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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case for Fred McGriff

Voting for the 2019 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is due shortly. As always, there will be much debate over who should and shouldn’t get in, and a wheelbarrow load of whys. Contributing to this muck and mire is the following discussion of a player who is sure to get some votes, but equally certain to not receive nearly enough to reach enshrinement status—but deserves much more consideration. That player is former first baseman Fred McGriff.

The Crime Dog had an exemplary 19-year (1986-2004) major league career with six different teams. During that time he hit .284 with 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs and 2,490 base hits. He has a career WAR of 52.6, although that number is negatively impacted by his not so stellar work with the glove, which resulted in a -17.3 dWAR according to Baseball With his top-two career comparisons being Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, he is in great company with an impressive resume. However, about to be on the ballot for a 10th year, he has consistently polled low, always receiving between 11.7 and 23.9 percent of the votes the previous nine years (including 21.5% in 2018).

Upon taking a closer look it appears that McGriff has been victimized by having a resume that is every bit as good as a Hall of Famer’s should be, but one that is not as straightforward as many like to see when considering their candidates.

McGriff has all the numbers, yet is at the same time being downgraded because of them. Statistically, he is a top-100 player of all time in just about every important offensive category. With 323 people having been previously inducted into the Hall of Fame, one would think that makes him a very strong candidate. However he fell just short of the magical 500 home run threshold; didn’t reach 3,000 hits (fell just shy of 2,500); and only led the league in a major statistical category twice (home runs in 1989 and 1992).

He was also “only” a six-time All Star and never won any major awards (Save the 1994 All Star MVP). However, he had six top-10 MVP finishes, including four times when he didn’t even make the All Star team those years.

McGriff was remarkably consistent with no major outlier seasons. Between 1987 and 2002, during which time he was a regular player, with the exception of two years his OPS+ was between 119 and 165. At a time that is widely considered to be a golden age for first basemen, he was often lost in the pack because his calling card was being consistently very, very good for a long period of time and not occasionally the best.

The nomadic nature of his career has also almost certainly contributed to his lack of Hall of Fame support. He moved around quite a bit for a player of his caliber and toiled for the majority of his career for smaller market teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His biggest star turn came in 1993-1997 where he starred for the Atlanta Braves, who won their division each year with him anchoring their offense. He never stayed more than five years with any one team (five-year stints with both the Blue Jays and Braves) and was not consistently on the main stage for much of his career, like so many others with Cooperstown aspirations.

Although it is not often mentioned, he actually raised his game in the playoffs. His teams made five post seasons, including two World Series appearances (one win with the 1995 Braves), during which time he hit .303 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 50 postseason games.

Advanced metrics say McGriff wasn’t a gifted or nimble fielder, but the counting stats show him top-12 all time in assists, putouts and double plays turned. Defense may not be an element that can be used as a proactive argument for his Hall of Fame case, but neither is it something that should demonstrably detract from his body of work.

The Hall of Fame’s mission statement says in part that it is “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.” McGriff may not have the slam dunk case some like to see. However, his body of work is impressive and he displayed a level of consistent excellence over an extended period of time during his career. Not only does he deserve more consideration on the ballot than he has received, he flat out deserves enshrinement. 2019 may not be his year, but hopefully a groundswell will eventually push him towards this honor, which he earned.

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