Primary Position: Center field
First, Middle Names: Otis Junior
Date of Birth: Jan. 9, 1959
Current Residence: Woodstock, Georgia
High School: West Columbus High School, Cerro Gordo, NC
College: Louisburg College, Louisburg, NC
Bats: Both Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-2, 180|
Debut Year: 1983 Final Year: 1999 Years Played: 17
Teams and Years: New York Yankees, 1983; Cleveland Indians, 1984-87; Montreal Expos, 1988-90; Atlanta Braves, 1991-93, 1999; Boston Red Sox, 1994; Texas Rangers, 1995; Toronto Blue Jays, 1996-97; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1997; Minnesota Twins, 1998
Awards/Honors: Tarheel Boys of Summer Top 100
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
1709 5115 1379 878 318 11 .270 .343 .327 +16.6
Otis Nixon stood at second base and basked in the moment. More than 27,000 people were on their feet in Fulton County Stadium on that steamy July night in Georgia in 1991, showering applause down on a man most had never heard of when he arrived in Atlanta just a few months earlier. The Braves then thought they had traded for a journeyman speedster who could steal a base and fill the occasional hole in the outfield. “The Braves might as well have traded for Richard,” a hometown sports columnist quipped, referring to the former president. “Neither had been able to hold a steady job in the big leagues.”[I]
Instead, the team and its fans got a wizard, a spinner of dreams. At second base, holding the bag high over his head, was the guy maybe most responsible for a remarkable season that had the basement Braves knocking on the penthouse door. Nixon had just stolen his 59th base, breaking a team season record that had been set in 1913, back in days of spitballs and Model Ts, back when the Braves were still in their ancestral Boston home. He led the National League in stolen bases and was third in hitting. More important, he was the ignitor atop a suddenly potent lineup that had powered the Braves to second place in their division, a mere four games off the pace. “Before the game I was thinking it would not be that big of a deal until several years down the road when I looked back on the moment, but it did feel really good when I did it,” Nixon said then of his record-breaking larceny. “Winning the division, though, is what’s really important.”[II]
The Braves did and went on to their first pennant in more than 30 years, but not before the other Otis Nixon showed up, the one who would burn through four marriages and whose drug use would grab headlines. The struggle between talent and temptation would mark Nixon’s career. Suspended by the baseball commissioner in September for twice testing positive for cocaine, he sat with strangers in a rehab center and watched his teammates in the World Series.
Nixon played for 17 years in the majors – only four North Carolinians have played longer — but those three seasons in Atlanta in the early 1990s were his best. The man who had been used mainly for his legs established himself as an everyday player. He hit close to .300 during that span, stole bases with abandon, and roamed the outfield with aplomb. His leaping catch in 1992 to rob the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andy Van Slyke of a home run became a signature moment in the history of a franchise that would dominate the decade.
Nixon retired at age 40 as the most prolific base stealer North Carolina has ever produced. His 620 career stolen bases are almost triple the total of the second-place finisher, Brian Roberts. He is among the top 20 in six other offensive categories and ranks 40th in the Tarheel Boys of Summer Top 100.