It’s nicknamed Hotlanta. On the night of July 20, 1993, the city of Atlanta lived up to its nickname when a massive blaze broke out in Fulton County Stadium, home of the Atlanta Braves, and caused more than $1.5 million in damage. Here’s a look back at one of the most bizarre moments in MLB history.
Fred McGriff joins the Atlanta Braves
After making back-to-back World Series appearances in 1991 and 1992, many throughout baseball thought the Atlanta Braves would again contend for the World Series in 1993. When Atlanta hosted the St. Louis Cardinals on July 20, 1993, the home team held a 53-41 record and had gone 6-4 in its previous 10 games.
That night the Atlanta Braves were hoping for increased offensive production with the welcomed addition to the lineup in the form of slugging first baseman Fred McGriff, who had been acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade for three minor league players. McGriff joined the Braves after hitting .275 in 83 games for the Padres that included 18 home runs and 46 RBIs.
“Maybe Fred will be the spark,” Braves second baseman Mark Lemke told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when the trade was made.
McGriff arrived in Atlanta just a few hours before the first pitch and was still meeting his new teammates in the clubhouse when there was a buzz of activity in the clubhouse and throughout the stadium. The stadium was on fire.
Huge blaze breaks out in Fulton County Stadium
Up in a club-level suite near the press box, a can of Sterno, which are the small metal cans used to heat catered food, overturned and set off a fire in the unattended suite. Within minutes the fire had rapidly spread and engulfed the Atlanta Braves’ radio broadcast booth and five other booths nearby.
As fire trucks made their way on to the field to battle the blaze, a loud explosion rocked the stadium with flaming debris dropping into the lower-level seats below. Atlanta Braves and Cardinals players, who were standing on the field near the batting cage watching in disbelief, soon retreated to the outfield and a safer distance away from the expanding flames.
Cardinals manager Joe Torre, like everyone else there that day, was stunned to see the bizarre scene play out.
“I kept looking at the fire and at (David) Justice in the batting cage,” Torre told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a strange scene. And then all of a sudden you heard this noise. Glass was flying. The only thing I’ve seen like this before was when I was at the (1989) World Series earthquake in San Francisco.”
More than 40 firefighters battled the four-alarm blaze for almost an hour, eventually extinguishing it at the time of the originally scheduled first pitch. Damage to the stadium was estimated at $1.5 million.
The Atlanta Braves get hot for the rest of the season
The game did finally get underway at 9:40 p.m. Reporters worked from seats in the stands and the TBS broadcast team called the game from a table set up in the club level between home plate and first base.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but the Braves roared back in the bottom of the sixth with McGriff hitting a two-run blast to tie the game. The Atlanta Braves went on to win the game 8-5.
Interestingly, that game actually did serve as a spark for the Braves who proceeded to win eight of their next nine games and 38 of their next 49 to overcome a nine-game deficit in the standings. They finished the season with a 104-58 record and won the division by a single game over the San Francisco Giants. McGriff was a big part of the team’s success hitting .310 with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs in 68 games after he arrived in Atlanta.
The record books will show the Braves finished in first in the NL West, made the playoffs, and lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series in 1993. What history won’t show is how it all happened. How the Braves struggled for much of the season and then on a hot July night caught fire the same night their stadium caught fire.