Ron Gant became the Atlanta Braves starting second baseman at the tender age of 23 in 1988, replacing Damaso Garcia only two weeks into the season. He enjoyed a solid year at the plate, leading all rookies in homers (19) and RBI (60) while batting .259. In the field, however, Gant was dreadful, letting ground ball after ground ball scoot through his legs as he led NL second baseman with 26 errors. The Braves shifted Gant to third base late in 1988, but it did little good, and he began the 1989 season in an awful batting slump, hitting below .200 into June. He was then sent down to the low minors to learn to play the outfield.
That offseason, Gant began working out extensively, adding 20 pounds of muscle to his body. The results were immediate. He joined Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith in the outfield the following year, replacing Oddibe McDowell. Gant ended up batting .303, with 32 dingers and 33 steals in 1990.
The next year, Gant became the third player in history to have back-to-back 30-30 seasons, joining Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds in the elite club. He was also among the league leaders in dingers, doubles, RBIs, runs, and stolen bases, powering the Braves to their first division title — and World Series — in years. Though they would eventually lose to the Minnesota Twins in one of the finest Series ever played, Atlanta was first in the National League, and had Gant to thank for much of it. However, in a grim omen of things to come, Gant tallied 104 strikeouts as his batting average dropped 52 points to .251.
In 1992, Gant saw a severe decrease across the board in all of his offensive categories. His lack of production became most apparent during the dog days of summer, when he went homerless from June 17 to July 20. But Gant returned with a flourish in 1993, slugging 36 homers and 117 RBIs, though he missed the 30-30 club by just four stolen bases. In February 1994, the outfielder broke his right leg in a motorcycle accident, and when spring training rolled around, the Braves cut him to avoid paying his multi-million dollar salary.
Indeed, Gant would not return that year, but in June, Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden decided to take a chance on the unemployed and injured slugger, signing him for the 1995 season. The gamble paid off, as Gant bounced back from his year off to bat .276 with 29 homers and 88 ribbies, earning him an All-Star selection and NL Comeback Player of the Year honors from The Sporting News.
Despite the Reds’ pleas for him to stick around, Gant signed a five-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason. But in St. Louis, Gant began to earn a reputation as an all-or-nothing ballplayer, knocking homers or whiffing big. In 1997, he hit .229, striking out 162 times in 502 at-bats.
Gant’s low batting averages couldn’t make up for his power, and in November 1998 the Cards sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies with Jeff Brantley and Cliff Politte for Ricky Bottalico and Garrett Stephenson. Despite the change of scenery, Gant batted .260 with just 17 homers for the Phils in 1999.
With his once-feared power a fading memory, Gant struggled mightily to earn a regular spot in a major-league outfield. He was dealt to the Anaheim Angels for Kent Bottenfield in July 2000, but was soon released and finished the season with the Colorado Rockies, where he provided one of the few highlights of a lackluster season by socking the 1,500th hit of his career. (Coincidentally, it was also the 1,500th homer in Rockies franchise history.) Gant moved again in July 2001 when the Oakland A’s acquired him to bolster their bench.