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We Are Family
Leigh Montville
September 28, 1992
Marquis Grissom, baseball's top base stealer, grew up with 14 siblings. Now he's a big part of another happy clan, the fast-improving Expos
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September 28, 1992

We Are Family

Marquis Grissom, baseball's top base stealer, grew up with 14 siblings. Now he's a big part of another happy clan, the fast-improving Expos

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"Michael. That's eight. That's the boys. Now the girls. Ernestine, Barbara, Elizabeth. Shirley, Dorothy, Delores, Mary. Is that seven?"

"Seven."

"That's it. Fifteen kids in my family. Sixteen, if you count one child who died at the beginning. I usually don't. Seven brothers, seven sisters and me."

(He is 25 years old and plays centerfield for the Montreal Expos, a surprisingly good young player on a surprisingly good young team, a new story on a new contender. The air surrounding this part of the pennant race has no complications. Simply breathe and play. No contract squabbles. No inflated egos. Everything is fresh, different. Grissom is leading the major leagues in stolen bases for the second straight year, with 73 as of Sunday. The Expos split a two-game midweek series in Pittsburgh and at week's end were just six games behind the Pirates in the National League East.)

"The house was in Red Oak, Georgia, just five minutes from the Atlanta airport," says Marquis (pronounced Mar-KEESE) Grissom. "We weren't well off. We weren't even average. But we always had food. We always had clean clothes. And my mother never let us leave home without a little money in our pockets, just in case we needed to buy something while we were out."

"Where were you in the family?"

"I was next to last. My brother Antonio was three years younger than me. I have a brother who is 44 years old, old enough to be my father. My father worked at the Ford plant. On the assembly line. Twenty-seven years. My mother was home, taking care of everyone, so busy she never even saw television. She always was busy. We had a garden in the back for vegetables. We sometimes had pigs for pork."

"It was a big house?"

"My father built our house. He had some help from some of my older brothers. Even some of my sisters. Seven rooms. I mostly was with Antonio, sharing a room. We had three bathrooms, but we could have used more, that's for sure. But by the time I was in school, a lot of the kids had grown and moved out. There were only four or five kids left by the time I went to high school. The whole family would be together, though, every Sunday. Everyone would come to my folks' house. That's still the way it is. Everyone goes to the house. I have 31 nieces and nephews."

(The new story is so often the nice story: the happy rise to success, the voyage from a vague and unheralded nowhere to this sudden somewhere in the spotlight. The Expos are this kind of story, generally picked to finish last in their division, definitely underfinanced and supposedly undermanned. Grissom is this kind of story, rushing through the Expos' minor league system in two years, now in his third season in the majors. He is a blocky little guy at 5'11", 190 pounds, a compact bullet, a lead character in a low-budget production that is bringing in big returns. He is hitting .282, with 14 home runs. He looks as if he is going to be a star.)

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