Dog’s Days

Hard-working McGriff returns to Hall of Fame ballot

December 19, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Fred McGriff (Mike Rucki/NBHOF Library)

Fred McGriff was cut from his high school baseball team as a sophomore – and became so determined to improve he road his bike 20 miles to the gym to train.

All that hard work paid off.

McGriff, who played 19 major league seasons with the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers, is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. McGriff returns to the ballot for the fourth time after receiving 23.9 percent of the vote in 2012.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives votes on at least 75 percent of all BBWAA ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born on Oct. 31, 1963 in Tampa, Fla., the tall, lanky McGriff – nicknamed the “Crime Dog” in honor of his surname’s similarity to the children’s character “McGruff” – was drafted in the ninth round of the 1981 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. The following year he was traded to the Blue Jays and began playing full-time at the major league level in 1987.

In his second full season, he hit 34 homers, the first of seven consecutive seasons with 30 or more, a feat he accomplished 10 times. The following season he finished sixth in MVP voting and took home his first of three Silver Slugger Awards at first base. His 36 home runs led the league.

“When he comes up, we hold our breath,” said then-Rangers manager Bobby Valentine.

In 1990, McGriff finished 10th in MVP voting – and after the season was traded to the San Diego Padres with Tony Fernandez in exchange for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. In his two full seasons with the Padres, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice, earned another Silver Slugger Award and made his first All-Star Game appearance. In 1992, he led the league in homers with 35, making him the first player since the dead-ball era to lead both leagues in home runs.

“He has outstanding bat speed,” said former Padres manager Greg Riddoch. “When that ball jumps off his bat to left-center field, it’s like a shot out of a cannon.”

In 1993, McGriff was traded to the Braves. He went on an offensive tear over the second half of the season to rally the Braves to the division title. He finished fourth in MVP voting that season and won his third Silver Slugger Award.

In 1994, McGriff was named MVP of the All-Star Game and finished second in the Home Run Derby to Ken Griffey Jr. He was hitting .318 with 34 home runs before the strike ended the season. The next year, McGriff has another quality season – 27 home runs, 93 RBI – hitting cleanup for the Braves and hit two home runs to help Atlanta win the World Series title.

A quiet leader in the clubhouse, McGriff was known for his positive attitude and love of the game.

“McGriff’s smile lights up a room,” said Riddoch.

In 1998, McGriff was picked up by the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he stayed productive for four seasons before ending his career with stops with the Cubs, Dodgers and eventually back with the Devil Rays.

McGriff finished his career just seven homers short of the 500 home run club, tied with Lou Gehrig for 26th all-time. He had a career .284 batting average, 2,490 hits, 441 doubles and 1,550 RBI. He and Gary Sheffield are the only players to hit 30 home runs for five different major league teams.

In 10 postseason series, he batted .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 100 total bases. He was named to five All-Star Games, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times and ranks 42nd all-time in RBI.

“He had a marvelous career,” said former Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella. “He’s a classy person. He’s been a dominant player at his position for years. He played on a world championship team. If I had a [Hall of Fame] vote, I’d vote for him.”

Samantha Carr is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.