The “Whatever They’re Calling it This Year” Committee at the Hall of Fame has selected Fred McGriff for induction.
There’s a very good chance you’ve not heard of him and are wondering what the heck he did that makes him so great. Turns out there are two things that hurt his candidacy – both of which were pretty much beyond his control.
The first was the 1994-95 Strike. It happened right in the middle of his career, when he was at his most productive. Some seventy games were erased from the schedule. Given McGriff’s pace those two years (34 home runs in 113 games in 1994, 27 home runs in 144 games in 1995), it’s a good bet he’d have slugged another ten home runs in those games. As it is, he finished his career with 493 home runs. Those extras would have put him over the “milestone” number of 500.
It interesting and useful in McGriff’s case to see who is in the “500 Club”, and see who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. There’s Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, who are not yet eligible. Gary Sheffield is still on the ballot (though he hasn’t managed to get more than 50% of the vote). That leaves Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, and Manny Ramirez as the ones on the outside. What is a common thread connecting those players? Right! PED allegations, and serious ones at that. McGriff has never been accused of taking PEDs.
For the record, McGriff has more home runs than Hall of Fame sluggers like Willie Stargell, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chipper Jones.
The other thing that hurt his candidacy was related to the Strike. Afterwards, there was a serious – if not stated outright – effort by MLB to win back the fans. It seems they settled on playing up home runs. The ball may have been “juiced”, ballparks were designed to increase the frequency of home runs, and both MLB and the media “looked the other way” when players started taking PEDs. McGriff stayed clean and continued to hit the long ball, but he couldn’t compete with the likes of Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. And as his career wound down in the early 2000’s, he bounced around from team to team while Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were racking up the home runs, so no one was going to give his “quest for 500” much attention.
You can argue that since he never won any major award, rarely led the league in any hitting category, and only made five All Star teams, he shouldn’t really be a Hall of Famer. But there’s still plenty of room in Cooperstown for the players who show a quiet, sustained excellence.