The National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be announced today. By all indications, the Baseball Writers Association of America is sure to elect at least Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez and Roy Halladay with the fate a couple of fringe candidates up in the air as always. But, there’s one candidate worth talking about who is neither a lock or on the periphery. This year marks the last chance for Fred McGriff with the BBWAA on the Hall of Fame ballot. The minute Tim Raines was elected in 2017, McGriff became the most underappreciated candidate on the ballot.
In 2010, McGriff debuted on the ballot with 21.5% of the electorate behind him. Last year, his name appeared on 23.2% of the ballots. Most of the players that land in this range fall into one of two categories. Some are more suited for the hall of very good, but have enough support to stay alive by a comfortable margin as five percent of the vote is what is needed to make it to the following election. Others have ties to performance-enhancing drugs and are not named Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. McGriff does not fit into either group yet has not seen the steady uptick in voting percentage that Raines did as the electric leadoff man opened at 24.3% in 2008 and was elected two years ago with 86.2% of the vote.
The Hall of Fame election announcement day can often spark new school versus old school baseball debates amongst fans and voters. Comparative analysis using advanced metrics isn’t going anywhere, though there are plenty of individuals that cling to the older counting statistics. As baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder notes here, McGriff checks off boxes from both crowds when looking at how he stacks up with players that have already made it to Cooperstown. The more you stare at Spaeder’s tweet, the more frustrated you should get. How is it possible that someone can be equal to or better than so many Hall of Famers in so many statistical categories, both old and new, and still be a full 50 percentage points shy of election?
Now, let’s narrow our focus to one statistic that everyone should believe in. The Crime Dog hit 493 home runs. That gives him the most dingers out of anyone not in the Hall of Fame that does not have steroid ties. If the work stoppage does not happen in 1994, McGriff gets to 500 homers and this isn’t a conversation. Maybe some voters are so stuck in their ways with those kinds of benchmarks that the difference between 493 and 500 is far more than just seven bombs.
Perhaps the most extraneous factor that plays a role in both Hall of Fame and award voting is team success and lack thereof. Though, even that doesn’t explain the disrespect for McGriff. He played on some very good Toronto teams in the late 80s and 1990 to start his career. He also had some big years for Atlanta in the mid 90s and was a part of the Braves 1995 World Series title, even if he wasn’t the biggest name on the roster. He did play for some cellar dwellers in Tampa Bay and Chicago at the end of his career, but by then he already had put together a nice resume.
All that’s left to point to here is the fact that McGriff played right through the prime of the steroid era. This brings us back to his home run total of 493. Now that we’re 15 years removed from McGriff’s playing days, it’s probably easy to look at that number and be impressed and question why he isn’t close to Cooperstown. But when he was accumulating those statistics, he was drowned out by the likes of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Sheffield and Ramirez. Another one of those extraneous factors than can come into play for voters is an era bias. In other words, how did you compare with your peers and were you one of the best players to play the game for the majority of your career? For obvious reasons, McGriff does not compare well with other power hitters that played during his time. This same argument could be used in favor of pitchers that played during the steroid era and probably works to Mike Mussina’s advantage as he looks to get closer to the 75% threshold today.
Put your feelings about the players from the steroid era aside for a minute and think more about how the era always had players like McGriff that were doing it right all along left behind. He only made it to the All-Star game five times. He only finished in the top five of MVP voting once. So, he must not be a Hall of Famer!
It’s a shame that this is likely why McGriff never got close to Cooperstown with the writers. He’ll probably get some sympathy votes today with it being his final year, but that’s not going to change anything. Thankfully, the Today’s Game Committee will almost certainly put him in. I can’t think of a better candidate whose career is worth a second look through such a committee than McGriff. If Harold Baines and Lee Smith can get in this way, then Fred McGriff certainly can. I look forward to the day we have justice for the Crime Dog. It’s long overdue.