McGriff joins new teammates during Hall tour
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It was just a few days from the start of the 2023 big league regular season and Fred McGriff, like any other rookie, was staring at his new teammates in amazement.
The Class of 2023 member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, during his first trip to Cooperstown was now sitting in a director’s chair surrounded by the 340 bronze plaques from the sport’s most exclusive club.
“It’s very special, and it’s humbling. Just this morning, walking through the Museum and seeing the artifacts. Now, the great players are in here in the Plaque Gallery,” said McGriff, who visited the Hall of Fame on Tuesday as part of his orientation tour. “To be a part of this, it’s awesome. It’s a blessing. It’s been great.
“Cooperstown, it’s tough getting here. Living down in Florida, you didn’t get an opportunity to get up this way too much. So this is special.”
The lanky first baseman with almost 500 career home runs was among the eight former big league players that comprised the Contemporary Baseball Era Players ballot that was voted upon at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego on Dec. 4. The 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee elected McGriff unanimously, the only one to reach the 75-percent threshold needed.
McGriff, nicknamed “Crime Dog” after the cartoon public service bloodhound McGruff the Crime Dog, will be joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 by Scott Rolen, who emerged from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting in January. The 2023 Induction Weekend is scheduled for July 21-24, with the induction on July 23.
McGriff, in a 19-year Major League career between 1986 and 2004, was a five-time All-Star, won the Silver Slugger award for first base three times and hit 30 or more home runs 10 times. In 1995, he helped lead the Braves to their first world championship in Atlanta. In 10 postseason series, he batted .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBIs and 100 total bases.
After wrapping up a morning tour of the museum with his wife, Veronica, McGriff took questions from the assembled media in the Plaque Gallery, not far from where his plaque will be located after his induction this summer.
“This day has just brought up so many great memories from over the years,” McGriff said. “Playing first base, I got a chance to meet a lot of the guys that are in here. A lot of things going through your mind about talking to Cal Ripken at first base, being a teammate with Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux, [John] Smoltz, the manager Bobby Cox and the opposing players like Frank Thomas. Just a lot of special memories.”
McGriff added, “Baseball, it’s a great game, but it’s almost like a fraternity. You’re talking to most of the players every night at first base -- and you don’t have much love for pitchers -- but you enjoy the opposing players. It’s just great to be in this room and reminisce and think about the past. Earlier, watching the ‘Generations of the Game’ film, growing up it was baseball 24/7 for myself. So just a lot of great memories making me think about the past."
After entering the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery for the first time, he viewed the plaques of Jackie Robinson, Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, Pat Gillick, Cox, Maddux and Smoltz, among others. He was then escorted to where his plaque can be found beginning after his induction this summer and signed the plaque backer.
And the day’s experiences were made more special with his wife by his side the whole time.
“It’s awesome because she’s been with me this whole time over the years. We’re married 34 years,” he said. “So she’s been through the good and the bad. Because with baseball, you have success, but a lot of failure. If you’re successful at bat three out of 10 times, you’re considered a great player. So you can make a lot of outs. You can have a lot of oh-for-fours and a lot of sleepless nights where you’re at home, and you’re trying to figure out, 'What am I gonna do tomorrow to try to get things right again?'"
Asked whether it had sunk in yet that he was now in the special company of the likes of Josh Gibson, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays and Buck O’Neil, the Tampa native, who still calls the Sunshine State home, broke into a broad smile.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “It hit me a little just driving in from Albany yesterday.
“Honestly, life hasn’t changed too much. Just a lot of congratulations. Come July with the induction, that’s when it will really hit home. Almost daily you’re thinking about this and that. Growing up in Tampa, a long way from Cooperstown, and to be sitting here right now, it’s awesome."
He admits to getting Hall of Fame Weekend advice from a number of Hall of Famers.
“Well, most of them told me to keep my speech short,” McGriff said with a laugh. “Seriously, they just said just enjoy the moment and once you get past this speech then it’s smooth sailing after that. Everybody was happy for me and congratulating. Just enjoy this, they were saying, and it’s your day. So just enjoy your day.”
One of the many things on McGriff’s mind is his induction speech, which he called “a work in progress.”
“I mainly just want to thank a whole lot of people who helped me along the way,” McGriff said. “With baseball when it comes to hitting you’re always picking guys’ brains. You learn a little bit from this guy, a little bit from that guy. So you’ve got to kind of make sure you don’t forget them.”
The 1994 All-Star Game MVP totaled 493 home runs, which ties Lou Gehrig on the all-time list for 29th place, while leading his league in homers twice. He was also the first player to hit 30 or more home runs for five different teams.
“Over the years with 493 home runs, everybody’s like, ‘You’re tied with Lou Gehrig with 493 home runs,’” McGriff said. “So it was always special because he was considered a great ballplayer from what you read and heard.”
While splitting his Major League career with the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound McGriff reached the 100-RBI milestone eight times and six years finished in the Top 10 of his league’s MVP voting. In total, he compiled 2,490 hits, 1,550 RBIs, a .284 batting average, a .377 on-base percentage and a .509 slugging percentage.
Knowing his bronze plaque will be here for eternity for generations of family and fans to enjoy, McGriff smiled before saying: “America, what a country. It’s beautiful. Now they can know about the Crime Dog.”
Recently it was announced that McGriff’s plaque would sport a cap with no team logo, a practice that other recent Hall of Famers such as Roy Halladay (2019), Catfish Hunter (1987), Tony La Russa (2014), Greg Maddux (2014) and Mike Mussina (2019) have embraced.
“I was blessed because I had some really good years in Atlanta -- with the World Series -- and Toronto and Tampa and San Diego, and so I said I’ve got to keep everybody happy,” McGriff explained. “I’ve had a great experience playing and a lot of great fans who supported me, so I couldn’t really get them too upset at me.”