10 reasons McGriff's HOF case is overlooked

Slugging first baseman overshadowed by many in high-offense era

January 20th, 2018

Travel back in time, for a moment, to the conclusion of the 1994 season. While tensions were rife amid the player strike, Braves first baseman Fred McGriff had just wrapped up another stellar campaign in which he recorded a 1.012 OPS with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs.
McGriff placed eighth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting that fall, marking his sixth top-10 finish in as many seasons. Those 34 homers gave him a career total of 262, the third most of any player since he debuted in 1986. At this moment in time, there weren't many sluggers more feared than "The Crime Dog," and McGriff seemed like a pretty sure bet to reach the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
What happened next was out of McGriff's control. Baseball's highest-scoring era since the 1930s was underway, unleashing a level of offense that would change the record books forever. While McGriff maintained his steady production for many more years, he wound up being somewhat left behind. Now, in his second-to-last year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot, McGriff is currently tracking below 20 percent on public ballots -- far from the necessary 75 percent needed for election.
McGriff ranks among the more unfortunate Hall candidates in recent memory in terms of the timing of his career. While his resumé will likely be passed on to the Veterans Committee, it's worth remembering where McGriff stood at the time of his peak, along with how quickly his candidacy turned amid baseball's changing landscape. Below are 10 facts you should know while evaluating McGriff's case for Cooperstown.
• McGriff finished his career with 493 home runs, tied with the legendary Lou Gehrig. Two decades ago, hitting 500 home runs, or close to it, equaled near-automatic consideration for the Hall. In fact, had McGriff retired with 493 homers in 1995, he would have been tied with Gehrig for 15th-most all-time. When McGriff actually retired in 2004, he had dropped all the way down to a tie for 26th.

• McGriff captured two league home-run titles in his career, and as it turns out, they marked the end of an era. After capturing the American League homer title with 36 for the Blue Jays in 1989, McGriff sealed the NL crown with 35 for the Padres in '92. No league home-run champion has hit fewer than 36 home runs since then, and, in fact, the homer kings have averaged 48.5 dingers over the quarter-century since McGriff's second crown. The introduction of performance-enhancing drugs, in parallel step with a greater offensive environment, simply changed the expectations of a home-run champ.
• McGriff became the first player in the Live Ball Era (dating back to 1920) to win a home-run crown in each league when he captured the NL title in '92. True to the theme of McGriff's career, however, Mark McGwire equaled the feat with his then-record 70-homer season for the Cardinals six years later.
• McGriff's 34 home runs during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign made him just the ninth player to knock 30-plus homers in seven consecutive seasons. The eight players who did it before McGriff were some of the most renowned sluggers in history: Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Gehrig, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Babe Ruth and Mike Schmidt. Other inner-circle Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams never reached the 30-homer plateau with such consistency.
Meanwhile, 13 players have put up runs of seven consecutive 30-homer seasons since 1995, with poised to become the 14th if he hits at least 30 dingers again this year. McGriff's streak was a historic marker of consistency at the time, but it became much more commonplace after he achieved it.

• McGriff's power traveled throughout his career. Involved in four trades, McGriff belted 30-plus homers for five different ballclubs (Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Rays and Padres). Gary Sheffield is the only other player with a 30-plus-homer season for five teams.
• Spending time in both circuits, McGriff averaged 35 home runs per season and compiled a .935 OPS during a seven-year stretch from 1988-94. Incredibly, McGriff placed in his league's top five in both home runs and OPS in each of those seven campaigns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other players can claim a run of seven straight seasons in which they finished within the top five of their league's homer and OPS lists at the same time: Gehrig, Mantle, Ruth (twice) and Schmidt.
• McGriff's 134 OPS+, which normalizes a player's OPS for the external factors (ballparks, offensive environment, etc.) around him, is tied for 61st in modern history among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances. However, 22 players -- or more than one-third of those ranked above McGriff in OPS+ -- began their careers in 1986 or later. Had McGriff retired in '86, instead of making his Major League debut, he would have been tied for 38th on the all-time OPS+ list.
• McGriff debuted in the same season as Barry Bonds, McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, three players who either failed a sanctioned test for performance-enhancing drugs, admitted to using them or were strongly linked to them during their careers. Through each player's age-30 seasons, McGriff ranked second to Bonds in that quartet in both home runs and Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement. McGriff continued to produce as he aged, totaling 231 homers and 15.9 bWAR after his age-30 season. However, those totals pale in comparison to the incredible second-half careers of Bonds (470 home runs, 88.7 bWAR), McGwire (345, 34.2) and Palmeiro (375, 35.7).

• Runs created is an advanced statistic created by Bill James that estimates a player's offensive contributions in terms of total runs. McGriff created 1,054 runs by this metric from 1988-97, and only Bonds (1,320) created more runs during that decade-long time span.
• Looking for postseason moments? McGriff had plenty. According to STATS, McGriff's career .912 OPS in postseason play ranks 12th highest among more than 150 players who logged at least 150 plate appearances in October. That OPS slots in above a host of recognized postseason heroes, including Mickey Mantle (.908), Reggie Jackson (.885), Willie Stargell (.871), Derek Jeter (.838) and Yogi Berra (.811).
McGriff didn't build that resumé with just one hot autumn; he slugged at least .600 in six different postseason series, including all three of the Braves' postseason matchups on their way to the 1995 World Series title. He recorded an OPS above .750 in eight different series.