#15: Fred McGriff

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Lefthanded Hitting, Lefthanded Throwing First Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1993-1997
Stats With Braves: .293/.369/.516, 130 HR, 446 RBI, 383 RS

His career with the team was short — one partial season and four full ones, two of which were strike-shortened — but very high impact. The Crime Dog made three All-Star teams as a Brave and finished fourth, eighth, and twentieth in the MVP voting his first three seasons.

The Yankees drafted him in the ninth round in 1981, but were in the early stages of their Moronic Era (good times!) and traded him (and Mike Morgan) to the Blue Jays for nothing of consequence after the 1982 season. (I believe they were clearing roster space for another one of their dumb moves.) He moved through the Jays’ system slowly but surely, not hitting for much of an average but walking and hitting for power. After a brief callup, he was a platoon DH (with Cecil Fielder) for Jimy Williams in 1987 and the first baseman from 1988-1990. In the offseason, he and Tony Fernandez were traded to the Padres for Robby Alomar and Joe Carter in a rare trade of top-level major leaguers. In 1993, the Padres suddenly decided to stop paying reasonable salaries for good players and on July 18 unloaded McGriff to the Braves for Mel Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore (who never played in the majors). I wanted the Braves to trade Klesko instead of Nieves, which shows what I know…

The words “fire sale” became particularly apt when on the day Fred reported to the team the press box caught on fire. Then the team did. McGriff hit .310/.392/.612 in 68 games after displacing Sid Bream (the opposing first baseman in his first game was Gerald Perry!) and the Braves went 51-17 with McGriff in the lineup, finally running down the Giants to take the division. McGriff was fantastic in the NLCS but the rest of the team wasn’t.

In 1994, he was having his best year when the strike hit, hitting .318/.389/.623 with 34 HR. I still think he likely would have won the MVP if the season had run out, even though he finished eighth in the actual voting. Bagwell, the winner, was hurt right before the strike and would have been finished for the season, and I don’t believe that Williams was going to hit 62.

For whatever reason, Fred was not the same player when he came back from the strike. He went from being an elite hitter with OPS+ in the 150-160 range to a fairly ordinary first baseman with one in the 110-120 range. .280/.361/.489 in 1995 and .295/.365/.494 in 1996 aren’t bad, but not what we had gotten used to in the prior year and a half. His .277/.356/.441 line in 1997 is actually rather poor for a first baseman. The Braves went into the expansion draft after the 1997 season evidently hoping that the Devil Rays would take McGriff, but they didn’t. Afterwards, the two teams committed a “trade” that turned into an outright purchase when they couldn’t agree to the PTBNL.

Fred had another rough year in 1998, but was a productive hitter for the Rays in 1999. In 2001, he was having a good year and I among many other Braves fans wanted the team to reacquire him, but he wound up going to the Cubs instead. He had one last good year in 2002 before fading away.

McGriff’s level of production and stats are very similar to Ryan Klesko’s — no surprise, since the young Klesko was a very similar player to McGriff. Fred ranks higher because he wasn’t platooned and because, while he wasn’t Keith Hernandez, he was a much better defensive player… “Crime Dog” is a Bermanism, which shows that anyone can have a good idea once in a while.

Fred McGriff Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

18 thoughts on “#15: Fred McGriff”

  1. I loved Fred when he was in Atlanta. :) I distinctly remember watching the Braves the day the WGST booth caught on fire. And McGriff’s homer. :D I tried to mimic his swing when I was hititng a ball in the yard (I was 10 :P). I got all right at it. lol

  2. When I moved to NYC in 1990, I recall going to a Yanks-Jays game with a few people, including a couple who weren’t big baseball fans. We were sitting near the back of the right-field “reserved-seat bleachers” (the area later inhabited by Jeffrey Maier), and one of the non-fans asked me:

    “Can anybody hit the ball this far—where we’re sitting?”

    I looked up, saw that Fred McGriff was hitting and said, “Well, that guy hitting right now definitely can.”

    Like Hollywood, in the same AB, he hits a scorcher about 2 rows behind us to our right, by these Dominican guys who were rooting for the Jays. They had flags and were chanting for George Bell all night.

    Those guys were happy as can be & I looked like some kind of baseball Kreskin.

  3. Speaking of the Yankees, I meant to mention that there is no greater indictment of the ignorance of New York fans that they complain constantly about Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps but never about giving up Fred McGriff for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd.

  4. If it were up to me, which it is clearly not, you wouldn’t see Blauser for another eight entries or so.

  5. I am a big Blauser fan…but this high?! I am looking forward to see what Mac has to say about our ex-AA manager!!!

  6. Mac,

    When it comes to bad Yankee trades from the ’80s, I’ve heard McGriff mentioned plenty of times by Yankee fans, along with Willie McGee, Doug Drabek & others.

  7. It’s amazing how many players never recovered from the strike. Way more than what would be expected.

  8. I have always been baffled about what happened to Fred after the strike. He was a totally different player and it certainly can’t be due to the layoff, which was really only a few weeks. Very odd, he went from a near-great player to a solid but unspectacular player. I like Fred, but I’m glad he didn’t get to 500 home runs b/c someone would start thinking he should be in the HOF and I don’t think he belongs there (although he might if he had stayed at his peak for a little longer).

  9. I loved the Crime Dog, one of my favorite Braves of all time. The last I heard he was coaching his son’s highschool baseball team. All of the players call him “Coach Crime.” I love it.

  10. I think Fred is a Hall of Famer. His problem is that his HR peak came before and at the beginning of the offensive era. So people tend to view his counting stats in the context of the post-1994 offense.

    From 1988 to 1994 Fred was in the top 5 in the league in OPS every year; however, this was an era when you could lead the league with a 924 OPS, as Fred did in 1989 and Bonds did in 1991 (when Fred’s 890 was good for third). In 2006 that 924 would fall 24 points short of placing you in the top ten, and 180 points short of the league lead. Fred led the league twice in home runs – with 35 and 36, numbers that again would place him tenth in the NL in 2006.

    A few voters won’t vote for Maddux on the first ballot, hiding behind his postseason performance or some other such piffle. But if htey must follow that reasoning, then Fred also should get bonus points for his career postseason line of 303/385/532

    Throw in that a lot of the guys who have defined this current era are tainted by PEDs, and I think the voters need to give a long, honest look at Fred. They were all set to vote in Palmeiro until his PED use was exposed, and Palmeiro actually had a smidgen lower OPS+ than Fred (132 to Fred’s 134, essentially even).

    The top nontainted 1B of Fred’s era will likely be Bagwell and Thomas. Thomas has hte best offensive numbers, but has played more than half his games at DH. Adjusting for that I’d view him and Bagwell as tied, with Fred solidly behind them. The others who’d have been ahead of him were McGwire and Palmeiro, and they shot themselves in the a** (literally, apparently).

    That fred couldn’t take as much advantage of the offensive era as others is a point against him, but we should not ignore that he was an absolutely dominant hitter in what was essentially a mini-pitchers’ era before that.

  11. Oh, and I was at the stadium fire game where Fred made his debut. His homer was a hell of a way to make a first impression :-)

  12. Sorry to triple-post, but one more thing. The Braves came very close to trading Fred to the Marlins prior to the 1997 season, but Bobby Cox asked JS not to do it, didn’t want Fred traded within the division.

  13. When the Crime Dog was really playing, he was one of the best. You mentioned that after teh Cubs he faded away…Where did he go? What is he doing now?

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