Shortly after John Schuerholz took over the Braves, two things became obvious. The Braves had some good pitching, but as Leo Mazzone said, they “had no one to catch the ball.” The most used infield used by the Braves in 1990 had David Justice at first base, Jeff Treadway at second, Jeff Blauser and Andres Thomas splitting time at short, and Jim Presley playing third. If you combine those five, we’re talking about 76 of Atlanta’s NL-high 158 errors. To be fair, Justice was just playing first to stay in the lineup because of a crowded outfield, but with a young rotation ready to burst onto the scene, having an infield that kicked the ball around more than the US Women’s Soccer team was not a recipe for success.
This is why in a two-week period in December, the Braves added three players known for being good defenders. Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton would man the corners while Rafael Belliard was brought in from the Pirates to continue to what Raffy did – play solid defense.
Pacman had played parts of four seasons before becoming a regular fixture on the bench for the Pirates between 1986 and 1990. He hit just .218 as a Pirate with 1 HR, but was known far more for his defense. His first year in Atlanta was actually his finest season with the bat, though he slashed just .249/.296/.286. Bobby Cox liked him better at shortstop over Blauser, who was the better hitter. It wasn’t until 1993 that Blauser once again became a regular for the Braves because Cox valued Belliard’s defense so highly.
After 700 PA in his first two years with Atlanta, Belliard would play into 1998, but was not used nearly as much. He picked up an RBI on a squeeze bunt in the 1995 World Series and even went 4-for-6 in Atlanta’s come-from-behind win in the 96 NLCS against the Cards, but Belliard never batted again in the postseason. His last big moment came in 1997 when he hit his second of two career homeruns in Shea Stadium. The pitcher that day, Brian Bohanon, was drafted two months after Belliard’s first homer in 1987.
After an injury-shortened 1998, Belliard would play briefly in the Northern League with the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs. He would become a roving minor league coordinator for the Braves before a long stint on the Tigers bench as a coach. He most recently served as a Royals minor league coordinator.