Play 19 years with six teams
Four-time All-Star hit 493 home runs, twice led league, and received MVP votes in eight different seasons. 52.4 WAR, 19.6 WAA
Pro Argument: Model of consistency hit 30-plus homers in 10 different seasons.
Con argument: Appears to fall just short by various measures.
Deserves to be in Hall?: Just short for me.
Will get elected this year?: No.
Will ever get elected?: 25%
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Everyone loves the Crime Dog. We love the nickname. We love the old Tom Emanski commercials he used to do. We love the cool follow through on his swing, the way he would swing so hard he needed to bring the bat OVER his head, like Rafael Nadal’s forehand. He was a fantastic player who hit exactly as many home runs as Lou Gehrig, he was a behemoth in the postseason, and his Baseball Reference Comps include four Hall of Famers (McCovey, Stargell, Thomas and Billy Williams), one soon-to-be Hall of Famer (Bagwell) and one likely Hall of Famer in a few years (Big Papi).
The point of these essays, if they have a point, has been to celebrate the players on the baseball ballot, every one of them. At times, I fear, I’ve gotten away from that point and started, instead, arguing their Hall of Fame cases. It’s just in my nature. And it’s fun to do. The trouble is — and you just can’t get past this no matter how tactfully or artfully you try to do it — that when you analyze the Hall of Fame case you inevitably end up picking the player apart. You end up pointing out the negatives of fantastic players — Andre Dawson didn’t walk enough, Jack Morris had a 3.90 ERA, Trevor Hoffman pitched only 1,089 innings, Sammy Sosa probably used steroids, etc.
And then, you end up belaboring the negatives of fantastic players.
And before long, you start making fantastic baseball players sound like mediocrities.
That stinks, and NOT doing that was the whole point of this thing … but, inevitably, the one thing most people really want to know is: Who did you vote for the Hall of Fame?
And then they want to know WHY you did or did not vote for this player or that one.
Let’s see if we can do that without saying one negative thing about Fred McGriff. Consider it an experiment.
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Eddie Murray is not on Fred McGriff’s Baseball Reference comp list, but I always thought there was something similar about the two men: They were roughly contemporaries (Murray is 6 1/2 years older) and both freakishly consistent, especially as young men. Their final career rate numbers are similar too.
Murray: .287/.359/.476, 129 OPS+
McGriff: .284/.377/.509, 134 OPS+
Murray’s career was quite a bit longer — he got 2,643 more plate appearances, almost five seasons worth — and so he was able to put up more impressive raw numbers (500 homers, 3,000 hits, etc). Murray was also a better defensive player and base runner. At their very best, say best four or five seasons, Crime Dog and Steady Eddie have just about the same value.
What we have done, as Hall of Fame voters, is draw a line between them. Murray went in first ballot. McGriff hovers around 20% of the vote. This is what Hall of Fame voters do. We draw lines. We decide this player IS a Hall of Famer and this comparable player is NOT a Hall of Famer. We use various methods to draw these lines, some sensible, some not so much.
Some of the more famous drawn lines in recent memory:
Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter … Dan Quisenberry on ballot for one season.
Hall of Famer Jim Rice … Dwight Evans on ballot for three seasons
Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter … Luis Tiant topped out at 31%.
Hall of Famer Barry Larkin … Alan Trammell topped out at 41%.
Hall of Famer Tony Perez … Darrell Evans on ballot for one season.
Why were those lines drawn? I’m sure there were different reasons for different people, but I would say:
— Sutter got in because of his Cy Young award and because he popularized the split-fingered fastball.
— Rice got in because of his MVP award and reputation as a fearsome hitter.
— Hunter got in because of his Cy Young and because he was an ace for great teams and won 20 five years in a row.
— Larkin got in because he won an MVP award and was often called a future Hall of Famer while he played.
— Perez got in because he was beloved, an RBI machine, and an acknowledged leader of one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
You will feel however you feel about these things … this gets to the heart of underrated and overrated, why one band makes it big while another superior band plays the bars, why one actor becomes a star while another with similar looks and talents and ambition waits tables, why one writer has some success while other better writers flail away. It’s the very heart of the thing your parents told you at some point: “Life’s not always fair.”
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What about the line between Eddie Murray and Fred McGriff?
Behold Eddie Murray’s glorious consistency:
In 1979, he hit .395 with 25 homers, 99 RBIs, 90 runs scored and a 4.9 WAR.
In 1980, he hit .300 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs, 100 runs scored and a 4.4 WAR.
1981 was a strike year, so the numbers don’t look similar. But he led league in HRs and RBI.
In 1982*, he hit .316 with 32 homers, 110 RBIs, 86 runs and a 5.2 WAR.
In 1983, he hit .306 with 33 homers, 111 RBIs, 116 runs and a 6.6 WAR.
In 1984, he hit .306 with 29 homers, 110 RBIs, 97 runs and a 7.1 WAR.
In 1985, he hit .297 with 31 homers, 124 RBIs, 111 runs and a 5.6 WAR.
Behold Fred McGriff’s glorious consistency:
In 1988, he hit 34 homers and had .376 OBP
In 1989, he hit 36 homers and had .399 OBP
In 1990, he hit 35 homers and had .400 OBP
In 1991, he hit 31 homers and had .396 OBP
In 1992, he hit 35 homers and had .394 OBP
In 1993, he hit 37 homers and had .375 OBP
In 1994, strike year, he hit 34 homers and had .389 OBP.
Seven straight years between 31 and 37 homers and OBP between .375 and .400.
So why draw the line between Murray and McGriff? Well, the truth is, Murray is not in the Hall of Fame because of his prime. There are many players, McGriff among them, who at their best were about as good as Murray. Will Clark at his best was Eddie Murray’s equal. Dave Parker at his best was Eddie Murray’s equal … Don Mattingly at his best … Dale Murphy at his best … we could go on.
What made Murray a Hall of Famer was how LONG he managed to be at his best. This is what you see in career WAR:
Murray’s career WAR was 68.3.
Parker’s career WAR was 39.9.
Mattingly’s career WAR was 42.2.
Murphy’s career WAR was 46.2.
Clark’s career WAR was 56.2.
And McGriff’s career WAR was 52.4. Now, you might not like WAR as a statistic and so you can replace it with RBIs (Murray had 350 more than McGriff) or runs scored (Murray had 300 more) or hits (Murray had 750 more) or Gold Gloves or All-Star appearances or MVP vote shares or any number of other things. Murray was probably never the best player in baseball. But he was one of the best for an impossibly long time.
Of course, Murray might not be the best comparison — you might prefer talking about whether there should be a line between David Ortiz and McGriff. The real point is Fred McGriff was a wonderful baseball player, better than many players already in the Hall of Fame. I would be all for a Hall of Fame with him it. Then, I am all for a bigger Hall of Fame.