November 30, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Coooperstowners in Canada
It’s a felony that the “Crime Dog” isn’t already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
At least that’s what Fred McGriff’s strongest supporters believe.
And you can count John Tuberty in that group.
McGriff was the inspiration behind his blog, Tubbs Baseball Blog, that he started more than a decade ago to make cases for players who have been overlooked in the voting by baseball writers.
“Fred McGriff was the first candidate I really focused on,” said Tuberty. “McGriff was a consistent and durable player that hit 30 or more home runs in 10 different seasons. Plus, he’s one of the few sluggers to lead both leagues in long balls . . . I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
Many baseball fans – myself included – agree.
Somehow, McGriff, who belted 493 home runs – the 29th most in major league history – endured 10 years on the baseball writers’ ballot without garnering more than 39.8 per cent support (75 per cent is required for election).
“I think to some degree with McGriff, a lot of people saw the home runs first,” said Tuberty. “I think some of the guys that we saw push their way through and get elected like Edgar Martinez or Larry Walker, they weren’t necessarily just looked at as home run hitters.
“Larry Walker was looked at as a five-tool player and Edgar Martinez was looked at as a professional hitter that defined the DH role better than anybody in his time period . . . With McGriff they were looking at the home runs and then they were looking at the guys that played during his era that have more home runs that were tarnished [by performance enhancing drug (PED) use] and he just never really took off on the ballot . . . He just didn’t get a band of people behind him that were loudly supporting him.”
Fortunately for McGriff, he is getting another chance at a plaque in Cooperstown. He is one of eight candidates being considered by the Hall’s Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee that will assemble this Sunday. This committee was designed to re-examine the cases of non-elected elite players who have had their most significant career impact since 1980 and have been retired for at least 15 seasons.
Of those candidates, three – Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro – have been linked to PEDs. Belle was caught using a corked bat and Schilling just can’t seem to stop offending people with his controversial views.
The Hall recently announced the 16 members that will be voting on the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee. Seven of the committee members – Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell – are former players. Four of those players – Morris, Sandberg, Smith and Trammell – played almost exclusively in the pre-steroid era, while Thomas was the only player that agreed to be interviewed for The Mitchell Report. The other nine committee members are current and former executives (including ex-Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston), baseball writers and historians.
A player will have to secure 12 of 16 votes from the committee members to be inducted. McGriff played with Jones and Maddux on the 1995 Atlanta Braves World Series team and suited up for Beeston when the Welland, Ont., native was leading the Blue Jays’ front office.
It’s hard for me to believe that the four players from the pre-steroid era and Thomas will vote for Bonds, Clemens or Palmeiro, and Belle and Schilling are so polarizing that it’s hard to imagine them garnering a 12-vote consensus.
So, in my opinion (and I’m likely wrong), that leaves Mattingly, McGriff and Murphy, and while an argument could be made that Mattingly and Murphy had more impressive career peaks, McGriff was better for longer, and his overall numbers are superior.
“I think a lot of people point to McGriff’s 493 home runs and how he didn’t get to 500,” said Tuberty. “But if hadn’t been for the baseball strike that wiped out 18 games at the start of the 1995 season and the last 45 to 50 games in 1994, he would’ve cleared 500 home runs.
“And also a secondary milestone that a lot of people don’t notice is he retired with 2,490 hits, so he was 10 shy of 2,500 hits,” added Tuberty. “So, if you give him 2,500 hits plus 500 home runs and you combine that with his 1,550 RBIs and his batting average was a solid .284 and his on-base percentage was even more impressive at .377 . . . those are great stats right there. They put him in line with many Hall of Famers.”
Born in Tampa, Fla., on October 31, 1963, McGriff wasn’t exactly a blue-chip prospect out of high school. The New York Yankees selected him in the ninth round in the 1981 draft.
On December 9, 1982, in one of legendary Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick’s most astute trades, he managed to pry McGriff, along with outfielder Dave Collins, right-hander Mike Morgan and cash away from the New York Yankees for reliever Dale Murray and third baseman Tom Dodd.
McGriff then rose through the ranks in the Blue Jays’ organization and made his big league debut in 1986. He had his first 20-home run season the following year and then proceeded to have seven consecutive 30-home run seasons from 1988 to 1994.
“McGriff hit the most home runs [in the majors] in a five-year period between 1988 and 1992,” noted Tuberty. “And a lot of people don’t remember that that was a more pitcher-friendly era, right before the home run totals started to take off in the mid-90s.”
From there, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound first baseman continued to be a power threat for the Padres, Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. In his 19 major league seasons, he had 10, 30-home runs campaigns, but never clubbed more than 37 in a season. He also registered 90 or more RBIs in 12 seasons.
Unfortunately, consistency isn’t sexy and his home run numbers were dwarfed by PEDs users. And while he did win three Silver Slugger awards and was selected to five All-Star Games, the lack of hardware on his resume has hurt him. He never won an MVP award, despite finishing in the top 10 in the voting four times.
And the fact that he played for six teams in his career hasn’t helped.
“I think Larry Walker got a lot of momentum because he had the Rockies fanbase behind him and Edgar Martinez was a Mariner his whole career. McGriff moved around, but it’s important to note that he was always somebody that was traded for,” said Tuberty. “It wasn’t like he moved around as a free agent or was released, teams traded for him to make their team better . . . But I think it does hurt him that he doesn’t have one franchise that he is associated with.”
But let’s stop dwelling on why McGriff hasn’t already been elected and focus on why he should be elected on Sunday.
On top of what has already been discussed, here’s a list of credentials that supports McGriff’s Hall of Fame case:
- Bob Nightengale, of USA Today, points out that until 2000 (around the beginning of the steroid era), there were only 16 players whose career totals exceeded McGriff’s 2,490 hits, 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs and 1,305 walks. All 16 of those players have been elected to the Hall of Fame.
- McGriff ranks 29th on Major League Baseball’s all-time home run list. There are only eight players ahead of him that are not in the Hall of Fame. Two of them – Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera – are not yet eligible, while the five others – Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield – have been linked to PEDs.
- McGriff was enjoying his best offensive season in 1994 and had 34 home runs by August 12 when the strike wiped out the rest of the season. He could’ve played 48 more games that season and likely would’ve hit at least seven homers, which would’ve given him 500 in his career.
- His 242 home runs in a seven-season stretch from 1988 to 1994 were the most in the majors, according to Jay Jaffe in his 2017 book, The Cooperstown Casebook.
- He led the American League in home runs in 1989 (36 with the Blue Jays) and the National League in 1992 (35 with the Padres) to become the first player to lead the American League and National League in home runs since the Deadball Era, according to Jaffe.
- For the 15-season stretch from 1988 to 2002, according to Nightengale, only two players – Bonds and Palmeiro – had more home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits.
- For the 17-season stretch from 1987 to 2003, he hit 491 home runs, which was fifth among major leaguers, according to Chris Bodig, of the Cooperstown Cred blog. The four players he trailed – Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro – have all been linked to PEDs.
- McGriff and Sheffield are the only two players to hit 30 or more home runs for five different teams.
- Of the six most “Similar Batters” to McGriff on Baseball Reference, five – Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Jeff Bagwell, David Ortiz and Thomas – have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The only one that hasn’t been inducted is Paul Konerko.
- David Ortiz had a career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 55.3. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the baseball writers’ ballot. McGriff’s career WAR is 52.6.
- As Tom Verducci has pointed out, McGriff had a career OPS+ of 134. First ballot Hall of Famers that have a lower career OPS+ than McGriff include Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski.
- McGriff was also outstanding in the posteason. He batted .303 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 50 games. He helped lead the Braves to a championship in 1995. During that postseason, he belted four home runs and had a .649 slugging percentage.
- The MLB Network has shown that McGriff’s stats through age 30 are very comparable to Barry Bonds’ stats through age 30. See chart below:
Photo: MLB Network