When I was younger, growing up in Savannah, Georgia, I remember being glued to Atlanta Braves baseball from the age of six. That year was 1990, and as has been well documented the next year started an unprecedented run of division success in Atlanta that has made it the brand it is today. Sprinkled in were the opportunities to watch legends at work. I watched Steve Avery define what is now consider the blueprint for developmental pitching success. I witnessed Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz win six of the decades Cy Young awards (Maddux won one his last year with the Cubs) and it was all surrounded by the arrival of an Atlanta sports icon in Chipper Jones, five national league pennants and the 1995 world series championship. Quietly, though, from 1993 to 1997 the Braves ran out another hall of fame caliber player that many seem to overlook outside of the city of Atlanta.
The “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff.
I’ll give you a minute to poke fun before I produce some statistics that will no doubt solidify his case as a no-doubt-about-it hall of famer.
Lets start with the years 1988 to 1994 when McGriff hit 30+ home runs each of those years, including two years during that stretch where he led the American and National League in that category (one of three in major league history to accomplish this feat). In 1994 he was robbed of an historic season when he finished with 34 home runs and a .318 batting average before the strike hit. He did however win the All-Star game MVP that season.
McGriff was more than a masher, finishing his career with a .284 batting average over 19 seasons. He defined the role of the prototypical clean-up hitter because he blended power and average so well hitting .300 or better in five seasons, .290 or better in two seasons and .280 or better in four. In 1995, when the Atlanta Braves won their only world title, McGriff lead the way with 27 home runs.
He was a five-time All-star and finished in the top-10 in voting for the MVP six times. Now I know what you’re saying right now is where is he in an historical context?
I’m glad you asked.
Baseball Reference has him comparable to Eddie Mathews, Billy Williams, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey and Jeff Bagwell. By my count that is four current and one future hall of famer. His 493 (untainted) home runs place him 26th all-time in baseball history and tied with Lou Gerhig. Most importantly, though, his dominance during his early years and well into (and even past) his prime made him an incredibly influential player because the model by which a clean-up hitter is measured was, and to some extent still is, Fred McGriff. If for nothing else his consistency alone made him invaluable to every club he played on. His 15 consectuve seasons with at least 20 home runs leaves him as one of 14 players in history to accomplish the feat. Add to the fact that McGriff played the game the right way and was known as a “great guy, better teammate” in every circle and you’ve got a baseball writers dream candidate for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Of course my favorite thing about Fred Mcgriff will always be that swing.