The 2017 Hall of Fame class is set, and while many are clamoring over the absence of sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero, there is another slugger who remains buried beneath a crowded ballot. Fred McGriff failed to gain the support of more than 22% of the voters, effectively hammering another nail into his Hall of Fame coffin as he enters his final years of eligibility.
You can maybe argue that McGriff is not a clear-cut Hall of Famer, but how can he be so far off the necessary 75 percent? The former world champion with the Atlanta Braves was one of the most feared hitters in the league during his prime, hitting more home runs than any other player in baseball from 1988-94. During that period, McGriff averaged 35 homers and 95 RBIs and never had an OPS below .890 in that span. At 38 years old with the Cubs, McGriff slugged 30 home runs while driving in 103, so it is hard to claim there was any kind of significant drop-off in production, which was a consistent argument against new Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who finally got the call in his final season of eligibility.
It is common knowledge that many voters look more closely at final career totals rather than more advanced statistics. Could McGriff, who finished his career with 493 home runs (and likely would have reached 500 had it not been for the strike-shortened 1994 season), be rejected from Cooperstown because of a measly SEVEN homers? Using Guerrero as a comparison, McGriff finished with more career home runs and RBIs than Vlad (although Vlad was certainly a better contact hitter). Even assuming Guerrero was a better overall hitter, why were they so far apart on the voting in Guerrero’s first year on the ballot?
Perhaps McGriff is a victim of the rich history of first baseman who are enshrined in Cooperstown (although he ranks in the top 10 all-time among first baseman in home runs and RBIs), or his accomplishments were overlooked while playing in parallel time periods as new Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell or the electric Don Mattingly in the 1980s. Mattingly never reached Cooperstown due to injuries that shortened a brilliant career. McGriff has the prolonged resume.
One of the most important aspects of McGriff’s resume is his postseason numbers. The Crime Dog batted over .300 during his playoff career, while crushing 10 home runs in 50 postseason games. In four NLCS appearances, McGriff batted an incredible .352 against some of the game’s top pitching talents.
Some of the game’s best talents during McGriff’s playing career were clouded by steroid allegations and murmurs of performance enhancing drug use. There was never as much as a whimper of wrongdoing from McGriff’s camp. Terrific hitters with suspected steroid use like Bagwell and Mike Piazza have found their way into baseball’s most elite group, so why not McGriff?
The easiest answer is the volume of quality players on the ballot. Heck, there were so many this year that one of the game’s best offensive catchers, Jorge Posada, couldn’t last more than one year on the ballot. McGriff remains, but he is hanging by a thread. The likelihood of him getting in is slim at this point, and I can live with that. I can’t live with how far off he is right now. McGriff’s Hall of Fame debate should be much more intense than it currently is, and it will likely be too late before we realize it.