Crime Dog to Cooperstown: Fred McGriff elected to Hall of Fame
By Scott Miller
In a vote that was both an extraordinary show of support for a single player and a strong repudiation of the game’s performance-enhancing drug era, baseball’s 16-person Contemporary Eras Committee unanimously voted slugging first baseman Fred McGriff into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday evening.
At the same time, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received less than four votes in their first appearance in front of the committee — a replacement for the veterans committee — since dropping off the writers’ ballot last year.
Players under consideration needed at least 12 votes (75%) for election, and committee members were limited to three votes per ballot.
For McGriff, who spent a maximum 10 years on the writers’ ballot without receiving the 75% necessary for election, the celebration was a long time coming. Known as the Crime Dog, after the cartoon crime prevention mascot McGruff, McGriff played for six franchises over 19 seasons and hit at least 30 home runs in a season for five of them.
“What an honor. It’s a beautiful night in Tampa, and I finally did it, I got in there,” McGriff said during a videoconference conducted shortly after Sunday evening’s announcement. “I’ve been totally blessed my whole life and I continue to be blessed. It’s quite an honor to be elected into the Hall of Fame. I want to thank the committee. I know it’s tough deciding who to vote for.”
But in McGriff’s first appearance on an Eras ballot, voters didn’t have difficulty checking the box next to his name.
Not only was he the first player in history to wallop 30 or more homers for five different clubs, he also became the first player to be the single-season home runs leader in each league since the Dead Ball Era. He smashed 36 for Toronto to top the American League in 1989 and 35 for San Diego in 1992 to pace the National League.
But by the end of the 1990s, those mid-30s totals would be diminished by the cartoonishly contorted numbers that some sluggers were producing as PEDs ran unchecked. Just six seasons after McGriff’s 35 led the NL, Mark McGwire smashed 70 home runs to establish an MLB single-season record. McGwire hit 65 more to lead the NL in 1999 and Bonds set the current single-season mark with 73 in 2001.
By the time McGriff retired in 2004, with 493 career home runs, the power landscape was in the process of becoming inextricably altered.
“Over the years, it was about consistency,” McGriff said when asked Sunday evening about being overshadowed by players suspected of using steroids, treading lightly around the subject. “I put a lot into this game. I worked hard to get to this point, maybe just play one game in the big leagues. I exceeded all expectations.”
He continued: “You control what you can control, and if you can’t control it you go with the flow. Over the years, you have people coming up asking you about it.”
McGriff, while playing for Toronto, San Diego, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, also finished with 1,550 RBIs. A left-handed hitter, he was a five-time All-Star and helped power Atlanta to a World Series title in 1995. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times.
Yet in a decade on the writers’ ballot, he received little traction. He peaked at 39.8% of the vote in 2019, his final year of eligibility. Before that, he had never surpassed 23.9%.
Sometimes, he said, he would become frustrated because “if I hit 500 home runs, I’m a great player, and if I hit 493, I’m a good player.”
Bonds finished with a record 762 career home runs and seven NL MVP awards, yet remains on the outside of the Hall looking in. He dropped off the writers’ ballot after obtaining 66% of the vote in his final appearance last year and received a lower percentage Sunday in his first appearance in front of the Eras Committee.
After McGriff, Don Mattingly received eight votes, Curt Schilling got seven and Dale Murphy got six. Albert Belle, Bonds, Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro each received less than four votes but no total was specified for any of the four.
Bonds and Clemens, an ace right-hander who finished with 354 victories, seven Cy Young awards and one MVP award, now must wait three years before the Eras Committee cycles back to their period again in 2026. And, theoretically, because of their poor showing in this year’s voting, there is a chance that they could be left off future ballots.
With a career that paralleled Bonds’ in timing, McGriff has frequently been asked about being left behind statistically by players connected to cheating, and he was asked Sunday if he thought Bonds belonged in the Hall.
“Honestly, right now, I’m just going to enjoy this evening and we can discuss that,” McGriff said. “I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought.”
Asked if he thought Bonds would ever be elected, McGriff took the diplomatic route, saying, “That’s up to the voters. Like with myself, it was up to the voters.”
Initially, there were seven Hall of Fame players on the committee but Chipper Jones was a last-minute scratch with the coronavirus and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks executive Derrick Hall. Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell were on the committee, along with seven executives (Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Hall, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter and Ken Williams), two media members (LaVelle E. Neal III and Susan Slusser) and a historian (Steve Hirdt).
“It was awesome to hear I was voted in unanimously,” McGriff said. “Over the years, I’ve run into a lot of ex-players and teammates and they all were like, ‘Aw, Fred, you had a great career, you need to be in that Hall of Fame’ and so forth,” McGriff said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s a great honor.”
McGriff said that he had never been to Cooperstown, New York.
“Not yet,” he said. “Now I can make some plans to go up there.”
McGriff will be inducted at a ceremony July 23. He will be joined by anybody who is elected on the writers’ ballot, the results of which will be announced Jan. 24.