HomeTrending MLB NewsThe Marcell Miracle

The Marcell Miracle

With Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and Ronald Acuna, Jr. mired in month-long slumps, the Atlanta Braves needed to find an unlikely hero.

Marcell Ozuna is that guy.

The 33-year-old Dominican not only leads the National League in home runs (9) and runs batted in (31) through the first 27 games of the 2024 season but ranks first with a .650 slugging percentage. His .330 batting average and 1.056 OPS are also imposing statistics.

He hits the ball hard, hits it often, and hits it in clutch situations.

When he’s hot, he’s hot. During the virus-shortened season of 2020, Ozuna came thisclose to winning a Triple Crown – something no National Leaguer has done since Joe Medwick in 1937.

He not only hit a career-best .338 but led all NL hitters with 18 home runs, 56 runs batted in, and 145 total bases. Then came trouble.

In May of 2021, Ozuna foolishly made a head-first dive into third base at Fenway Park. His outstretched hand met the rock-hard shoes of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.

Ozuna came away with two fractured fingers.

Frustrated and angry, he got into a domestic dispute with wife Genesis in his Sandy Springs, GA home less than a week later. Cops allegedly caught him trying to choke her.

The original felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors after Ozuna agreed to counseling but Major League Baseball still slapped him with a 20-day suspension for violation of its Domestic Abuse rules.

Atlanta won the 2021 World Series – and the endless playoffs leading up to it – without him.

The Braves considering cutting ties with the temperamental slugger but couldn’t find a taker – not even when they offered Ozuna to Washington for struggling pitcher Patrick Corbin, whose contract was also considered an albatross.

Rather than eat what remained of the four-year, $65 million contract Ozuna signed after the 2020 campaign, the Braves decided to take a chance.

He made the team during 2022 spring training but seemed only a shadow of his former self, thanks to the physical and emotional trauma he suffered plus his lack of playing time.          

He hit 23 homers in 2022 but batted only .226 – only marginally better than his .213 mark of the year before. Again, rumors of release or trade surrounded Ozuna like a spring funnel cloud on the Oklahoma prairie.

Given yet another chance by perpetually patient Braves manager Brian Snitker, an organization man with four decades of allegiance to the organization, Ozuna found his old swing during 2023 spring training.

Miracles do happen in baseball. But they dissipate quickly too.

Once the bell rang, Ozuna plunged into the abyss of a deep slump. Unable to buy a hit, his batting average at the end of April was .085. And he didn’t even appear as a pinch-hitter during a May 1 double-header in New York.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, the slump was gone.

The 6-1, 225-pound right-handed hitter caught fire and stayed hot the rest of the way. When he homered in his final at-bat of the season, it gave him a career-high 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in and gave the Braves a trio of 40-homer men for the second time in their history.

Even during the bad times, however, Ozuna provided the Braves with the wisdom of his experience. His advice to Michael Harris II saved the defending NL Rookie of the Year from a sudden trip to the minors – despite a .163 batting average as late as June.

Once a regular outfielder, Ozuna never recovered from shoulder surgery and has been unable to throw during the rare days he’s stationed in left field. The Braves worked him out at first base this spring as a potential replacement for Matt Olson in the event of injury.

So far, however, Ozuna has been strictly a DH – someone who basically serves as a pinch-hitter four times a game. He seems comfortable in the fifth spot in the stacked lineup, following Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Olson.

He also seems comfortable with the immediate future, which is likely to contain activation of a club option that will pay him $16 million in 2025. That’s a bargain in the baseball economy these days.

“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Ozuna told inquiring reporters who asked whether he was negotiating a contract extension that would take him a few years beyond the one-year option.

Not all baseball fans are willing to forgive and forget, however. They still taunt the bearded man known to teammates as The Big Bear for his frequent congratulatory hugs.

The two-time All-Star can answer by leading the Braves to the World Series, a post-season event in which he has never appeared.

Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writer
Dan Schlossberg, Senior Writerhttps://mlbreport.com/
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a national baseball writer for forbes.com; weekend editor of the Here’s The Pitch newsletter; columnist for Sports Collectors Digest; and contributor to USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. He’s also the author of more than 40 books. His email is ballauthor@gmail.com.


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