Baseball Hall of Fame: Why Fred McGriff is definitely headed to Cooperstown — in 2022Sporting News — (Ryan Fagan)
Tom Emanski should have returned the favor. The man behind the famous "Defensive Drills" videos should have done a series of infomercials supporting Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame candidacy. I can see it now …
“I’m so impressed with the exceptional statistics from Fred McGriff that I’ve given him my full endorsement,” Emanski could have said. “When you watched him, you knew why.”
After a montage of McGriff highlights — including his Game 1 home run in the 1995 World Series for the Braves — there’s only one way this video could have finished, with Emanski pointing emphatically at the camera: “This is the candidacy video that gets results!”
But Emanski produced no such video, and in 10 years on the BBWAA ballot, McGriff’s candidacy has failed to gather any real momentum.
When the results for the class of 2019 are announced Jan. 22, the slugger known affectionately as the Crime Dog will once again fall far short of the 75 percent threshold necessary for induction. McGriff’s vote totals are up this year, at 36.5 percent according to the invaluable tracker compiled by Ryan Thibodaux, but still nowhere near the number needed. This is his last year on the BBWAA ballot; the Hall shortened a player’s eligibility from 15 years to 10 years before the 2015 vote.
Here are McGriff’s year-by-year voting totals, which have remained amazingly consistent (or stagnant, depending on your perspective):
21.5 percent (2010)
17.9 percent (2011)
23.9 percent (2012)
20.7 percent (2013)
11.7 percent (2014)
12.9 percent (2015)
20.9 percent (2016)
21.7 percent (2017)
23.2 percent (2018)
The lack of traction is disappointing for a player of McGriff’s caliber, no doubt.
But we’ve buried the lede, folks.
Fred McGriff will absolutely wind up in Cooperstown. Generations of fans will gaze upon his bronze plaque in the hallowed gallery and read about his 493 career home runs, his career playoff .303 average and 10 home runs in 50 postseason games — he hit .333 with a 1.065 OPS in October 1995, leading the Braves to the World Series title — and his 15 seasons with at least 20 homers. They’ll read about how his arrival in July 1993 helped Atlanta erase a 10-game deficit in the NL West and edge the Giants by a game for the title, 104 wins to 103 wins.
Fans will read the story of Fred McGriff, Hall of Famer.
This will happen, and it won’t matter that he wasn’t elected by the BBWAA. When his resume is placed alongside those enshrined, his numbers are deserving. It’s true, he’s not one of the 10 best first baseman in the history of the game, but the Hall of Fame hasn’t been elite-of-the-elite since the veterans committee dilution of the mid-1940s. Based on what the Hall actually is, not what some people want it to be, McGriff belongs.
If you’re a McGriff devotee, you can go ahead and make plans for a trip to Cooperstown in July 2022 (and you might need to book soon, because hotel rooms in that tiny hamlet are scarce). He’ll be eligible for that class as part of the Today’s Game Era. That 16-person committee — made up of Hall of Famers, baseball executives and a few veteran writers — will vote in December 2021, and McGriff will be a no-brainer choice. If recent committee votes are any indication, he might even be unanimous, as long as nobody’s feeling cantankerous.
So why does someone like McGriff, with his solid credentials, have to wait? Why was he not elected by the BBWAA in his decade on the ballot? And more to the point, why did he never really come close? What the hell happened? Let’s take a look.
First, it’s possible that no player has been more negatively affected by the crowded ballots of the past decade than McGriff. Here’s the truth: The BBWAA is not tasked with choosing simply whether a player is of Hall of Fame caliber. Because of the rules in place — a voter can only check the box next to a maximum of 10 players — the voters are forced to make ballot decisions, and these decisions are difficult.
I’ve had the honor of voting for the past three years, and I can testify to the challenge (more on my personal approach to McGriff in a moment). Do we just vote for the 10 players with the best resumes? If we believe more than 10 players on any given ballot are deserving, do we strategically cast votes for the players who need support more than others? And how do steroid-connected players fit?
So many factors to consider. Anyway, back to McGriff.
His first appearance on the ballot was as part of the potential class of 2010. Andre Dawson was the only player to reach the necessary 75 percent of the vote that year, but eight other players on that ballot have been elected to the Hall — Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines were voted in by the BBWAA, and Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jack Morris and Harold Baines were elected by committees. Edgar Martinez, who made his debut that year, stands a very good chance of being elected by the BBWAA this year. Stars of the 1980s, including Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly and Dave Parker were there, too.
The ballot crunch only got worse a few years later, when zero players in the class of 2013 reached 75 percent, but 11 players received at least 33 percent and 17 hit double-digits. McGriff was 13th on the list, at 20.7 percent. That was the year Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa made their ballot debuts — and ramped up the PED conversations — along with Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling.
In 2014, three first-year candidates were elected — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — but the glut of worthy holdover candidates from 2013 remained. Three more first-timers — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — got in with the class of 2015, along with Biggio on his third try. That year, a staggering 14 players received at least 24 percent of the vote, with McGriff coming in at 12.9 percent.
We’ve finally seen a bit of a ballot clearing the past two years, with seven players elected — three first-timers and four on at least their second attempt — and that’s a big reason McGriff looks like he’ll finish comfortably above 30 percent for the first time. It’s not that voters don’t think he belongs at all, it’s that he’s just not been in the top 10 on ballots that feature as many as 15 players who could eventually wind up in Cooperstown. He’s not just getting last-year sympathy votes this time, folks.
And now, my thoughts on McGriff.
I believe in voter transparency. I think it’s hugely important to the credibility of the process, and it’s something baseball fans should demand and expect. With all three of my ballots, I’ve written lengthy columns explaining not only why I did vote for players, but why I didn’t vote for others. Here's what I wrote about McGriff this year.
A bit more about my thought process: I’ve voted for the maximum 10 players each year. I won’t always do that, but with the glut of great players on the ballot the three years I’ve had a vote, I’ve had to not just decide which players are Hall-caliber, but prioritize how I’m going to use each of my 10 spots and why that player deserves the vote.
So how do I most effectively use each of my 10 spots?
If players actually stand a chance of being elected that year, I’ve voted for the ones I strongly believe deserve enshrinement in Cooperstown. If I believe a player deserves to stick around on the ballot and stay in the conversation for at least another year, I’ve voted for them (see first-year guys Johan Santana and Scott Rolen last year). If it’s a player whose totals are highly scrutinized, I’ve voted for him to give an accurate representation for the level of support in the BBWAA (see Bonds and Clemens all three years).
McGriff hasn’t fit into any of those categories. He’s never been close to election, so my vote wouldn’t get him over the hump. He’s never been close to falling off the ballot, so my vote wouldn’t keep him in the conversation. And with a lack of any sort of momentum toward election — as we’ve seen with Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker — it honestly didn’t seem like a vote for McGriff was accomplishing much.
Here’s my McGriff truth: I really, truly feel that his BBWAA-era fate was sealed before I ever received my first ballot. He received a lower percentage the year before my first vote (20.9 percent) than he did in his first year on the ballot (21.5 percent). With my effort to give each of my 10 votes maximum impact, McGriff hasn’t made the cut, even though I feel he belongs.
And here’s the other thing: I’ve looked at McGriff’s numbers compared to players who have traditionally been elected through various veterans-type committees over the years. McGriff has long seemed destined to be an easy committee choice. In a committee, he’s not competing with the elites who happen to be on that specific ballot — elite, super-duper stars such as Pedro Martinez, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux or Ken Griffey, Jr. — for one of 10 votes. In a committee, he’s being compared to the entire spectrum of Hall of Famers, which, to be honest, can often be a much less demanding bar to reach.
I’ve thought this for years, and the Today’s Game Era results announced in December — 10 players on the ballot, members can vote for a maximum of four — confirmed my thinking. If 12 of the 16 voters felt Harold Baines deserved a spot in the Hall, all 16 might deem McGriff worthy for induction in 2022. That’s not a knock on Baines, but more of a confirmation of how I feel the committee will evaluate McGriff.
So let me be the first to introduce you to Fred McGriff, member of the Hall of Fame class of 2022. Congrats, Crime Dog. Not sure which cap you'll wear, but I'm sure you'll look great in bronze.