For those requiring further evidence that Pat Gillick is a Hall of Fame general manager, I present the following transaction. On December 9, 1982, Gillick, while acting as the Jays GM, shipped pitcher Dale Murray and infielder Tom Dodd to the Yankees for Dave Collins (who would hit .308 and steal 60 bases for Toronto in 1984), pitcher Mike Morgan and a young prospect named Fred McGriff.
It was arguably the most lopsided deal in Blue Jays history. After three seasons in the minors, the tall, slender McGriff made his big league debut on May 17, 1986. In the five seasons that followed, the “Crime Dog” would belt 125 homers and record a .389 on-base percentage for the Jays, before being dealt to San Diego with Tony Fernandez in the blockbuster that brought Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to Hogtown.
Steady and soft-spoken, McGriff would play 19 seasons in the big leagues with the Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays, Cubs and Dodgers. The 6-foot-3 first baseman quietly socked 493 home runs, a total that ties him with Lou Gehrig for 26th on the all-time list, ahead of Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Willie Stargell, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken Jr., Billy Williams and Duke Snider. McGriff also recorded 1,550 RBIs, placing him 41st all-time. Behind him on that list are Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews and Yogi Berra.
But despite these impressive stats, McGriff was listed on only 21.5% of baseball writers’ ballots in the 2010 Hall of Fame voting, his first year of eligibility. The knock against the “Crime Dog” is that, while always a very good player, he was never a truly elite player. Though he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times, the reliable slugger never won the award. McGriff’s Hall of Fame chances are also hindered by the fact that he was never considered the top first baseman at any point during his career. When people discuss the best first basemen of the ’90s, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas are often mentioned before McGriff.
Of course, two of the aforementioned “elite” first baseman are now linked to steroids. And unfortunately, McGriff’s Hall of Fame chances are hurt by the fact that he played in an era with these players. McGriff has said that he has never seen a performance-enhancing drug, let alone used one, and the fact that his body type didn’t change throughout his career gives us little reason to doubt him.
The problem with playing in the steroid era, however, is that McGriff’s consistent 30-home run seasons seemed unremarkable compared to the 50-, 60- and even 70-home run seasons registered by bulked up sluggers. But knowing what we know now, McGriff’s numbers should be appreciated more.
Of course, with 493 homers, McGriff’s Hall of Fame case is also hindered by the fact that he’s just shy of the magical 500-home run milestone, that until recently warranted automatic Hall of Fame induction. With all of this said, McGriff should one day have a plaque in Cooperstown and here are the most compelling reasons why:
McGriff belted 493 career home runs (26th on all-time list) and 1,550 RBIs (41st on all-time list).
In 19 big seasons, McGriff posted 10, 30-home run seasons and 15, 20-home run seasons.
According to St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton, if you remove the players linked to steroids (Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro), McGriff was second in the big leagues in home runs, first in RBIs, third in hits and first in extra bases during a 15-year stretch from 1988 to 2002.
McGriff hasn’t been linked to steroids and maintained the same body type throughout his career.
On Fred McGriff’s Baseball Reference page, the list of batters most similar to him includes Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and Eddie Mathews.
During the most dominant stretch of his career from 1988 to 1994, McGriff record a .935 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage). This was third best in the major leagues during that period, behind only Frank Thomas (1,040 OPS) and Barry Bonds (.967 OPS).
According to Baseball Reference, McGriff’s average season statistics (.284, 32 home runs and 102 RBIs) are equal to, if not better than, those of first ballot Cooperstowners Eddie Murray (.287, 27, 103) and Willie McCovey (.270, 33, 97).
Eddie Murray required 3,026 games to hit 504 homers. In 566 fewer games, McGriff hit 493 homers.
In recent history, two of McGriff’s contemporaries – Jim Rice and Andre Dawson – have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. McGriff’s career stats are superior to theirs.
McGriff won a World Series ring with the Atlanta Braves in 1995. In 50 career post-season games, he hit .303 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs.