"You go out and play the game mano-a-mano and see who scores the most runs.."
As sports fans, we frequently see people do things they physically shouldn’t be able to do. Through a rush of adrenaline and a sheer will to win, we see our favorite athletes push themselves beyond limitations when the stakes are highest.
That is exactly what happened in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
The Braves were down 2-1 to the Pirates with two outs. They had the bases loaded against Pirates closer Stan Belinda when Francisco Cabrera was sent up to pinch hit. Cabrera laced a single to left and Dave Justice scored easily with the tying run.
Motoring behind him with a trip to the World Series depending on his balky knees was veteran first baseman Sid Bream. Bream famously chugged past third base coach Jimy Williams and slid safely into home, inches ahead of a desperate diving tag by Mike LaValliere.
Justice jumped on his teammate and every person in a Braves uniform followed suit in one of the more raucous celebrations you’ll see on a baseball field.
Bream joins us to dissect that play and so much more about his career in this week’s Spitballin.’
As great as that play was, solely judging Bream on that one slide sells him short. He was a slick fielding first baseman who still ranks 22nd overall in Total Zone Runs at first base, ahead of guys like Don Mattingly and Wes Parker, who have 15 Gold Gloves between them.
Bream was a stalwart on the great Pirates teams of the mid-to-late-1980s and was brought to the Braves with other veterans like Terry Pendleton and Charlie Leibrandt to help teach a group of youngsters winning baseball. He was classy, dependable and respected by teammates and opponents alike.
And although Bream might be labeled one of the slowest baserunners of his generation, he found a way to steal 50 bases in his career, including 13 in 1986. He prided himself on being a smart baserunner contributing whatever he could despite the limitations brought on by six knee surgeries.
“To this day, I never have seen any video about what Jimy Williams, our third base coach, was doing during the play. Was he waving me on? I have been told that he was. But I have no idea whether Jimy Williams was waving me on or holding me up. I was going.”
In 2011, the MLB Network named the top 20 games played since 1961. Over that 50-year span, Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS was chosen as the fourth-best game. The play at home is one of the most iconic moments in baseball history – and being the player that scored that run is an incredible legacy to have.
So, let’s get a good jump and head for home as we go Spitballin’ with Sid Bream.
Thanks so much for joining me today, Mr. Bream. Always a treat to talk so someone I watched so much growing up as a kid. That’s where I wanted to start with you. How did you get your start playing baseball as youngster? Did you have a favorite team or players?
Seven years old was when they got started with Pony League baseball. Back in that time frame though, you were gone all day until mom rang the dinner bell. You picked up teams and played with your friends. Even before Pony League I was out playing with my brother.
My favorite team at the time was the Cardinals because my dad loved the Cardinals. My brother was named Stan after Stan Musial. I grew up a Cardinals fan, but when people ask who my hero was, I point to my dad. My dad and uncle played sandlot baseball. They were great athletes and I loved watching them play sandlot baseball.
As you were going through school was there a time when you thought you could play on a higher level?
I’m serious when I say this. I didn’t think anything about playing professional baseball until my senior year when a scout came around and told me I could get drafted. I never even gave it a thought. I just loved playing the game and had some success at it. I didn’t even think about college ball, but once that scout threw the idea of the draft out, it started to hit me a lot better. I started having that thought of playing professional ball.
You went to Liberty University and your coach was the great Al Worthington, who I just interviewed a few weeks ago. Can you summarize the impact that Coach Worthington had on your career?
Coach Worthington is such a great man. I wish every college player had the opportunity to have a coach that cared that much about you. Not only did he teach the game of baseball, but he taught about life. He mentored you in baseball, and in other things too. How to take care of a lady, how to treat people. Every aspect of becoming a man of integrity and a man of character.
I couldn’t have been any happier to have that opportunity to play with Coach Worthington. He was truly an E.F. Hutton, like the old commercial. When he spoke, everybody listened. Didn’t say a whole lot but kept you loose and allowed you to have fun. He wanted you to play the right way.
That’s great. What a thrill it was for me to talk to him, so I can’t imagine how great it was to call him Coach. After Liberty you ended up being a second-round draft pick with the Dodgers in 1981. Can you talk about being called up to the Dodgers and making your Major League debut?
You could only imagine what it was like. Shoot, you’re always looking for that opportunity. When you get up there it’s incredible. Especially playing with Steve Garvey, Rick Monday, Greg Brock, Billy Russell, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Jerry Reuss, Orel Hershiser, I mean the list goes on. It’s one of those ordeals that was such a great opportunity and great thrill to be in the Dodgers organization. Back then, they were the true first-class team as far as taking care of their minor leaguers too.
Tommy Lasorda was your first manager and you also played for Jim Leyland and Bobby Cox. That’s some group of managers. What are your thoughts about those guys?
I’m grateful to all three of them, but the one I would say I truly enjoyed was Jim Leyland. He’s a tremendous man and a great psychiatrist. He was a great motivator. He was two or three steps ahead of every manager he played against. He’s a good baseball man and a good person as well.
You were traded in 1985 to the Pirates for Bill Madlock. That gave you your first full-time role in the Majors. Can you take us through that?
In reality, if the Pirates weren’t going young with their team, I don’t know what would have happened. Jason Thompson clearly had a better Spring Training than I did. I was thankful that they were thinking about going with younger players, so that gave me my chance in 1986.
It looks like you had a good year too. Career highs in homers, RBIs, doubles and other stats. What was that first year in Pittsburgh like for you?
I had an OK year. Not the kind of year that I wanted. I started off hot but went into a slump. I finished up OK but not the type of year I really wanted to be a part of. I could have had the Gold Glove Award. Certainly my performance defensively clearly topped any National League first baseman. Glenn Davis won it that year because he hit more home runs. I thought my play as a first baseman should have earned me a Gold Glove, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it.
You played in six postseason series over a four-year span and were involved in some legendary moments. Let’s start with the 1991 Braves team that came from last place the year before to go to the World Series. Did you see that coming at all?
It was one of my most favorite years. I got to watch a bunch of young ballplayers like David Justice, Tommy Glavine, John Smoltz, Ronnie Gant, Steve Avery, Pete Smith and just a slew of great young ballplayers. I got to watch them to figure out how to win. That was under the tutelage of Terry Pendleton, Charlie Leibrandt and myself.
John Scheurholtz and Bobby Cox gave us the leeway to sit down with them about how we needed to go about business. Watching that team go through the season was an incredible thing. Also, to watch the city adopt us was great. You started to see attendance go from 2,000 to 10,000 then to 40,000 and 50,000 by the end of the year. It was just a great, great year and I loved it big time.
I believe that for sure. You guys ended up in the 1991 World Series, which is one of the best in baseball history. What was it like making your first World Series?
It was such a great opportunity. That’s your goal every season; to get to the World Series. To go up against the Minnesota Twins in 1991 was great. It was such a battle, right down to Game 7. How many games were won on the last at bat? It was an unbelievable Series, I was just sorry we didn’t come out on the other side of it. But I enjoyed every bit of it.
You mentioned Game 7 of the 1987 World Series; the Jack Morris game. It’s one of the great games in Major League history. Morris already had a great reputation as a big game pitcher. What are your thoughts about the matchup with Jack Morris against John Smoltz?
That’s what pitching is all about. They were pitchers, not throwers. In today’s game, as a batter you might get your best pitch to hit when you’re 0-2 or 1-2. Guys like Morris and Smoltz, when they got you down 0-2 or 1-2, they knew how to get you out. You weren’t getting anything to hit. You had to get them early.
That night, Jack Morris was incredible. We had a couple of opportunities to score. We think of Lonnie Smith and the deke with Ron Gant’s double. I had the bases loaded with one out and he got me to ground into a double play. Terry Pendleton had a guy on third with less than two outs and he got him to pop up. We had our opportunities to win it before it got to the 11th inning, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. We just had to tip our hats and know we gave it everything we had.
Even with the tough loss, you guys bounced right back the next year and faced the Pirates again in the NLCS. What were your thoughts going into the Series?
We knew we had a great team and we understood tat the Pirates were gonna be back up there too. They had done some things in the offseason. At the same time, they still had the great core and pitching staff. Going into any playoff series, you’re gonna be playing against a team that has the chance to beat you. You go out and play the game mano-a-mano and see who scores the most runs. And until the end of the series, it looked like that was gonna be the Pirates.
That brings us to Game 7. You’re down 2-0 against Doug Drabek in the bottom of the ninth. Before we get to your slide, you came up in the ninth with two men on and no outs as the winning run. What are your thoughts about your at bat there? How do you stay calm?
You try to tell yourself not to do too much. You try to say it’s just another game, so you stay within yourself and do what you’re supposed to do. The time before, I hit a double off of Doug the time before that he got me to ground out. I was going up there with a game plan to hit a line drive somewhere. I knew I had to stay inside the baseball, but he never gave me an opportunity to do that, and I walked on four pitches.
Eventually we get it to where the game is 2-1 Pirates and you’re on second. There are two outs and if you score, you’re going to the World Series. There aren’t many people who were ever in that situation. What is your mindset at that time?
The time before, I hit a double and Doug Drabek tried to pick me off of second base twice. But when I walked, they took Drabek out and put in Stan Belinda. With Belinda on the mound, I knew it was a totally different situation. There were two outs; he wasn’t gonna try to pick me off. His job was to get the hitter out. I got a much bigger lead and got a great secondary lead.
Everything was working in my favor for sure. There were two outs, so I didn’t have to worry about where the ball was gonna be hit. I could go on the crack of the bat. I always prided myself on running the bases well. But I had knee surgeries that made me a whole lot slower than what I was.
Take us through what happened when the ball was put in play.
Fortunately, we had a guy on our bench named Frankie Cabrera. He got the big base hit for us. You’re always taught to put pressure on the defense. You can’t expect that the next person is gonna come up and get a hit or walk. You always put the pressure on the defense and make them make the play. That was my mindset when Frankie hit the ball.
To this day, I never have seen any video about what Jimy Williams, our third base coach, was doing during the play. Was he waving me on? I have been told that he was. But I have no idea whether Jimy Williams was waving me on or holding me up. I was going.
Doing research for this I found an article that said you had never watched a replay of the game and were planning to in 2020. Did you end up watching it?
I did. I sat down and watched everything. Major League Baseball was playing some old games during the Covid times and that came up. It was a lot of fun going back to that time frame. Thinking about how things were going and how they were working. It was a lot of fun to reminisce.
I spoke with Terry Pendleton at an event two years ago and it was the first time I heard him say this. He said, “I knew we were gonna win that ballgame.” Great confidence from our captain, but I am glad he did because I certainly didn’t. To know that he had that feeling within him showed the great person he was and the positive attitude he had all the time.
You were on the Braves for the first three years of that dynasty. They went on to win 11 straight NL East titles after you left. Did you watch all that happen and take satisfaction that you were there when it started?
It was gratifying. That team of 1991 and 1992, getting that group of ballplayers, as talented as they were, to the place of becoming winners was a great thrill. It was a great thrill for me, Terry Pendleton and Charlie Leibrandt. It was a great thrill to teach these young men the game of baseball and show them how to win. I was very prideful and thankful to be there and watch them continue to win.
John Scheurholtz could have gone after a 40-home run guy that might have been a negative in the clubhouse. Instead, he went after guys who had done some winning and at the same time were gonna be very positive in the clubhouse. I am very thankful to Johnny that he gave me the opportunity.
That’s really great and it has been awesome to talk with you and remember some of the iconic moments in baseball that I watched while I was growing up. My last question for you is open-ended. What thoughts would you like to leave our readers with?
I am thankful to the Lord that he gave me the talent and I had the opportunity to play. As I look back over my career, I loved playing the game of baseball. There were times where I wish I could have done some better things or made some better decisions, but all-in-all I am thankful to the Lord that he gave me that opportunity.