Crime Dog part of multiple history-making trades

July 22nd, 2023

Whenever someone reaches the Baseball Hall of Fame, his career will be revisited and his stats, awards and other accolades will be magnified. But in the case of the latest man to be elected to Cooperstown, former slugging first baseman Fred McGriff, there’s another tab on the Baseball Reference page that ought to be of interest: the Transactions page.

Few Hall of Famers have been involved in as many consequential trades as McGriff has. It makes for a fascinating sidebar to the Crime Dog’s illustrious career as he prepares to be inducted at Cooperstown on Sunday.

Here’s a look at those deals, which had big implications for baseball in the 1980s and ’90s.

Dec. 9, 1982: One of the worst trades in Yankees history
Yankees get: OF Tom Dodd, RHP Dale Murray
Blue Jays get: 1B Fred McGriff, OF/1B Dave Collins, RHP Mike Morgan

The Yankees drafted McGriff out of high school in the ninth round of the 1981 MLB Draft, and the lanky first baseman spent two professional seasons in the organization before being sent to the Blue Jays as part of a five-player deal. 

The 18-year-old McGriff had 10 home runs to his name in 298 Rookie level at-bats at the time of the swap, in which the Yanks also sent outfielder/first baseman Dave Collins and right-handed pitcher Mike Morgan to Toronto in exchange for Minor League outfielder Tom Dodd and right-handed pitcher Dale Murray.

When it was all said and done, Murray had posted a 4.73 ERA in two-plus seasons for the Yankees, while Dodd reached the Majors in 1986, and after appearing in eight games that year, never played in another MLB game. McGriff, meanwhile, also made his big-league debut in 1986, playing in three games. But he went on to belt 125 homers to go along with a .920 OPS for Toronto from 1987-90. He was so good, in fact, that no qualified batter had a higher OPS+ (154) over that span than McGriff.

Another player in the McGriff deal also yielded results for the Jays -- Collins led the AL with 15 triples and posted an .811 OPS for Toronto in 1984 before being traded to Oakland with Alfredo Griffin for right-handed reliever Bill Caudill, who turned in a 2.99 ERA in 67 appearances for the Blue Jays in '85.

Dec. 5, 1990: A blockbuster for the ages setting up back-to-back World Series titles
Blue Jays get: 2B Roberto Alomar, OF Joe Carter
Padres get: 1B Fred McGriff, SS Tony Fernandez

Two Hall of Famers. Two five-time All-Stars. This transaction between Toronto and San Diego was the definition of a blockbuster, involving the eighth-most combined wins above replacement of any trade in MLB history.

The Blue Jays dealt McGriff and second baseman Tony Fernandez, who at the time was a three-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, to the Padres in exchange for future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and a player who would launch one of the most famous homers in World Series history, Joe Carter.

That was a three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, which won it all for the Jays over the Phillies. Carter’s blast off Philadelphia closer Mitch Williams instantly became an iconic moment in the game’s history. Alomar hit .480 with two doubles, a triple and four steals in that Fall Classic, and the year prior, he helped lead Toronto to its first World Series championship by hitting .423 with a double, two homers and five steals to capture MVP honors in the American League Championship Series against the A’s.

All of that was just the postseason -- both Carter and Alomar were sensational in the regular season during their Toronto tenures, as well. Carter was a five-time All-Star and launched 203 homers over seven seasons in a Blue Jays uniform, while Alomar earned an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove Award in each of his five seasons with the club, hitting .308/.382/.451 over that span.

McGriff’s time with the Padres was short, but productive. In two-plus seasons with San Diego, he had a .906 OPS with 84 homers in 388 games. Fernandez had an even shorter Padres career, playing in 300 games for San Diego from 1991-92, earning an All-Star selection in ’92. The Padres dealt both players, as well as star slugger Gary Sheffield by the middle of the ’93 campaign -- Fernandez was sent to the Mets after the ’92 season (he was then traded back to the Blue Jays in June of ’93), McGriff to the Braves and Sheffield to the Marlins.

July 18, 1993: McGriff sparks Atlanta to epic division comeback
Padres get: OF Melvin Nieves, RHP Donnie Elliott, RF Vince Moore
Braves get: 1B Fred McGriff

Even before he could provide the spark that fueled the Braves to an incredible second half in 1993, one that resulted in a National League West crown that marked the culmination of one of the greatest pennant races in baseball history, another fire had already erupted at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on the very day McGriff was to make his Braves debut.

On July 20, the press box and radio booths at the ballpark caught fire, resulting in a costly blaze that was put out prior to game time. A few hours later, McGriff sent the home fans into a frenzy by belting a game-tying homer in the sixth inning of a contest the Braves would win over the Cardinals, 8-5. It was a sign of things to come: McGriff posted a 1.004 OPS with 19 homers in 68 games down the stretch for Atlanta, helping the club erase an eight-game deficit behind the Giants to win its third straight division title.

While the Braves wouldn’t win that elusive World Series title that October after falling short in the Fall Classic in each of the prior two years, McGriff helped lead them to the first World Series championship since the franchise moved to Atlanta with a six-game victory over Cleveland in 1995. In all, McGriff hit 130 homers and had an .885 OPS for the Braves from 1993-97.

The Padres, meanwhile, didn’t get anything near that kind of production from their return in the McGriff deal -- Nieves slashed .207/.278/.407 in three seasons (127 games) for San Diego before being traded to the Tigers, Moore never reached the Majors, and Elliott had a 3.27 ERA in 31 appearances (one start) for the Padres in ’94, but only made one MLB appearance after that.

For the Braves in 1993, acquiring McGriff from San Diego turned out to be one of the best Trade Deadline moves of all time.

Next stop: Cooperstown

With so many clubs for whom McGriff made an impact, it's fitting that there will be no logo on the cap appearing on his Hall of Fame plaque. What that plaque will definitely feature, though, is a synoptic account of a career that was unique among Hall of Famers for the route it took to immortality.