Long before current stars Ryan Howard and Joey Votto were winning Most Valuable Player honors, there was a National League first baseman who quietly delivered consistent power year after year.
Fred McGriff was 35 homers waiting to happen for more than a decade, and not many players can say that, now or then.The prototypical first baseman, known as “Crime Dog,” McGriff played for six teams, but shined his brightest as an All-Star with the Padres and Braves. With a string of 30-plus homers per season, 10 of them in all, McGriff fell just short of what at least used to be a Cooperstown ticket of a milestone: 500 homers. He was seven shy of that mark while finishing off his career with his hometown Tampa Bay Rays in 2004.
For a fourth year, McGriff is among those being considered for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with voting results to be announced Jan. 9, 2013. McGriff saw his support surge to 23.9 percent in 2012, following showings of 21.5 percent his first year and a dip to 17.9 percent in 2011.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers’ Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. An impressive list of first-year candidates joins the process in 2013 after Reds shortstop Barry Larkin became the only player elected to the Hall last year. Starting pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent) leads returning vote-getters in his 14th of 15 years of eligibility.
During a prime that lasted a good decade, McGriff was a five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger winner, including one in the American League. He had seven consecutive 30-homer seasons (1988-94) among his 10 overall.
“Over the years, I’ve just tried to be consistent. I did my best to stay healthy,” McGriff once said. “I take pride in it. Every year, players set goals. For myself, I [want to] hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs.”
Even as he passed his one-time teammate and Florida friend en route to 500 homers, Gary Sheffield paid tribute to McGriff.
“I knew [McGriff] would be the guy I would have to hit more home runs than — because nobody was going to hit more home runs than Fred McGriff,” Sheffield said. “So whatever number he came up with, the day I put on my uniform to play with him is the day I made that goal. … It’s the strangest thing. It’s just one of those things of how much I admire him as a person, as a friend and as a baseball player. What he has meant to Tampa — when you talk about home runs in Tampa, you talk about Fred McGriff.”
Traded from the Blue Jays with Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in a 1990 Winter Meetings blockbuster, McGriff excelled as the Padres’ cleanup hitter before being traded to the Braves, the team he won a World Series ring with in ’95. He was traded to Atlanta in 1993, finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting after delivering 19 homers and 55 RBIs for the Braves in the final two-plus months of the season.
McGriff played for three teams in the last three years of his career, but a highlight included hitting 30 homers and recording his eighth season with 100 RBIs or more for the Cubs in 2002 — joining Sheffield as the only two players ever to hit 30 homers for five different teams. McGriff finished his 19-year career with 1,550 RBIs, which ranks 42nd on the all-time list — between Hall of Famers Willie McCovey (41st, 1,555) and Willie Stargell (43rd, 1,540), both of whom at least finished their careers as first basemen.
SectionsAtlanta Braves, Featured Story, MLB, Sports
TopicsAtlanta Braves, Baseball, Baseball Writers' Association of America, Clarksville, Clarksville Sports Network, Crime Dog, Fred McGriff, Joey Votto, MLB, Most Valuable Player, Ryan Howard, Tennessee