Fred McGriff deserves baseball’s highest honor
In his ninth appearance on the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, first baseman Fred McGriff is currently tracking at 16.4% on Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker, a far cry from the 75% needed to gain induction. Looking at McGriff’s career, two stories are told; one of the arbitrary, “round” counting numbers of baseball, and the other of how favorably he compares to players who have been enshrined in Cooperstown for years.
Over the course of his nineteen-year career from 1986-2004, McGriff hit 493 home runs between the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays, Cubs, and Dodgers. One of baseball’s biggest fallacies is the arbitrary “counting numbers” that are used to measure greatness, including but not limited to 3000 hits, 3000 wins, 3000 strikeouts, and 500 home runs. Without a doubt, had McGriff hit another seven home runs, he likely would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer, having hit the “magic” number of home runs needed to gain induction. Instead, he finished his career seven home runs short of being considered one of the game’s all-time great power hitters, despite the fact that he hit over 30 home runs in ten different seasons.
For his career, McGriff hit .284/.377/.509, with 493 HR, 1550 RBI, 1349 runs scored, 2490 hits, 441 doubles, and 1305 walks. A World Series Champion, 5x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, and an All-Star Game MVP, McGriff ranks inside the top 50 in career home runs (28th) runs batted in (47th) walks (45th) and extra base hits (50th), as well as inside the top 100 in slugging percentage (84th) and OPS (79th). While his hit (102nd) and runs scored (111th) totals rank just outside of the top 100 all-time, they still are more than enough to compliment McGriff’s power numbers in his Cooperstown case.
For his career, McGriff’s 162 game average included 32 HR, 102 RBI, and a .284/.377/.509 mark. From 1988-2002, a fifteen-year stretch, McGriff managed to hit .288 with a .894 OPS, averaging 31 HR and 97 RBI.
From here, let’s compare McGriff’s career numbers to three other players, all of who have already been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; we’ll call them players A-C.
Fred McGriff: 2460 G, 1349 R, 2490 H, 441 2B, 493 HR, 1550 RBI, 1305 BB, .284/.377/.509
Player A: 2360 G, 1194 R, 2332 H, 423 2B, 475 HR, 1540 RBI, 937 BB, .282/.360/.529
Player B: 2558 G, 1229 R, 2211 G, 353 2B, 521 HR, 1555 RBI, 1345 BB, .270/.374/.515
Player C: 2391 G, 1509 R, 2315 H, 354 2B, 512 HR, 1453 RBI, 1444 BB, .271/.376/.509
Player C is Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews, widely regarded as one of the greatest power hitters in the game’s history. Compared to McGriff, Matthews has only 19 more home runs, and while Mathews does have more runs scored, McGriff has him beat in hits, doubles, runs batted in, AVG, and OBP. Overall, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that McGriff’s career is at least comparable to that of Mathew’s offensively.
Player B is Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who played the same position as McGriff, and received 81.4% of the writers’ votes. Aside from an MVP Award, McCovey and McGriff had similar career achievements, as McCovey was a six-time All-Star, and a fellow All-Star Game MVP. Compared to McCovey, McGriff compares favorably in home runs, runs batted, and walks despite his lower totals, and has McCovey beat in runs scored, hits, doubles, average, and on-base percentage.
Player A is the player who had the most similar career to McGriff, and despite having career numbers that quite frankly are not as strong as McGriff’s, sailed into the Hall of Fame on his first try with 82.4% of the vote. Player A is Pirates legend Willie Stargell, and when looking at his career numbers against McGriff’s, McGriff has him beat in every significant offensive statistic other than slugging percentage. Some may argue that Stargell sailed into Cooperstown thanks to his postseason success, having won NLCS MVP, World Series MVP, and two World Series with the Pirates. However, when you compare the postseason numbers of McGriff and Stargell, the numbers do learn a bit towards McGriff.
McGriff: 188 AB, 36 R, 57 H, 11 2B, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 27 BB, 40 K, .303/.385/.532
Stargell: 133 AB, 18 R, 37 H, 10 2B, 7 HR, 20 RBI, 17 BB, 34 K, .278/.359/.511
Between his career body of work, and how favorably he compares to three of the game’s all-time great sluggers, it is pretty clear that Fred McGriff had a career that is more than worthy of an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another thing to take into account is that despite playing in the heart of the steroid era, McGriff hit nearly 500 home runs without ever even being accused of performance enhancing drugs. Just because he played the game right in an era where some of the game’s best were cheating doesn’t mean McGriff should get lost in the shuffle, even though it’s looking increasingly likely he will not make it to Cooperstown in either of the next two seasons. Hopefully within the next few years, the Veteran’s Club of the Baseball Hall of Fame will right the wrongs of the BBWA, and give McGriff his rightful spot amongst the game’s greatest with a plaque that bears his face.