Exuberant McGriff meets the media as Hall of Famer

Written by: Bill Francis

One day after newly elected Hall of Famer Fred McGriff received the career-affirming news that placed him in that small Cooperstown fraternity among the greats of the game, the longtime slugger shared his thoughts on his whirlwind 24 hours.

The election of McGriff — the first member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2023 — brings the total to 341 members of the Cooperstown shrine. The Contemporary Baseball Era Committee considered players whose most significant career impact was realized from 1980 through the present.

The lanky first baseman with almost 500 career home runs was among the eight former big league players that comprised the Contemporary Baseball Era players ballot that was voted upon at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego on Dec. 4. The 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Committee elected McGriff unanimously, the only candidate to reach the 75 percent threshold needed. McGriff becomes the second player ever to earn unanimous election via the era committee process.

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McGriff, nicknamed “Crime Dog” after the cartoon public service bloodhound McGruff the Crime Dog, will be joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 by any electees who emerge from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting, which will be announced on Jan. 24. The 2023 Induction Weekend is scheduled for July 21-24, with the Induction Ceremony on July 23.

At a Dec. 5 press conference in San Diego, the dais included Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch and McGriff.

Early in the press conference, McGriff was presented with the uniform of his new team, which included a dark blue cap sporting the Hall of Fame logo as well as a white jersey with “Hall of Fame” emblazoned across the front in red script.

“He now joins the Baseball Hall of Fame team and our class of 2023. Congratulations, Fred,” Clark said after reciting a list of his accomplishments.

McGriff played on six big league teams, but his seventh is star-studded.

“This is a dream right now. When I first played that one day in the big leagues that was my goal but to sit here is just such a great honor,” an overjoyed McGriff told the media in his opening remarks. “This is just awesome, beautiful day and it's time to just enjoy myself.

“This isn’t my Tom Emanski hat but it’s a whole lot better,” he joked, referring to the now famous defensive drills video he championed in the early 1990s that was sold on television for decades.

McGriff, 59, began his major league career in 1986 and went on to play 19 seasons, including five with the Blue Jays, Braves and Devil Rays, three with the Padres, two with the Cubs and one with the Dodgers. The owner of a career .284 batting average, the lefty-swinger also totaled 493 home runs — which ties with Lou Gehrig on the all-time list for 29th place — and 1,550 RBI in 2,460 games.

“It’s Crime Dog’s time,” said a laughing McGriff when asked about being the only electee named by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee.

“In ’95 to finally win it was the ultimate. I tell people all the time, Bobby Cox was a great man, he was the leader. He kept everybody together. And just a good bunch of guys from Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and Mark Lemke, you go down the list, David Justice, just good people. Forget about their play on the field, they were just good people. So it's a great honor to be in Hall of Fame with those guys.”

McGriff, a five-time All-Star, won the Silver Slugger Award for first basemen three times and hit 30 or more home runs 10 times. In 1995, helped lead the Braves to their first world championship in Atlanta. In 10 postseason series, he batted .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 100 total bases.

Asked what the previous day was like when he eventually got the call that would change his baseball standing, McGriff said he just tried to keep his usual routine.

“For the last month or so, once the ballot came out, you know, you start counting down the days. ‘OK, it's Nov. 15. Now we got so many more days.’ Every scenario is playing in your head. Like, okay, what's going to happen in this situation, who's voting? Have they already voted? You’re going through all these scenarios and not much sleep,” McGriff said. “Yesterday I just got up and I walked around the neighborhood just to try and get my mind right.

“And it's fantasy football so you got to watch football on Sunday. And I went to church. You just try to keep everything normal and just go about my routine and just let's see how it plays out.”

The 1994 All-Star Game MVP was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs for five different teams. In 1992, he became just the third player to lead the American League and National League in home runs.

McGriff was coy when one reporter asked him about the logo that will eventually be seen on his Hall of Fame plaque.

“Like we haven't quite had that discussion,” McGriff said with a grin. “We will. We're working on some things. Stay tuned in the future. We will let you know.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound McGriff reached the 100-RBI milestone eight times, led his league in homers twice, and six years finished in the Top 10 of his league’s MVP voting.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum