed the game by stealing bases. And just to throw in something, I tied a record by stealing six bases in a game once. Only one other guy had done it before.
I wanted to ask you about that. The only other guy to do it was Eddie Collins in 1912. What were the circumstances around that game?
Yes, none of the big base stealers did that. Lou Brock, even Rickey Henderson, who is the King of base stealers never did it. But for one day, I controlled the world.
I was on the Expos the year before and they had a good team. They traded me to the Braves, and I got a little ticked off with them. It was just one game, one time but it’s great to go back and remember some of the great things I did. I got that game with six stolen bases and then going on to make “The Catch” as they call it.
You’re answering the questions before I can even ask them! That’s one of those plays you saw on ESPN for years after it happened. And it came when you were on a 12-game winning streak too. Tell us about the catch, it was such an incredible play.
That was another great moment. It was 1992 in the middle of a pennant race against the Pirates. There were 55,000 people there. They had a great team with [Andy] Van Slyke and Barry Bonds. We had a one-run lead and they had a guy on base in the ninth inning. Van Slyke hit it and it was gonna be a two-run homer. I ran back and made the play and now Andy won’t speak to me to this day.
We had a dangerous team back then with Smoltz, Glavine and everyone. They still talk about that team now, even as we are getting ready to start up the game tonight. That pitching staff we had was dangerous, the offense we had was dangerous, the defense that we had was dangerous. All of that put together was why were able to control that dynasty of winning so many years.
That really was an incredible team. You had three Hall of Fame pitchers, a Hall of Fame manager, Chipper Jones is a Hall of Famer and then you had other great players like yourself, Fred McGriff, Dave Justice, Ron Gant. Just so many names. What did you think your role was in all of that?
The only thing I had to do is score a few runs for them, and that was our key. Otis gets on, score some runs, steal some bases and [the pitchers] would take it from there. I thought that if I could score two runs myself, I just need my teammates to score a couple and that’s all we’d need.
I thought that we could do that day in and day out. I was gonna handle my business at the top of the lineup and on defense and that’s where I came in. I enjoyed playing behind them. I knew how they were gonna pitch, I knew what to expect and it was a great recipe that Bobby Cox had.
You bring up a great point and it’s a change in the game that I don’t particularly like. The stolen base isn’t used as a weapon anymore and those exciting players like yourself, Kenny Lofton, Dave Roberts who always seemed to make a difference with their speed just aren’t around anymore. What are your thoughts on the disappearance of the stolen base?
They don’t bunt, they don’t steal and they just don’t have that capability or that kind of speed. On the Braves, you had Deion Sanders and myself and we used our speed. We stole bases. Teams just don’t do that anymore.
One day I think that will come back. Trends in the game always change and I hope that brand of baseball comes back soon. I wanted to ask you about the foundation you have, the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation. You do so much great work with kids. How did that get started and can you talk about the work you do?
It’s been going for 14 years now. I said that after I finished my career, I wanted to give back, but I went through a drug addiction. But I beat it, became a Pastor, a Minister, which I am now. I became an author and a speaker across the United States of America.
I am working with law enforcement now and all of that has brought me to this period in my life where I can help more people than when they were in the stands watching me play. I can help more kids than I did when I was playing.
You know, everybody loves “The Catch” but when I went through my down time then I turned around and try to use my platform to help so many kids with my diversion programs.
It’s really cool to see someone who battled through some tough times to come out good on the other side then want to turn around and help others, especially kids. It’s always great to see players giving back to kids. What are some of the things you do?
One thing we do is we work with law enforcement. If they get locked up and need someone to talk to, call the Otis Nixon Foundation and we’ll find some way to pull you up. We say we don’t call it a “hand out,” we call it a “hand up.”
You know, all that I did all those years in the Majors, I get more accolades for doing what I do now as a minister, as a speaker and working with law enforcement than I did when I was playing.
Ebbets Field in all its glory
That’s really unbelievable stuff and you absolutely deserve all of the accolades that you get. I’ve seen some of the videos about your golf outings and notice so many of your former Braves teammates pitching in to help out. You seem like you have so much support for it from the Braves and athletes from other sports as well.
Yes, we get so much help from guys like Chipper Jones, Shaq O’Neal. We’re working together now and just did some stuff last week. Chris Tucker has been great as have all of my teammates from the nineties, of course they come out.
We do a golf tournament every year and I have about 30 sponsors. We even have Coca Cola, which Tiger Woods helped me get set up. I might be only the second or third guy to get them to sponsor something like this and I have a bunch of other sponsors to back me.
It’s just great to see so many people supporting the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation and helping kids. I wanted to ask about your book too. You wrote a book, Keeping it Real, and it is still available on Amazon.
I’m pretty proud of my book. I talked about a lot of day-to-day stuff, my career and a lot of the things I went through before I got famous. I didn’t do it by chapter. There’s no chapter one, chapter two, chapter three. I did it by first inning, second inning, third inning all the way to the ninth inning and then I said I’m goin’ back home.
It’s got great color pictures in the back of guys like the President of the United States, Deion Sanders and others. It’s a keep sake, it’s part of history.
It looks really interesting and I am sure it offers great insights and life lessons. You have it included now in a package you’re offering to fans to help support the Otis Nixon 1 Foundation Can you talk about that offer?
Yes, I am doing a $100 package that includes the book, a picture of The Catch, an Atlanta Braves mask and a signed baseball by me and the donation price includes the shipping. We’re doing a special now, but it’s only lasting for two weeks.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but the Braves are just one win away from their first World Series since 1999. You still seem like you’re a big supporter of theirs. What do you think about this great young team they have?
They’re for real. They got so many great young guys like Acuna and all of them. It’s just bubbling up and they’re young. They had a bad night in Game 3, but they bounced back. You have these 20 and 21-year-old kids and they’re thrown right into the fire.
They got to be ready. They’re gifted and they have the right attitude. It looks like they’re picking up the torch we left out all those years ago.
This has been a lot of fun and it’s great to see you doing well and using your platform to do so much good in the world. Before we leave, do you have any final message for our readers and for baseball fans?
I would like fans to follow my work now like they followed my career. They can find me at www.OtisNixon1Foundation.org. You’ll see that you get more great feelings from following that than what you did when you followed me on the field. I encourage all people to follow me. They’re following me now like they followed me then. I want to also give a shoutout to all the fans across the United States of America.
Baseball is turning around. We’re going through a crisis right now with COVID and unity and this is what baseball can do. It can bring us together. It has done it before and it’s doing it again.
Also, get out and vote! From Otis Nixon of the Atlanta Braves, get out and vote. Vote! Vote! Vote! If you don’t do anything else, get out and vote.