Baseball Hall of Fame: Fred McGriff Continues To Be Left Out

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It seems virtually impossible, or at the very least improbable, but the Baseball Hall of Fame will not have any living inductees this year. Certainly first-time eligibles like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are polarizing figures and there are plenty of theories voters will have in addressing players from the “Steroid Era” in this and future years, but not letting anyone in outside of three Veteran’s Committee inductees seems asinine to me and points to potential changes in the process.

One player that played basically his entire career in the era tainted by performance-enhancing drugs but was never tied to using them is Fred McGriff. He was named on just 20.7 percent of ballots this year (118 votes) in his fourth year of eligibility. So he obviously has to make a significant jump to reach the required 75 percent of the vote to earn induction, and with plenty of worthy classes of first-time eligible players coming it will be an uphill climb for him. McGriff has yet to even reach 25 percent, with a high of 23.9 percent in 2012.

Let’s take a closer look at McGriff, and I’ll attempt to compare him to other players who have put up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, whether those comparable players have been inducted or are eligible but have yet to be voted in.

McGriff played 19 major league seasons (1986-2004) for the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers and was a five-time All-Star. He totaled 493 home runs and drove in 1,550 runs with a .509 career slugging percentage and 2,490 career hits (.284 career average). He had 10 seasons with at least 30 home runs (seven in a row from 1988-1994), along with three more seasons with more than 25 home runs (1995, 1996, 2000), and is one of two players (Gary Sheffield) with a 30-home run season for five different teams. McGriff is tied for 26th on the all-time home run list, with Lou Gehrig, and his RBI total is good for 42nd on that all-time list, right between two other left-handed slugging first basemen in Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell.

Now let’s look at some other notable hitters that at least partially overlap McGriff’s career, with a tilt toward first baseman for a more solid comparison.

Eddie Murray (1977-1997)- 3,255 career hits, .287 career batting average, 504 home runs, 1,917 RBI, .476 slugging percentage; five seasons with at least 30 home runs; eight-time All-Star
In Hall of Fame?- Yes, inducted in 2003

Mark McGwire (1986-2001)- 1,626 hits, .263 career batting average, 583 home runs, 1,414 RBI, .588 slugging percentage; 12-time All-Star; 11 seasons with at least 30 home runs (five with 49 or more)
In Hall of Fame?- No, seven years on the ballot through 2013

Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005)- 2,314 career hits, .297 career batting average, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, .540 slugging percentage; four-time All-Star; nine seasons with at least 30 home runs (three with 40 or more)
In Hall of Fame?- No, three years on the ballot through 2013

Rafael Palmeiro (1986-2005)- 3,020 career hits, .288 career batting average, 569 home runs, 1,835 RBI, .515 slugging percentage; four-time All-Star, 10 seasons with at least 30 home runs (four with 40 or more)
In Hall of Fame?- No, three years on the ballot through 2013

Overall Analysis

Leaving aside any doubt about usage of performance-enhancing drugs, McGriff has more hits than McGwire and Bagwell and his slugging percentage is close to Palmeiro’s despite having 76 fewer home runs. Having played a few more seasons than McGwire and Bagwell is certainly a factor in compiling more hits, but McGriff’s longevity has to be part of his overall Hall of Fame resume.

The home run totals posted by McGwire, Palmeiro and to a lesser extent Bagwell during individual seasons dwarfs McGriff’s accomplishments some, since he never had a 40-home run season and his career-high for home runs in a season was 37. But his final 30-home run season came at age 38 (2002), at an age that McGwire and Bagwell had retired, and Palmeiro’s 38 home runs during his age-38 season (2003) deserve skepticism in hindsight.

Perhaps the best comparison here for McGriff is Murray, since both guys have never been tied to performance-enhancing drugs. Certainly Murray’s hit total is noteworthy and played a big role in his being elected in his first year on the ballot, but otherwise it can be argued McGriff was the better all-around player. McGriff played most of his games at first base right up to his last full season as something resembling a full-time contributor with the Dodgers in 2003, while Murray served primarily as a designated hitter over his final few seasons after returning to the American League.

Some people may still hold the 500-home run plateau in high regard, and in the context of overall baseball history reaching that total should be exalted in that way. So that gives Murray a slight advantage over McGriff, but it’s worth noting that McGriff missed a fairly significant amount of games due to the strike that took away parts of the 1994 and 1995 seasons. Those were two of his prime seasons, while Murray was nearing the end of his career, and with a career home run/at-bat rate (17.8) that is far better than Murray’s (22.5) it’s a fair assumption McGriff would have surpassed 500 home runs fairly easily.

McGriff is definitely one of the most underrated players of his era, and since he never put up numbers that jumped off the stat sheet compared to his peers many voters and observers are likely to continue to overlook him. But he did not experience a physical transformation or an artificial spike in numbers during his career, which has to count for something. Hopefully that will cause voters to look at McGriff in a different light in the future, and “Crime Dog” will get his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

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