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Classic Player Profile: Fred McGriff

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One of the lone bright spots from early days of the franchise: The Crime Dog!

David Seelig/Getty Images

With the Hall of Fame election results being announced Wednesday, I thought t'd be nice to bring this one back out as McGriff has a chance at being one of the select few enshrined - Adam

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Player: Fred McGriff

Born: October 31st, 1963

Positions: 1B and DH

Drafted: On June 8th, 1981 by the New York Yankees in the 9th round (pick #233) out of Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida

Tenure: 1998-2001, 2004

Start of Tenure: On November 8th, 1997 was purchased from the Atlanta Braves // On March 23rd, 2004 signed as a Free Agent

End of Tenure: On July 27th, 2001 was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Manny Aybar and a PTBNL (Jason Smith) // On July 28th, 2004 was released

Teams: New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2), Chicago Cubs, and the Los Angeles Dodgers

Currently: Retired in spring training of 2005, currently works various media jobs for MLB

Rays Stat Line: 9.0 WAR, Slashed .291/.380/.484, 603 Hits, 99 HR, 359 RBI, and 11 SB in 577 Games

Drafted By Yankees

(1981-1982)

On June 8th, 1981 Fred McGriff was selected in the 9th round of the annual draft by the New York Yankees. Although McGriff had been given a baseball scholarship to the University of Georgia, he was eager to begin his baseball career and signed with the Yankees three days later.

The Yankees assigned the 17-year old draft pick down to their Gulf Coast team in the Rookie Leagues. McGriff had a disappointing first professional season, but was still very young and did show some promise, in 29 games he slashed .148/.247/.173. A year later in 1982, McGriff found himself back in the Gulf Coast League, but this time he performed much better and even led the team in HR's by a large margin, even though he had none the season prior. In 62 games, McGriff slashed .272/.402/.456 with 9 HR and 41 RBI. After the season concluded, McGriff was named to the Gulf Coast League All-Star team.

On December 9th, 1982 the Yankees then traded young McGriff, along with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan, to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray.

Prospect for Toronto

(1983-1986)

Heading into 1983, the newly acquired McGriff was ranked 5th in the Blue Jays system by Baseball America. After spring training, the Jays assigned McGriff to their Single-A team in Florence. In only 33 games, McGriff slashed .311/.410/.456 with 7 HR and 26 RBI. With that performance, McGriff was promoted to High-A Kinston where he would finished the season having played in a combined 127 games and slashed .260/.369/.484 with 28 HR and 83 RBI.

Entering 1984, after an impressive season as a 19 year old, McGriff was named 2nd in the Jays' system only behind Tony Fernandez by Baseball America. Toronto assigned their budding first baseman to Double-A Knoxville where he played with Cecil Fielder and David Wells. In 56 games for Knoxville, McGriff slashed .249/.347/.481 with 9 HR and 25 RBI. McGriff was then called up to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, where he finished the season.

In 1985, the 21 year old McGriff was named the top prospect in the Blue Jays system by Baseball America.  McGriff was assigned back to Syracuse, but he suffered a stress fracture of his right ankle, which limited him to only 51 games. In that playing time, McGriff slashed .227/.330/.381 with 5 HR and 20 RBI.

In 1986, after the lost year, McGriff saw his prospect status drop to the 7th ranking in the Jays system by Baseball America. McGriff was sent back to Syracuse to start the year, but was called up in mid-May to the majors. McGriff made his MLB debut on May 17th, 1986 in a game against the Cleveland Indians at Exhibition stadium in Toronto. McGriff came on in the top of the 8th as a defensive replacement for Willie Upshaw, but would not receive a plate appearance.

The next day, McGriff started his 1st career game as the DH, his 1st AB would come in the bottom of the 2nd against Don Schulze. On the 1st pitch, McGriff laced a linedrive in left field for his 1st career hit. He would be pinch-hit for in the third by Cliff Johnson to end his night. McGriff played in only on more MLB game that season, on May 20th, going 0-4 with two trikeouts, then was demoted back to Syracuse where he finished the season having played in 133 games and slashed .259/.369/.447 with 19 HR and 74 RBI.

McGriff playing 1st for the Blue Jays

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Solid Rookie Season

(1987)

In 1987, Jays Manger Jimmy Williams informed McGriff that he had made the Blue Jays roster out of Spring Training and would be the team's starting DH.

McGriff started the season out well, and on April 17th against Bob Stanley of the Boston Red Sox, he hit his first career HR. It came during the bottom of the 5th inning with the Blue Jays trailing, 4-5. McGriff stepped in with Jesse Barfield and Upshaw on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs. McGriff then sent one over the left field wall to give the Jays a 7-5 lead, they'd eventually win 10-5.

Despite solid enough numbers, McGriff didn't garner any votes for Rookie of the Year, which was won by Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics, but his teammates George Bell and Jimmy Key received some recognition. Bell won the AL MVP award and Key finished 2nd to Roger Clemens for the AL Cy Young award. The Blue Jays also failed to make the playoffs despite a 96-66 record, which was good for 2nd in the AL East. They lost out to the Detroit Tigers in exciting finish to the regular season, the Tigers would lose to the eventual World Series winning, Minnesota Twins, in the ALCS.  The Twins had won the AL West with a record of 85-77, which would have placed them in 5th in the AL East.

McGriff finished his first full season at the MLB level at the age of 23, with a slash of .247/.376/.505 in 107 games and with a club rookie record of 20 HR (one of which is below, a majestic shot into a sea of blue seats in Yankee Stadium's upper deck in right field).


Fearsome Slugger

(1988-1990)

In spring training of 1988, the Blue Jays decided to deploy McGriff as their starting first baseman and sold Willie Upshaw to the Indians. McGriff was the opening day 1B and would go 2-4 batting eighth. He continued to hit well and finished the month with a .321 AVG. McGriff hit even better in May, but slumped in June then hovered around .290 the rest of the season. In 154 games, he slashed .282/.376/.552 with 34 HR and 82 RBI, the 34 HR were good for second in the MLB behind only Jose Canseco who had 42 with the Oakland Athletics, and McGriff also received some MVP votes (finishing 17th).

In 1989 McGriff became a known danger in the Blue Jays lineup. By the end of April, he already had 7 HR and was batting above .300. On June 5th the Blue Jays' new stadium, the SkyDome opened and McGriff christened it with a 2-Run HR in the bottom of the 2nd off of Milwaukee Brewers' pitcher, Don August.

McGriff turned in another quality season, playing in 161 games and leading the AL with 36 HR and a .924 OPS. McGriff finished the season with a slash line of .269/.399/.525 with 36 HR and 92 RBI, placing 6th in the 1989 MVP award voting, and was awarded his first Silver Slugger award along with his first taste of postseason action, going 3-21 in the ALCS against the Athletics.

Clips from McGriff's first few years in Toronto (including interviews):

In 1990, McGriff again got off to a quick start, but fell into the worst slump of his career to that point, at the end of May, McGriff was down to .234. McGriff would hit very well though for the rest of the year and in 153 games, he slashed .300/.400/.530 with 35 HR and 88 RBI, finishing 10th in the MVP voting.

All-Star Friar

(1991-1993)

The Toronto Blue Jays had one of the better 1B prospects in all of baseball, John Olerud, waiting in the wings to take McGriff's place after that season, so on December 5th, 1990 the Blue Jays sent McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

McGriff arrived in the National League and made his presence known by hitting in his first seven games as a Padre. The pitchers in the NL learned to fear McGriff and intentionally walked him a league high 26 times. In 153 games, McGriff slashed .278/.396/.494 with 31 HR and 106 RBI, again finishing 10th in MVP voting.

In 1992, McGriff started the season off with a bang, homering four of the first five games, including a grand slam on April 10th. The week earned him NL coplayer of the week honors. McGriff would earn the award again in July in a week that saw him homer in 4 consecutive games. McGriff was voted into his first All-Star game, where he went 2-3 in the game.

McGriff in a Padres Uni

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When the season concluded, McGriff had played in 152 games and slashed .286/.394/.556 with 35 HR and 104 RBI earning his 2nd Silver Slugger award and finished 6th in MVP voting. With the 35 HR, McGriff became just the 2nd player in the 20th century to lead both leagues in HR's.

McGriff got off to a horrid start in 1993, finishing the month of April batting below .200, but his luck would turn around as the season progressed and by July was back up to .260. When the All-Star break came around, on July 18th, the Padres dealt McGriff to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects:  Vince Moore, Donnie Elliot, and Melvin Nieves.

Postseason Braves

(1993-1997)

When McGriff was traded to Atlanta, the Braves were trailing the San Francisco Giants in the playoff race by 9 games. McGriff's first game in a Braves uniform came on July 20th against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the game featured an unusual start though as the press box was engulfed in flames prior to the first pitch. The fire was eventually extinguished and the game began. Entering the bottom of the 6th, the Braves were trailing 5-0. Following Jeff Blauser's 3-Run HR and a Ron Gant single, McGriff stepped up to the plate and launched a 2-Run HR that tied the game at 5, the Braves eventually won, 8-5.

In other words, it seemed that McGriff's arrival ignited the Braves, as the team would go 51-17 after he joined the team with McGriff a key cog in Bobby Cox's lineup.

The Braves finished the season with a record of 104-58, which was one game better than the Giants. McGriff finished the regular season with a slash line of .291/.375/.549 with 37 HR and 101 RBI in 151 games combined between San Diego and Atlanta. The Braves would lose in the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies in 6 games, but McGriff provided plenty of offense for Atlanta, batting .435 with 1 HR and 4 RBI. For his efforts, McGriff was awarded another Silver Slugger and came in 4th for MVP voting.

McGriff had a great April in 1994, he hit safely in 20 of the 23 games he played in, and also had 5 HR. McGriff was possibly having the best year of his career, by the time the All-Star game came around he was batting .310 with 23 HR and 63 RBI. Due to his superb play, McGriff was selected to be in his second All-Star honors. Entering the bottom of the 9th, Lee Smith replaced Wilson Alvarez to try and close out the game for the AL, who had a 2 run lead. Smith walked Marquis Grissom to start the inning, then was able to get Craig Biggio to ground into a force out to bring McGriff to the plate. Smith delivered a pitch to the low-outside corner, but McGriff was able to get to it and launched it into the seats at Three Rivers Stadium to tie the game at seven. The NL would win it in the 10th thanks to a walkoff double by Moises Alou, but the All-Star Game MVP honors went to Fred McGriff.

Unfortunately, the season would come to an abrupt close exactly 1 month later when team owners tried to enforce new policies that would eventually lead to a salary cap, as a result on August 12th, 1994 players didn't suit up and went on strike. The strike caused the first cancellation of the World Series since it's conception in 1904. The season's abrupt ending halted many things, such as Matt Williams chance at passing Roger Maris' HR record, or the Montreal Expos' high probability of reaching the World Series, and it was also the most likely reason that McGriff never reached the 500 HR plateau (something required for many Hall of Fame voters). Nonetheless, McGriff finished the season with 34 HR, 94 RBI, and slashed .318/.389/.623 in only 113 games, also finished 8th in MVP voting.

In 1995, just as replacement players were about to start the regular season, the strike ended and opening day was postponed for three weeks, withthe season would be shortened to 144 games. The season finally started on April 26th, and McGriff showed that the long hiatus didn't cool down his bat, he went 4-5 with 2 HR's

McGriff in a Braves uni

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

McGriff slumped a bit in May, but was able to regain his swing and was selected to be in his third All-Star game. As the season wound down, McGriff was a solid offensive weapon for the NL East winning Braves. McGriff would finish the regular season with 27 HR, 93 RBI, and slashed .280/.361/.489 in all 144 games.

Atlanta dominated the 1995 postseason, the won the NLDS over the Colorado Rockies 4 games to 1, then swept the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds, to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. McGriff's first World Series at-bat came in the bottom of the 2nd inning against Orel Hershiser, and the Crime Dog destroyed the pitch and launched it deep into the seats to tie the game.

McGriff finished the 1995 postseason with 4 HR, 9 RBI and slashed .333/.415/.649 in 14 games to earn his first and only World Series ring.

In 1996, McGriff had another solid All-Star season to help lead the Braves into another postseason. McGriff finished the regular season with 28 HR (including his 300th career HR), 107 RBI, and slashed .295/.365/.494 in 159 games. McGriff had another decent showing in the playoffs, he had 5 HR, 16 RBI, and slashed .281/.377/.596 in 16 games, the Braves would eventually lose the World Series to the New York Yankees in 6 games.

Two of McGriff's 1996 postseason homeruns

October 3rd, 1996 game 2 of the NLDS against Ismael Valdez of the Los Angeles Dodgers

October 20th, 1996 game 1 of the WS against Brian Boehringer of the New York Yankees


Fred McGriff's 1997 campaign saw a decrease in his offensive production, but it was still a solid season nonetheless. For the first time since 1993, McGriff wasn't selected to be in the All-Star game, but he would finish the season with 22 HR, 97 RBI, and slashed .277/.356/.441 in 152 games.

The Braves once again secured a playoff spot and McGriff provided some solid postseason number as per usual, he had and slashed .300/.389/.333 in nine games, but Atlanta was eliminated by the eventual World Series winners, the Florida Marlins, in the NLCS.

Going Home and the Hit Show!

(1998-2001)

On November 18th, 1997 an expansion draft was held to allow 2 new teams to select a number of players from every team in the league. This had no effect on McGriff, but the Braves thought McGriff was past his prime and wanted to add some right-handed power to their lineup. On the day of the draft, the Braves sold McGriff's contract to one of the new expansion teams, the Crime Dog's hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Atlanta signed Andres Galarraga as a replacement two days later.

On March 31st, 1998 the Devil Rays played their inaugural game against the Detroit Tigers, with Fred McGriff penciled in as the starting 1B. At one point in the game, Tampa Bay trailed 11-0, eventually scoring six times enroute to a 11-6 loss, while McGriff went 1-4 in the game.

DevilRays McGriff

Chris Covatta/Getty Images

McGriff went on to have a very good April for the D-Rays, finishing the month with a slash line of .349/.412/.604 with 6 HR and 24 RBI in 26 games, but McGriff's production slipped after that. He failed to reach the 20 HR mark for the first time in his career, though he ended the season with a team-high 19 HR with 81 RBI and slashed .284/.371/.443 in 151 games.

In 1999, McGriff improved in almost every offensive category, starting off sluggish in April. From May 1st to July 28th, McGriff slashed .348/.449/.642 with 20 HR (including the 2 monster shots below) and 62 RBI in 77 games during that time. he was left off the All-Star game roster, but two other Devil Rays went in Roberto Hernandez and Jose Canseco.

McGriff would finished the season with 32 HR (2nd to Canseco's 34), a team high 104 RBI, and slashed .310/.405/.552 in 144 games for the Devil Rays.

In 2000, expectations were high for the Devil Rays as they had made seemingly major acquisitions. The past Decemeber, during the annual Winter Meetings, the D-Rays made a splash by trading for powerful third baseman, Vinny Castilla, then signed Greg Vaughn to a $34 milling dollar contract, thus adding 2 sluggers to a lineup that already featured Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff, the team was dubbed The Hit Show.

Unfortunately, The Hit Show flopped and became an embarrassment for the organization, as only McGriff and Vaughn would have productive years. Castilla was released early in 2001 after being plagued by injuries, only to re-find his power after signing with Houston. Canseco, who was on pace for 50+ HR's the year before, but dealing with an injured back he was eventually DFA'd in August and claimed off waivers by the Yankees.

As for McGriff, he struggled again in April, but hit .280 after that month. On June 2nd, McGriff became just the 31st player in MLB history to reach 400 HR, when he connected off of the New York Mets' Glendon Rusch at Shea Stadium. He was the D-Rays' lone All-Star game representative and went 0-2 in his fifth and final appearance.

On September 23rd, McGriff became just the second player (the other being Frank Robinson) in history to have 200 HR in each league when he homered off of Roy Halladay. McGriff would finish the season with 27 HR, 106 RBI, and slashed .277/.373/.452 in 158 games.

In 2001, McGriff started off sluggish again in April, but from May first to the All-Star break he hit .360, providing the Devil Rays some trade value.

On July 8th, the D-Rays reached a deal that would send McGriff to the Chicago Cubs for 2 prospects, but McGriff invoked his no-trade clause and prevented the deal. A few weeks later though, McGriff decided that he would accept the deal and the trade was made on July 27th. It sent McGriff to the Cubs for Manny Aybar and a Player to be Named (Jason Smith).

The Cubs acquired McGriff with the hope that he'd provide a powerful left-handed bat behind Sammy Sosa in their lineup, and they were right. In 49 games for the Cubs, McGriff homered 12 times and he'd finish the season with a combined 31 HR, 102 RBI, and slashed .306/.386/.544 in 146 games between the two teams.

Chasing 500

(2002-2004)

The Cubs picked up their option on McGriff and kept him for the entirety of the 2002 season, and McGriff rewarded them with another typical solid Fred McGriff season. Crime Dog hit 30 HR with 103 RBI and slashed .273/.353/.505 in 146 games. With another 30 HR campaign (his 11th), McGriff became the 1st player in history to do so with five different teams.

McGriff with the Cubs

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On November 1st, 2002 McGriff, at 39 years old, became a free agent for the first time in his career. On December 31st, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed the powerful veteran to provide some pop to their lineup and also stir excitement as he pursued his 500th HR.

Sadly, the 2003 season didn't go well for McGriff as he went on the disabled list for the first time in his long career, twice. When McGriff returned he experienced problems with his knees, hip, and groin which took away some of the slugger's power, yet he was still have to have 13 HR with 41 RBI and slashed .249/.322/.428 in 86 games for the Dodgers. With the 13 HR, he was only 9 away from joining the illustrious 500-HR club.

On March 23rd, 2004 Fred McGriff went back home to play for the Devil Rays who would give him the chance at the milestone. After spending some time in Triple-A, the Devil Rays purchased McGriff's contract from Durham and optioned Jonny Gomes down to make roster space.

McGriff (40)

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Unfortunately, McGriff was able to play well enough to keep a roster spot and on July 17th, he was designated for assignment with Damian Rolls, while Jorge Cantu and Joey Gathright were called to take their places.

On July 26th, Fred McGriff was released. He had 2 HR, 7 RBI, and slashed .181/.272/.306 in 27 games. The following year, during spring training, McGriff was unable to find any suitors and announced his retirement from playing.

Since that time, McGriff has numerous jobs around baseball. He has served as a draft representative for the Blue Jays and Rays, he has worked in the Rays' front office, and also as an analyst for MLB.com and MLB Network. He finished seven home runs shy of 500.

Various Highlights from McGriff's career

Career Stat Line: 52.4 WAR, Slashed .284/.377/.509, 2490 Hits, 493 HR, 1550 RBI, and 72 SB in 2460 Games

Career Post-Season Stat Line: Slashed .303/.385/.532, 57 Hits, 10 HR, 37 RBI, and 1 SB in 50 Games

Accolades:

  • Placed in MVP Voting 8 times
  • 3 Silver Sluggers
  • 5 Allstar Games
  • Led the League in HR's 2 Times