Former Major League first baseman Fred McGriff is hoping that Cooperstown justice is served Sunday night. Affectionately known as the “Crime Dog” — a nickname given to him by ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman because of the similarity to McGruff, the original crime dog — McGriff hopes to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee.
The committee who determines McGriff’s fate includes seven Hall of Famers (Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell), six Major League executives (Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter and Ken Williams) and three media members (Steve Hirdt, LaVelle Neal and Susan Slusser).
A five-time All-Star, McGriff was a big-time run producer who won three Silver Slugger awards and had 10 seasons of 30 or more home runs. He is one of four Major Leaguers (along with Mark McGwire, Sam Crawford and Buck Freeman) to win the home run title in both leagues. He also finished in the top 5 in OPS for his league in seven consecutive seasons, from 1988-94.
McGriff played 19 years in the big leagues for six teams — the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays, Cubs and Dodgers– from 1986-2004, hitting .284 with 493 home runs and 1,550 RBIs. His career 52.6 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference, rank higher than Hall of Famers such as Ted Simmons (50.3), Orlando Cepeda (50.1) and Jim Rice (47.7).
“If you put McGriff’s numbers beside some of the other guys that are in the Hall of Fame, he comes out way ahead,” said former Astros scout Hank Allen.
McGriff also flourished in the postseason, mostly with the Braves. In 50 games, McGriff hit .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .917 OPS. Who can forget the 436-foot bomb he hit in Game 1 of the 1995 World Series against Cleveland right-hander Orel Hershiser?
“Look at this guy’s ability to be on the field. He was never on the disabled list until late in his career,” said former Major Leaguer Harold Reynolds, who is now an analyst for the MLB Network. “I mean, come on. That is outside of the power, clutch hitting and all that.
“I’ll tell you one story: In 1993, I’m with the Orioles and Fred ends up going to the Braves [during the middle of the season]. Everybody knew at the Trade Deadline, if [we] get Fred McGriff, [we] have a chance to go to the World Series. That’s how prominent he was. We’re on a plane about two weeks before the Trade Deadline and I’m sitting next to Frank Robinson [then an assistant general manager] and I say, ‘Frank, what are our chances to get Fred McGriff?’ Frank replied: ‘What’s a power hitter, Harold?’ I said, ‘I don’t know — a guy that hits home runs.’ Frank said, ‘No. When there is a runner on first base, he is in scoring position, not second — first. Fred McGriff drives guys in from first base.”
Former Braves teammate and FOX analyst John Smoltz does not get why McGriff isn’t already a Hall of Famer. McGriff had a chance to be voted in during his years of eligibility, but never received the 75 percent needed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The writers had chances to vote him in from 2010-19 and yet he received no more than 39.8 percent, which came during his final year of eligibility.
“I have never understood why his numbers — which [have] never been in question — have not gotten a boost,” Smoltz said via text message to MLB.com. “He has been the same hitter on every team he played with and in the same batting order mainly on every team.
“He was basically a prolific hitter, RBI guy and great teammate that played the game right and showed up every day to play. As a pitcher, you feared this guy in the lineup.”
It seems hard to believe that McGriff was selected by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 1981 MLB Draft. It was during the instructional league season that same year that then-Braves coach Cito Gaston first laid eyes on the left-handed-hitting slugger, who left quite an impression by hitting rockets over the fence.
“I’ve known Freddy since he was 19 years old,” Gaston said. “I saw him hit balls 500 feet and I gave Hank [Aaron, then the Braves’ scouting director] a call and told him, ‘If you have a chance to get him, get him.’ [Aaron] said, ‘OK.’”
A little over a year later, the Bronx Bombers gave McGriff away to the Blue Jays for infielder Tom Dodd and reliever Dale Murray. Dodd never played a Major League game for New York, while Murray was unproductive out of the bullpen in more than a year in the Bronx.
But Gaston would see McGriff again in 1986 when both were with the Major League club in Toronto. Gaston was the team’s hitting coach, while McGriff started displaying the same power Gaston saw in Bradenton, Fla.
McGriff emerged as one of the game’s top young hitters on some of the great Blue Jays clubs of the late 1980s, topping 30 home runs and a .900 OPS in each of his final three seasons with Toronto.
“He was one of the big guys that had good eyes,” Gaston recalled. “He didn’t swing at too many bad pitches. He was pretty amazing. He had a great arm at first base — great first baseman. I don’t understand why it’s taking him so long to get him into the Hall of Fame. … There are a lot of guys with less credentials than he has. Hopefully, he will go in this week.”
McGriff left Toronto after the 1990 season as part of a major trade that sent him to the Padres for outfielder Joe Carter and second baseman Roberto Alomar.
The trade propelled the Blue Jays to win two consecutive World Series titles. But McGriff carried on to become a Hall of Fame-quality player. He would eventually get his World Series ring with the Braves in 1995.
“The guy answered the bell. You look at his career and you see how many 100-RBI seasons that he had,” said Nationals broadcaster Charlie Slowes, who covered McGriff when both were with the Rays in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “Maybe he didn’t have a ton of 40-home run seasons, but he had a lot of 30-home run seasons. He was very consistent.”