Was Atlanta's deal for McGriff the best Deadline move ever?

July 20th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Fred McGriff’s Braves debut will always be linked to the press box fire that delayed the start of a game against the Cardinals on July 20, 1993, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

“[Former Braves owner] Ted Turner came down on the field and watched the fire with us,” Braves Hall of Fame executive John Schuerholz said. “He was as calm as a cucumber. He said, ‘John, the stadium caught fire tonight and so, too, are our Braves.'”

Turner’s words proved prophetic as the Braves would go 51-17 the rest of the way and finish one game ahead of the Giants, who had a nine-game lead in the National League West before McGriff arrived and provided an immediate spark, both literally and figuratively.  

The Braves faced a five-run deficit entering the sixth inning of that game against the Cardinals. Jeff Blauser hit a three-run homer, and two batters later McGriff hit a game-tying two-run homer that propelled Atlanta to a comeback win.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Hall of Famer Chipper Jones said. “From the second he got there, everything and everyone caught on fire.”

Thirty years after arriving in Atlanta, McGriff is set to receive baseball’s greatest honor. The Crime Dog will be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame on Sunday. His induction creates another opportunity to debate whether the Braves’ acquisition of him was the best Trade Deadline deal in baseball history.

The Braves’ bid to win a third straight NL West crown was threatened by a Giants team that was enjoying its first season with Barry Bonds. Atlanta entered the All-Star break 11 games above .500 and nine games behind San Francisco.

Schuerholz responded by acquiring McGriff for Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves. Not only did the Braves get a Hall of Famer without having to trade any of their top prospects, which included Jones, Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko, they gained one of the game’s top sluggers without losing much at all.

Moore never reached the Majors and Elliot’s big league career consisted of 35 innings. Nieves produced a .685 OPS while totaling just 127 games over three seasons with San Diego. As for McGriff, he helped the Braves win the 1995 World Series and two of the four NL pennants awarded during his five-season tenure with Atlanta.

“[The Padres] were on another pathway,” Schuerholz said. “They were trying to get young players and they liked the quality of our young players.”

And the Braves loved the results of this lopsided trade made with former Padres GM Randy Smith. They won 75 percent (51 of 68) of the games played once McGriff was activated in 1993. They ended up with 103 wins, one more than the Giants, who didn’t make the playoffs despite their triple-digit win total.

Here’s a look at how two other teams fared from the start of August after making a significant Trade Deadline deal:

2001 A’s: Oakland won 80.4 percent of their games after acquiring Jermaine Dye in 2001. But in terms of long-term impact, this deal doesn’t compare. Dye produced a 2.8 bWAR over 394 games with Oakland and McGriff produced an 11.1 bWAR over 636 games for the Braves.

2021 Dodgers: Los Angeles won 76.8 percent of the games played over the season’s final two months, after acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals.  After the Dodgers were eliminated in the NL Championship Series that year, Scherzer signed with the Mets. Turner produced a 7.3 bWAR over 212 games before leaving Los Angeles last winter to sign with the Phillies.

McGriff’s immediate and long-term contributions strengthen the argument that the Braves’ trade for him was the most impactful.  His successful tenure in Atlanta included one more game than he had anticipated. 

Remember that press box fire? Well, it occurred on a night when he was expecting to rest the sore ribs he suffered while the Padres and Giants brawled a week earlier.

McGriff began his six-plus-hour drive from Tampa, Fla., around noon on July 20, 1993, because he knew he would arrive too late to be put in the lineup. Or so he thought. Not knowing the game had been delayed because of the fire, he entered Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium around 6:30 p.m. and found his name in the starting lineup.

“I was like, ‘Oh boy,’” McGriff said. “I headed to the trainer’s room because my ribs were still sore from the issues we had with the Giants. And then, the stadium catches on fire. The Man Upstairs was down on me and saying, ‘You need to be ready to play.’”

McGriff homered a few hours later and kept things LIT in Atlanta throughout his 4 1/2-year Braves tenure.