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    Jeff Blauser


    Blauser had good power for a middle infielder, but shaky fielding often forced him to yield time at short to defensive specialists like Andres Thomas and Rafael Belliard in the late innings. Neverthless, the California native was a mainstay on the Braves' pennant-winning clubs of the 1990s, reaching double digits in home runs in seven of his nine full seasons with the team.

    Blauser was nearly left exposed by the Braves in the 1992 expansion draft (the club lost Vinny Castilla, Armando Reynoso and David Neid instead) but rewarded his club's confidence with a breakout season in 1993. Appearing in 161 games at short, he earned his first trip to the All-Star Game while hitting .305 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs. It marked the first time in his professional career that he had reached .300, becoming the first Braves shortstop to do so since Alvin Dark in 1948.

    Three seasons passed before Blauser made another All-Star appearance. During that time he struggled with injuries and faced the wrath of Braves fans, many of whom enunciated their disappointment with heckles from the stands. In 1995, Blauser hit .211 and was replaced on the World Series roster by Ed Giovanola as the Braves won their first championship since 1914. In 1996, he made 23 errors and spent nine weeks on the DL.

    But in 1997, Blauser won back the respect of Braves fans -- and an All-Star starting assignment at short. Healthy again, he set personal bests with a .308 average and 17 homers and led all NL shortstops with 70 runs batted in. Baseball Weekly, noting Blauser's rapid return to Atlanta's good graces, wrote that it seemed "as if he suddenly was cured of leprosy."

    Buoyed by his career year, Blauser signed a lucrative deal with the Chicago Cubs to replace Shawon Dunston as the club's everyday shortstop in 1998. But an elbow injury prevented Blauser from taking advantage of Wrigley Field's cozy dimensions, and the veteran shortstop, often booed by Cubs fans, finished his first season in the Windy City with a .219 average and just four home runs. Despite offseason surgery, Blauser again struggled with injuries in 1999 and was released in October. (JGR)

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