The On-The-Field and Off-The-Field Life of Otis Nixon

“Nixon goes as far as he can go. He caught the ball! He caught the ball! I can’t believe it! What a catch by Otis Nixon!”

~Skip Caray

If you’ve been a Braves fan for long enough, you probably remember that call. It was July 25th, 1992, the Braves had won 12 straight, and they were in a close pennant race. In the top of the 9th, Andy Van Slyke crushed a ball that would have left the field had Otis Nixon not scaled the 10-foot wall at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and brought it back. It would prove to be the most significant on-field event for Otis Nixon in his 17-year career.

To that point, Nixon had already played for 4 big league teams, the Yankees, Indians, Expos, and Braves, and he would celebrate his 33rd birthday that year. And many people learned that day that he had tremendous “ups”, but everyone knew he had speed. Entering his age-33 season, he had already accumulated 264 stolen bases, including 71 the previous year and 50 before it. Speed was his game, and even the advanced metrics agreed in retrospect. In his first year in Atlanta, despite only a .698 OPS, his speed and the era in which he played meant that he was almost league average in wRC+ (99). And in only 124 games, he was able to put in a respectable 1.9 fWAR. And he got even better. Despite league average run-creating ability, that and his defense carried him to 2.6 and 2.5 fWAR seasons during his last 2 seasons in Atlanta. A mostly average ballplayer, Atlanta was able to use his speed to reach some of his best stolen base totals and his best seasons based on his total contribution to the team.

And if that was all that I had to say about Otis Nixon, then you probably wouldn’t care. But you know Otis Nixon by some of the things he was involved in off the field. And as Atlanta was beginning their run of consecutive playoff appearances, it was Nixon’s disappearance from a playoff race that probably cements his name in your mind.

On September 17, 1991, Major League Baseball announced that Otis Nixon would not be eligible for the postseason. He got busted for cocaine. So instead of being a speed asset off the bench, a defensive replacement for the inexperienced centerfielder Ron Gant, and a veteran presence on the team, Nixon would serve his suspension and miss a run that would take the Braves all the way to the World Series.

Some fans may still resent Otis Nixon for that. And while he would return to Atlanta in 1999 to steal 26 bags in a part-time role at the age of 40, he would show up once again on the radars of Georgia residents when he was busted with crack in 2013 in Cherokee County, GA. Later that year, one of his homes was burned in arson. In 2017, he was reported missing when he didn’t show up for a tee time in Woodstock, GA. He was married in 2000 and divorced in 2004. Re-married in 2010. Divorced in 2012.

According to Baseball Reference, he’s made close to $20M in his career in player salaries. He seems to have stayed mostly near his home base of Georgia after his playing career has ended. But to use the cliche, “demons” have seemed to follow Nixon around. It cost him a postseason ban, perhaps two marriages, it’s led him to multiple arrests, and one could even wonder if that’s why he ended up playing for 9 different teams in a 17 year career. And regardless of what you think of his on-field contributions, most baseball fans will associate Otis with the off-the-field stuff, and that’s a shame. However, you ask any Braves fan how they remember Otis, and the opening of this piece comes full circle.

22 thoughts on “The On-The-Field and Off-The-Field Life of Otis Nixon”

  1. @1
    Skip was such a treasure and that entire broadcasting crew of the 80’s were remarkable. Chip isn’t his Dad and I wish he would go away.

  2. @2 Chip has his blunders, but to me, he’s not that bad. He’s better than maybe half the other announcers around the league.

  3. @3 I don’t know if that’s the truth or a lie by Anthopolous. He’s mastered the art of the bluff. I can see him legitimately meaning that. On the flip side, I can see it being thrown out as a negotiating ploy with some FAs, too.

  4. I, too, remember that play/call like it was yesterday. (Or at the least like it was last year!) But I also recall vividly Nixon’s failed bunt attempt to end the 1992 World Series. Not that it was the wrong play. It just didn’t work, and the writing that had been on the wall for a while in that game, then looked like it had been erased when the Braves came back to tie, was suddenly there for all to see again.

  5. @9 Just read that. I’m stunned. Unless the Braves are significantly raising payroll or trading away a bunch of young relievers, this signing fits with nothing. That leaves only three spots in the pen maybe for Jackson, Webb, and a lefty or a long reliever.

    I would now certainly not expect any starting pitcher signings. He’s gonna have to do some horse-trading to fill all the other needs.

  6. It would definitely seem like Greene is getting traded now.

    My initial thought was, “Why not just keep Greene?” But they probably feel like Greene has surplus value. And he also might be more talented for what they need. They have plenty of RH Closers(TM), and they really just needed a solid RH setup man, hence Martin.

  7. If the strategy ends up being aim for 5 innings out of the young starters, and turn it over to a lockdown pen; I don’t hate it.

    Unless they were to sign Cole or Stras, a large investment in a SP seems a waste of resources. Plus the batting order still needs addressing, and the resources in house aren’t ready.

  8. The pen is about as stacked as it gets. It’s looking like the Yankees’ pen:

    Smith
    Melancon
    Greene
    Martin
    O’Day
    Newcomb
    Jackson
    Minter

    Then Webb, Walker, Sobotka, Weigel, and Dayton.

    Even more being made of the even higher percentage invested in the pen, but the rotation has plenty of arms that aren’t making much:

    Soroka
    Fried
    Folty
    Wright
    Wilson
    Touki

    At this point, if the Braves decided to put Newcomb in the rotation and hold onto Greene, that makes even more sense. I thought this was telling:

    Now the Braves hold a lot of the cards. Put Newk in the rotation? Trade Greene? They might have 99 problems, but relief arms ain’t one. They got ahead of it. Good on them.

  9. Did I miss that Sean Newcomb learned a new pitch or something? I thought the whole reason they moved him to the pen was that he was essentially a 2-pitch guy and that didn’t cut it as a starter.

  10. I think Braves are going to push payroll to 150MM. Also heard mention on Twitter that there’s a big chance Liberty Media sells the team this season. Anyone know about that?

  11. Something to think about: AA is filling out the bullpen on guys without options, which makes it hard to move prospects back and forth.

    Maybe he doesn’t want to.
    Maybe he’s gearing up to trade some serious assets to make a 3-4 year run.

  12. After watching last year’s bullpen, I am absolutely fine with Anthopoulos spending all the money sans Donaldson’s salary on the bullpen.

  13. 15 — His fastball and curve are his best 2 pitches, but he also throws a slider and change. He de-emphasized the change this season in the bullpen. I’d guess that it comes back to his arsenal somewhat.

  14. I don’t believe the team is really increasing the payroll unless we sign Josh back or we get a big bat to replace him.

    To be fair, we may indeed be using Greene as part of a trade to get that bat.

  15. Otis Nixon’s a great guy. Seriously, he was a friend of mine in CLE. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest base.stealers to ever play the game, if not THE BEST. I am also certain he was one of the fastest players ever. He told me his mother could run faster than most people. While he may have had his challenges, who doesn’t in one way or another? Life is to be lived and Otis did his thing. Six steals in one game is a record that’s not likely to be broken. He was to the base.he stole in 3 to 4 seconds. That’s incredible. We had great times in CLE. Julio, Otis, pitcher
    Bryan Clark aka “Gas Can”. nick named by the press, Lol , and Al Owens aka “Ace” would come by the house while visiting CLE. Boy, those were the days! Otie, you will always be one of the most exciting players to ever run the bases.

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