McGriff had to wait for Hall: It's a crime, dog

December 5th, 2022

Cooperstown justice was served on Sunday night in San Diego. Fred McGriff was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee.

McGriff, affectionately known as the “Crime Dog” -- a nickname given to him by ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman because of the similarity to animated character McGruff, the original crime dog -- received 100% of the vote.

The committee that determined McGriff’s fate included six Hall of Famers (Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell), seven Major League executives (Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Derrick Hall, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter and Ken Williams) and three media members (Steve Hirdt, LaVelle Neal and Susan Slusser).

“I finally did it. I’ve been blessed my whole life. I continue to be blessed,” McGriff said during a Zoom call on Sunday night. “I’m quite honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I want to thank the committee. It’s tough to decide on who to vote for and not to vote for. It’s a great honor to unanimously be voted in.

“A lot of ex-players and so forth would say, ‘Oh, Fred, you had a great career. You need to be in that Hall of Fame.’ It’s just a great honor, and I’m enjoying myself.”

McGriff played 19 years in the big leagues for six teams -- the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Rays, Cubs and Dodgers -- from 1986-2004, hitting .284 with 493 home runs and 1,550 RBIs.

He is not sure which cap will be on his Hall of Fame plaque -- McGriff said he’ll make a decision within the next couple of days after he talks to Hall of Fame officials -- but he does know what hat he’ll be wearing on the day of his induction.

You might remember it from those famous commercials from the 1990s -- a blue cap honoring baseball guru Tom Emanski, whom McGriff credits for his success in the big leagues.

Emanski taught McGriff baseball fundamentals. In return for getting help from his mentor, McGriff did Emanski’s instructional baseball commercials, which were seen on television for many years. McGriff believes the commercials will be revived now that he will be enshrined in Cooperstown.

McGriff was introduced to Emanski in 1982 by former Major Leaguer Steve Christmas, who told him to drive from Tampa, Fla., to Orlando to visit Emanski. The connection paid off for McGriff, who learned how to make adjustments in the batter’s box.

“Tom Emanski did help me out,” McGriff told via telephone. “[Christmas said], ‘Go and see him, and he will slow your swing down and videotape your swing. He can help you out.’

“Tom slowed my swing down, showed me some different things. ... Five or six years later, I was in the big leagues, Tom Emanski asked if I could help him out. I said, ‘Oh, sure.’ I’m in the big leagues now.’’

McGriff became the fourth Hall of Famer from the Tampa area, following former managers Al Lopez and Tony La Russa and infielder Wade Boggs.

McGriff's career 52.6 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference, rank higher than Hall of Famers such as Ted Simmons (50.3), Orlando Cepeda (50.1) and Jim Rice (47.7).

A five-time All-Star, McGriff was a big-time run producer who won three Silver Slugger awards and had 10 seasons of 30 or more home runs. He is one of four Major Leaguers (along with Mark McGwire, Sam Crawford and Buck Freeman) to win the home run title in both leagues. He also finished in the top five in OPS for his league in seven consecutive seasons, from 1988-94.

“If you put McGriff’s numbers beside some of the other guys that are in the Hall of Fame, he comes out way ahead,” said former Astros scout Hank Allen.

McGriff said his biggest moment came in 1993, after the Padres traded him to the Braves on July 18. At the time, McGriff had sore ribs after getting into a fight with the Giants. He didn’t play his first game with Atlanta until two days later. Before his first game, the press box at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium caught fire. McGriff didn’t think he would be in the lineup because of the ribs problem, but he hit a sixth-inning home run of Cardinals pitcher Rene Arocha in an 8-5 victory.

“The stadium catches on fire,” McGriff recalled. “The game is delayed, so I have two hours with the trainers to work on my midsection. I ended up playing, and I hit my first home run in Atlanta. That’s stuff you don’t forget.”

McGriff flourished in the postseason, mostly with the Braves. In 50 games, McGriff hit .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .917 OPS. Who can forget the 436-foot bomb he hit in Game 1 of the 1995 World Series against Cleveland right-hander Orel Hershiser?

“Look at this guy’s ability to be on the field. He was never on the disabled list until late in his career,” said former Major Leaguer Harold Reynolds, who is now an analyst for the MLB Network. “I mean, come on. That is outside of the power, clutch hitting and all that.

“I’ll tell you one story: In 1993, I’m with the Orioles and Fred ends up going to the Braves [during the middle of the season]. Everybody knew at the Trade Deadline, if [we] get Fred McGriff, [we] have a chance to go to the World Series. That’s how prominent he was. We’re on a plane about two weeks before the Trade Deadline and I’m sitting next to Frank Robinson [then an assistant general manager] and I say, ‘Frank, what are our chances to get Fred McGriff?’ Frank replied: ‘What’s a power hitter, Harold?’ I said, ‘I don’t know -- a guy that hits home runs.’ Frank said, ‘No. When there is a runner on first base, he is in scoring position, not second -- first. Fred McGriff drives guys in from first base.”

Former Braves teammate and FOX analyst John Smoltz does not get why McGriff wasn't a Hall of Famer sooner. McGriff had a chance to be voted in during his years of eligibility but never received the 75% needed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The writers had chances to vote him in from 2010-19 and yet he received no more than 39.8 percent, which came during his final year of eligibility.

“I have never understood why his numbers -- which [have] never been in question -- have not gotten a boost [from the writers],” Smoltz said via text message to “He has been the same hitter on every team he played with and in the same batting order mainly on every team.

“He was basically a prolific hitter, RBI guy and great teammate that played the game right and showed up every day to play. As a pitcher, you feared this guy in the lineup.”

Where it all began
It seems hard to believe that McGriff was selected by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 1981 MLB Draft. It was during the instructional league season that same year that then-Braves coach Cito Gaston first laid eyes on the left-handed-hitting slugger, who left quite an impression by hitting rockets over the fence.

“I’ve known Freddy since he was 19 years old,” Gaston said. “I saw him hit balls 500 feet and I gave Hank [Aaron, then the Braves' scouting director] a call and told him, ‘If you have a chance to get him, get him.’ [Aaron] said, ‘OK.’”

A little over a year later, the Bronx Bombers gave McGriff away to the Blue Jays for infielder Tom Dodd and reliever Dale Murray. Dodd never played a Major League game for New York, while Murray was unproductive out of the bullpen in more than a year in the Bronx.

But Gaston would see McGriff again in 1986 when both were with the Major League club in Toronto. Gaston was the team’s hitting coach, while McGriff started displaying the same power Gaston saw in Bradenton, Fla.

McGriff emerged as one of the game’s top young hitters on some of the great Blue Jays clubs of the late 1980s, topping 30 home runs and a .900 OPS in each of his final three seasons with Toronto.

“He was one of the big guys that had good eyes,” Gaston recalled. “He didn’t swing at too many bad pitches. He was pretty amazing. He had a great arm at first base -- great first baseman. I don’t understand why it’s taking him so long to get him into the Hall of Fame. … There are a lot of guys with less credentials than he has.”

McGriff left Toronto after the 1990 season as part of a major trade that sent him to the Padres for outfielder Joe Carter and second baseman Roberto Alomar.

The trade propelled the Blue Jays to win two consecutive World Series titles. But McGriff carried on to become a Hall of Famer. He eventually got his World Series ring with the Braves in 1995.

“The guy answered the bell. You look at his career and you see how many 100-RBI seasons that he had,” said Nationals broadcaster Charlie Slowes, who covered McGriff when both were with the Rays in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "Maybe he didn’t have a ton of 40-home run seasons, but he had a lot of 30-home run seasons. He was very consistent.”

And what a Hall of Fame career McGriff had.