Fred McGriff – Hall Bound?
Before researching and writing this article the last thing I can remember about Fred McGriff is his endorsement of Tom Emansky’s Instructional Baseball videos that were good enough to win “back to back to back” national championships. I remember him first playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that a few years later would beat my beloved Phillies in the World Series with a Joe Carter walk off home run. And, I remember him playing for the Atlanta Braves, a team that would haunt the Phillies for 14 consecutive seasons in the 90’s into our current decade. It would not be until I finished this blog that I would believe that Fred McGriff, the Crime Dog, is Hall of Fame worty.
What makes a Hall of Fame player a Hall of Fame player? Is it 500 home runs and 3,000 hits? Is it 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts? Do we compare a candidate against current players or current Hall of Famers? Do we look at rate stats, current stats, how one performs in clutch situations, or if a player was dominant over an extended period of time? There is no easy answer so how about we look at all of them.
McGriff would hit 30 or more home runs ten times in his career, including seven consecutive seasons. He would add eight seasons with 100 runs batted in. Selected for five All-Star Games, McGriff would win the All-Star Game MVP award in 1994 with a 2-run home run in the bottom of 9th that would tie the game and send it into extra innings. He would retire with three Silver Slugger awards and six top-10 finishes in MVP voting. He also was first player to ever lead both the American League and National League in home runs.
We can simply look in admiration at his stats between 1988 and 1994 as an extended period of dominance. In those years he would lead the league in home runs twice collecting 3 silver sluggers. He would finish top 5 in on base percentage 4 times and slugging percentage 5 times. He would finish top home runs each season and runs batted in 5 times. He would also finish top 10 in runs scored 5 times and top 6 in total bases 6 times. And much to my surprise, Fred McGriff would accumulate the third highest OPS among all major leaguers, behind only Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas.
It is difficult to look back now and see where he ranks atop certain all time leader boards as this generation has seen a cataclysmic evolution in output in virtually all offensive categories but upon his retirement in 2004, his statistics warranted reverence:
As per his comparison with the current Hall of Fame 1st baseman, McGriff ranks in the top ten in games played, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs and runs batted in. And at the time of his retirement of the 24 players ahead of McGriff on the all-time home list, all were either in the Hall of Fame or likely will be, other than a handful whose Cooperstown worthiness has been called into question because of alleged performing-enhancing drug use.
According to BaseballReference.com, McGriff’s career most resembles those of Stargell and Willie McCovey, both of whom were enshrined in their first year of eligibility. Here’s a look at their stats:
Many McGriff adversaries argue that he played in an era that featured several better first basemen including Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, and Mark McGwire. However, only he and Mark McGwire can sport a World Series ring. Neither Thomas nor Palmeiro ever even got the chance to play for a ring. Thome failed in two attempts and Bagwell failed in one. Take a look at these numbers.
.226/.364/.321 Jeff Bagwell
.222/.321/.488 Jim Thome
.217/.320/.349 Mark McGwire
.224/.441/.429 Frank Thomas
.244/.308/.451 Rafael Palmeiro
.303/.385/.532 Fred McGriff
Above are the career playoff numbers for all six players. McGriff bettered all five in batting average by at least 59pts and slugging percentage by at least 44pts. And, only Frank Thomas had a higher on base percentage. In the Braves dominant stretch of 14 straight playoff appearance starting in the early nineties, they would win one ring in 1995, a World Series that would feature 5 one run ball games in 6 played. Fred McGriff would lead the team in hits, doubles, home runs and runs batted in. In the 14 games in the 1995 postseason, McGriff accumulated 14 runs, 19 hits, 6 doubles, 4 home runs, and 9 runs batted in, hitting .333 with a .415 on base percentage and a .649 slugging percentage.
There are 4 measurements used by annalists that determine the likelihood of a players ability to reach Cooperstown; the Black Ink score, the Gray Ink Score, the Hall of Fame Monitor Score and the Hall of Fame Standards score. According to the Monitor and Standards tests McGriff is likely to make it. According to the Gray Ink and Black Ink tests he is not.
Unfortunately for Fred McGriff, not one of these tests measures team leadership nor clutch performance in the postseason. He compares well to current players in the Hall of Fame, but again those inductees played during different era’s in baseball. Do his rate stats qualify for the Hall, debatably. Does seven years constitute dominance over an extended period of time, possibly. What I do know is that he will not be a shoe in. He may not even get enough votes to appear in later ballets. But if I were a voter, I would say yes.