ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bream say that is the defining moment of his time in big leagues
That’s how much of home plate Sid Bream figures his foot safely touched before he was tagged on a memorable autumn night in the South nearly 20 years ago. His determined, albeit lumbering, dash from second base on a two-out, two-run pinch-hit single by teammate Francisco Cabrera in the bottom of the ninth inning delivered a 3-2 Atlanta win to give the Braves the 1992 National League Championship Series over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
To hear Bream, who will be inducted in absentia on Saturday night into the Albuquerque Baseball Hall of Fame, tell it today, those 4 inches comprise the sole reason people know his name.
Certainly it was one of the most dramatic, climactic plays in baseball history. Bream barely beat a throw home by left fielder Barry Bonds after David Justice scored the game-tying run from third. Justice embraced Bream while he lay prone after his slide, just before the rest of the Braves dog-piled on.
Had he been tagged out, Bream figures, history would have focused on what happened as the game moved into extra innings.
Had he scored standing up, all of the attention would have focused, deservedly, on Cabrera, a journeyman who did the heavy lifting at that moment by putting the ball in play.
And either way, despite a solid, unspectacular 12-year career as a lanky lefty first baseman, “I’d have gone into obscurity,” Bream said in a telephone interview.
Instead, Braves manager Bobby Cox left Bream and his surgery-ravaged knees at second base, even though he was the potential winning run. Bream is quick to point out that he was quicker before the surgeries – “I held the stolen base record for first basemen for Pittsburgh,” he said – but that Cox had options on the bench to lift him for a speedier runner.
Why didn’t Cox make that move? Bream has never gotten a satisfactory answer except the one that satisfies himself as a religious man. He was put on that stage for that singular moment, to help him do greater things down the road, after he had played his last out.
“That’s the way I take it,” said Bream. “I realize other people might not take it that way.”
Bream, who lives just north of Pittsburgh, has used that platform as a speaker to faith-based groups, both in the U.S. and abroad. Over the years, “sometimes it slows down,” he said. But it’s hopping again, coincidentally or not, as the 1992 NLCS game is about to turn 20 in October.
That’s providing some “time flies” moments for Bream, now 51.
“The struggle with that is I just actually came back from an Atlanta faith day,” Bream said, “where there were 400 people. I’d say 60 percent of them were kids. And I’m thinking from seniors in high school up to even sophomores in college, they weren’t even born then.”
Bream is also a point man for the Outdoor Dream Foundation, which is a “make a wish” group of sorts for children with serious illnesses or handicaps.
It’s the reason Bream can’t make it to Isotopes Park on Saturday to join fellow inductees Kevin Kennedy and Greg Brock. Bream had a previous commitment to a foundation event in Anderson, S.C.
“We took a young man last September down to South Carolina and got to see him take a 160-class white tail (deer) and an alligator,” Bream said. “Just to see the smile on his face and to feel the encouragement … it’s all about giving.”
Bream’s gift to the Saturday’s ceremonies is a 1-minute, 40-second video presentation that includes his acceptance speech.
His memories of his very successful days as a Duke in 1982-85 (.336, 70 homers in 340 games) are fond, if faint.
“My wife and I loved, absolutely loved, Albuquerque when we were there. She could tell you what road our apartment was on, but I can’t.”
Bream does, however, recall vividly some relationships, both competitive and convivial. Brock was a teammate and, like Bream, a first baseman. Even as they competed for an organizational spot, they became lasting friends.
Bream’s first 66 games as a major leaguer were with the Dodgers, but they dealt him to Pittsburgh in 1985. He played six years with the Pirates, three with the Braves, and part of 1994 with Houston before retiring at age 33.
Bream also dabbled in TV and coaching with the Pirates, though he turned down a radio job this season with Pittsburgh that he figured would be way too many headaches “for $5,500.”
The Braves, for obvious reasons, also claim him as one of their most successful alumni. He’s involved in the offseason fantasy camps the organization puts on.
One caveat to all the camp-goers: Reality comes with the fantasy. Bream isn’t doing any sliding at home or any other base.
And on that point, he won’t give an inch, let alone four.
“I can hardly get to first base anymore,” he said with a laugh.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal