Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is a nice quiet town in upstate New York. It has everything a town of that size could want: shops, restaurants, a library, a hospital, clean sidewalks, and a gorgeous view of a lake. But one thing Cooperstown could use is a Crime Dog.
No, security isn’t an issue in Cooperstown. They could use the Crime Dog, longtime major league first basemen Fred McGriff, who is a worthy candidate for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame but has been consistently overlooked by voters.
Nicknamed the Crime Dog by distinguished broadcaster Chris Berman because of his name’s resemblance to the anthropomorphic character McGruff the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff was one of the most steady and consistent first baseman of his day. He was a five-time all-star, three-time Silver Slugger winner, one of two players to have a 30-home runs season with five different teams, and was the first player to lead each league in home runs since the 19th century. McGriff also has 493 career home runs, the same number as Lou Gehrig.
Everything about him says he was one of the top stars of his generation. Yet, he’s not remembered as being a star, and Hall of Fame voters have kept him far from Cooperstown and its majestic lake view. McGriff being so disrespected by history and the Hall of Fame voters is a crime committed against the Crime Dog himself.
There was a time when 500 home runs would earn a player automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. Admittedly, McGriff fell seven home runs shy of that watermark. But would seven more home runs be the difference in receiving 22% of Hall of Fame votes as McGriff did in 2017 and the 75% required for induction into Cooperstown? It’s highly unlikely that a majority of Hall of Fame voters are declining to include McGriff on their ballot because he came up seven home runs shy of 500.
“You know that highlight reel that shows the Willie Mays catch and then switches to the fan, who grabs his head with his hands in amazement? Fred McGriff does that to you when he hits a home run. Taking nothing away from (Jose) Canseco and (Mark) McGwire, but everybody knows they lift weights. I wish I could get Freddie to lift weights. The only things he lifts are candy bars.”
Voters giving automatic entry to any player with 500 home runs stopped when all the power hitters of the steroid era started to become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Many of those players have been denied a trip to Cooperstown, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, McGriff has been lumped in with many of those players; a group to which he does not belong.
If you had the pleasure of watching McGriff play, you’ll have noticed his sweet, left-handed swing. You may also notice that he’s thin as a rail. How a man with arms that skinny hit nearly 500 home runs is anybody’s guess. But it’s obvious that he wasn’t aided by performance-enhancing drugs like many of his contemporaries who had arms that were more akin to NFL linemen than baseball players.
While there were rumors linking many of the power hitters of that era to steroids, there was never so much of a whisper about McGriff. In fact, little was ever said about McGriff during his playing days. There was little about him that was flashy or attention-grabbing. He didn’t talk trash, showboat, or admire his home runs. McGriff quietly went about his business, collecting nearly 2,500 hits, nearly 500 home runs, and over 1,500 RBIs.
“I haven’t changed over the years. I’m still the same size.”
Considering the numbers he put up without the help of steroids in an era when everybody appeared to be doing steroids, McGriff should stand out even more. Unfortunately, his quiet persona and the crimes of his peers have likely doomed his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame. It’s a shame; as a player from the steroid era who hit his home runs fair and square, Cooperstown could use a player like Fred McGriff.