Hall Watch 2004- The First Basemen- Fred McGriff

Friday, November 05 2004 @ 10:42 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Keeping on with old guys, we now turn our gaze to Fred McGriff. Crime Dog was always the strong, silent type, and that might eventually be what keeps him out of the Hall. It certainly won’t be the merits of his cause.

McGriff was drafted by the Yankees in 1981. He spent 2 years in rookie league. In December, 1982, Pat Gillick pulled off a heist, obtaining McGriff as a throw-in in the Dale Murray for Dave Collins trade. McGriff would spend 4 more years in the Jay minor league system before getting his first serious shot at a major league job in 1987, when he had 350 plate appearances before winning the first base job in 1988 from Willie Upshaw. He immediately hit for average and power with fine plate discipline, and continued doing so consistently until 1997. With a couple of off years (for him) in 1998 and 2000, he continued at essentially the same level through his age 38 season in 2002. He has not done much the last 2 years, with a .181/.272/.306 in 2004 in 72 at-bats, probably signalling the end of his career.

Putting his career in perspective is a challenge. He was clearly the best first baseman in the majors from 1988-90 before Frank Thomas came along. This period was not a hitter’s era- league on-base percentages were in the .325-.330 range and slugging percentages were in the .380-.390 range. Despite his clear superiority at the position from 1988-1990, he was not named an All-Star until 1992. He has been a consistent and durable player, although not quite at the level of Palmeiro and Murray. Interestingly, he’s actually been a somewhat better than either per at bat (OPS+ failing to account adequately for the differing incremental values in OBP and slugging percentage).

With that in mind, the chart follows. It does not include McGriff’s 2004 year, but his stats are essentially unchanged.

Player    G     AB     H     HR    W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Palmeiro 2721 10103 2922 551 1310 .289 .372 .517 132
Murray 2819 10603 3071 479 1257 .290 .362 .482 133
McGriff 2433 8685 2477 491 1296 .285 .378 .511 134
Terry 1721 6428 2193 154 537 .341 .393 .506 137
Bottomley 1991 7471 2313 219 664 .310 .369 .500 125

Should McGriff get the call to Cooperstown? Will he? It is pretty clear to me that he should. The marker, as I mentioned in the Palmeiro piece, is Bill Terry. Terry was the best first baseman in the National League for a year or two. McGriff was the best in baseball for at least that long., and McGriff sustained his excellence for much longer than Terry. While he is Hall-worthy, my gut tells me that he won’t be elected. Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930, and I don’t think that Hall voters appreciate that this was not an awe-inspiring achievement due to the batting averages of that year, and really McGriff’s performance in 1988-90 is about as impressive. McGriff just didn’t put up the shiny numbers that capture the attention. His lack of All-Star recognition in 1989, 1990 and 1991 presages, I think, what will come when the Hall votes are taken. If it is perceived that there are a glut of first base candidates from the 90s, McGriff’s name will be the easiest to ignore.

Other first baseman in this series: Rafael Palmeiro

Next up: Frank Thomas