While we were gushing over Ken Griffey Jr. voting totals (read my profile of him as The Almost Brave) or how Mike Piazza‘s back acne wasn’t enough to keep him out of the HOF for a fourth year or how Tim Raines and Jeff Bagwell look like they will get in next year…one topic was brought up on a couple of occasions by the AJC’s David O’Brien. “(Fred) McGriff’s total up, but still only 20.9 percent. Ridiculous.” “He should get more (votes) IMO. A lot more.”
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O’Brien is certainly entitled to his opinion. The AJC bars DOB from voting, but if he did, his hypothetical ballot would have had Fred McGriff, Junior, Piazza, Bagwell, and Raines on it along with Trevor Hoffman and Larry Walker. It’s not the worst ballot – hypothetical or otherwise – but considering his support for the Crime Dog, my question is – and really the focus of this post – does McGriff deserve such a push?
I tend to side with “no.” The problem with McGriff is really this simple – he really never stood out. He was a good player who accomplished some very impressive things, but during the era he played (1986-2004), he ranks 20th in fWAR with 56.9 . If anything should tell you about where a player ranks, it’s a stat like that because it truly should benefit McGriff. I’m taking his whole career into account, but for other players, it might just be a part of their careers (players who began their careers before ’86 or played beyond ’04). If position accounts for much, McGriff ranks sixth among 1B during that time period. Here’s the Top 5:
Presumably, Bagwell will be elected next year and Thomas joined two years ago. Palmeiro and McGwire were tarnished by steroids. That leaves Olerud and McGriff, teammates in 1989 and ’90 with the Blue Jays. Olerud certainly didn’t reach the big HR numbers that McGriff did (he pulls ahead on defense), but their careers are pretty similar. Incredibly so, actually. Here is a glimpse at some stats to show that.
Yet, Olerud received 4 Hall of Fame votes in 2011 in his only year on the ballot. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that there aren’t other things at play here (namely 493 career homeruns), nor that Olerud deserved more consideration (or even equal consideration to McGriff). My only criticism here is that O’Brien’s contention that McGriff deserves a lot more votes seems unrealistic to me. Juan Gonzalez, who was a better player than either McGriff or Olerud, barely lasted one year on the ballot before falling off.
It’s worth mentioning that unlike McGriff, Gonzalez has some ties to steroids due to a weird incident in the Mitchell Report and accusations by Jose Canseco. Gonzalez denies it, but it likely played a role in stifling any support for Gonzalez sticking around on the ballot. This leads us to, essentially, McGriff’s rallying cry. He did it clean. Unlike so many other power hitters of the time period, there has not been the first accusation that McGriff was on any performance-enhancing drug. Others, including Piazza, are voted against on the hint of allegations, but because McGriff doesn’t have that, it seems like it makes his accomplishments more impressive.
The problem for me is that this argument does little to help a player’s claim as one of baseball’s elite. That’s the whole purpose of the Hall of Fame, no? It reminds me all too much of the arguments presented about Dale Murphy. The numbers and on-the-field accomplishments fell short, but Murphy was a “Hall of Fame person.” In an era where we penalize potential Hall of Famers for their personal demons, should we prop up someone who did it the “right way” even if that “right way” wasn’t good enough to lead to a Hall of Fame career? My answer is an emphatic no. I love Murphy and I especially love McGriff. In this blog, I’ve announced my Favorite Braves team – guys I watched and loved. He’s my starting first baseman. But that’s not enough for me to turn a “no” into a “yes” when it comes to the Crime Dog’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame.
I hate to use this cliche, but McGriff definitely is a member of the Hall of Really Good Players. He was never a top player, either at his position or in his league, but he was very consistent and posted an wRC+ of 131 to 162 each year from ’87 to ’94. His decline from greatness happened the next year, but he remained productive up until 2003 and 2004, when he stuck around essentially to reach 500 homeruns. He was also great in the postseason, belting 10 homeruns as a Brave with a .917 OPS.
But Hall of Famers should be compared to the players at their position while they played as part of the criteria and McGriff falls short – especially compared to the careers of Thomas and Bagwell (one a HOFer, the other soon to be). Increasing the timeline to include the last 30 years, McGriff’s career falls further into perspective. If he’s a Hall of Fame player, is Lance Berkman? If McGriff is in the Hall, why isn’t Olerud? Why isn’t Will Clark? Or Keith Hernandez?
Here’s one final thought on McGriff. In his 19-year career, he led his team in bWAR just three times – twice with the Jays, once with the Rays.
He simply never stood out.