Jack Of All Trades: Fred McGriff

What do you think of when you hear Fred McGriff's name? For me, the answer is Terry McGriff, whose baseball card I often pulled from a pack of Topps, Donruss or when desperate for my baseball card fix, Score. The excitement over getting the Crime Dog quickly gave way, as I wondered who, exactly, Terry McGriff was.

For others, McGriff's name brings to mind the blissfully consistent first baseman who hit 30 home runs ten times (and hit 28, 27 and 27 in three others).

But for a surprising number of teams, McGriff conjured up the phrase: trade him.

This is not to say that McGriff was considered a clubhouse cancer, or even an unskilled player. But He was traded four times and sold once en route to the same number of career home runs as Lou Gehrig. Let's take a look at who got the best of those deals – in nearly every case, the answer is "whichever team got Fred McGriff."

  • The Yankees selected McGriff in the ninth round of the 1981 draft. But in an inexplicable deal, they traded him, along with Dave Collins, Mike Morgan and cash, to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Dale Murray and Tom Dodd on December 9, 1982. If one trade could represent the excesses of the Yankees at their worst, it is this one. The Yanks brought in Collins as a high-priced free agent the season before to replace Reggie Jackson. After Collins hit .253/.315/.330, the Yankees shipped him out. McGriff, of course, had just hit .272/.413/.456 in rookie ball. Mike Morgan, who will be the subject of a future Jack of All Trades piece himself, had another 20 years and 2,532.1 innings left in the tank. And what did the Yankees get? In Dodd, a slugger with a career .295 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, and Murray, a veteran swingman whose ERA never saw the good side of 4.00 again.
  • Fast forward to December 5, 1990. McGriff has by now developed into an elite player, posting an OPS+ of 166 in 1989 and 154 overall as a Blue Jay. But in a four-player trade, Toronto traded McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. It's easy to say Toronto got the best of this deal, since Carter and Alomar were essential parts of two world championships. John Olerud replaced McGriff at first base, so the Blue Jays kept getting production. But McGriff complicates the assumption that the Blue Jays won this trade. He continued his essential McGriff-ness, posting a 149 OPS+ in three seasons with San Diego. Carter's best single-season OPS+ was 124, and his overall OPS+ with the Blue Jays was 104. Even Alomar posted just an OPS+ of 123 with Toronto, though that stat tells just part of the story, since Alomar was a terrific defender and baserunner. Ultimately, Carter plus Alomar probably beats McGriff plus Fernandez (who wasn't very good with San Diego). But McGriff might have been the most productive player of the four after the trade.
  • And yet, the Padres dealt the 29-year-old McGriff on July 18, 1993 to their division rival, the Atlanta Braves, for a trio of young players: Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves. It is fair to say Atlanta won this trade, though Nieves eventually put up a pair of 20-plus home run seasons with the Tigers. McGriff hit .310/.392/.612 for Atlanta after the trade, then showed it was no fluke by hitting .318/.389/.623 in 1994 over what approximated a full season. Three decent seasons of 115 OPS+ hitting followed, before the Braves unceremoniously sold McGriff to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
  • McGriff alternated between decent seasons and excellent ones with Tampa Bay. And in his fourth year in Tampa, hitting .318/.387/.536, the Chicago Cubs decided they could use him for the stretch run. McGriff decided he wasn't so sure about the Cubs and invoked his no-trade clause. He eventually relented and the Cubs acquired him on July 27, 2001 for Manny Aybar and Jason Smith. The Cubs finished third in 2001 and fifth in 2002, but it was no fault of McGriff's. He posted a .282/.383/.559 line after the deal in 2001, and had his last McGriff-like year in 2002, with a line of .273/.353/.505 and 30 home runs.

Put simply, no one who ever traded for Fred McGriff had reason to regret it.

31 Responses to Jack Of All Trades: Fred McGriff Leave a Reply

  1. Red_Line_9 5 years ago

    Fred McGriff’s career will continue to look better as the seasons pass. He was greatly admired during his playing days, but seemed to have a lower profile than some other big names. Can’t call him underrates..just maybe overlooked.

    I always wonder when the conversation come around to Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio and that era why Stan Musial isn’t mentioned more often. Was it playing for the Cardinals in the Midwest away from the Eastern press? What reverence would he hold had he spent his career on a Red Sox or Yankee roster?

    • I think Fred has been slightly underrated. If you look at the numbers from his first 7 or 8 years (some of his OPS+ totals were mentioned in the article), he was probably the second best hitter in baseball behind only Barry Bonds over that stretch.

      I think the fact Fred was consistently great, but never had a monster season, and the fact that the steroid era that followed his prime ended up greatly diminishing some of his earlier seasons and overall career numbers, have conspired against him.

      I think he deserves into the Hall, but I don’t think he’ll end up getting in.

    • Absolutely. Tom Glavine recently said the same thing in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

      Q: When you faced Jeff Bagwell, did you think of him as a Hall of Famer?

      A: Jeff was always a good player. He certainly was a guy you didn’t want to let beat you. But the Hall of Fame criteria is more than that. It’s how you stack up based on the history of the game, which is always tough to judge. I don’t know what his numbers are compared to Freddie McGriff’s, but I think those are two guys as time goes on will garner more and more attention, especially Freddie. I think people would be surprised if they saw the numbers Freddie McGriff had and where he stacked up in the history of the game.

      Q: He was only seven homers shy of 500. But maybe his quiet, laid-back demeanor didn’t help him?

      A: Yeah and he didn’t exactly play in the biggest markets. His time in Atlanta was probably when he got the most exposure. … You start throwing out numbers. You think they’re attached to some of the other great players in the game and they’re attached to Freddie. That’s the kind of thing that over time is only going to help his cause and probably the same is true for Jeff. The fact those guys did it in an era when they were clean is going to help them too.

  2. But is he a Hall of Famer?

    Also anyone else who lives in the Tampa Bay area: Do those commercials with Fred McGriff ever get annoying for you?

    • aap212 5 years ago

      I think he’s exactly the line. By which I mean I’m not sure if he’s a hall of famer, but anyone worse isn’t and anyone better is.

      Now pardon me while I take a bow for my epic cop-out.

    • Give hima few more years and he’ll probably go in. There’s guys in the hall worse than Crime Dog, but he won’t go in this election, maybe even next election. But he won’t get Blyleven’d.

  3. 14 Rocks 5 years ago

    On the day the Braves traded for McGriff the broadcast booth caught on fire and so did the team. He is one of my all time favorite Braves.

    • Torgos_Executive_Powder 5 years ago

      I was six years old, and that was my first game. My most vivid memories: 1. Asking my parents why they couldn’t just play the game at the Georgia Dome and 2. Sitting in the parking lot at AFCS for what seemed like ages.

    • He hit a HR in like his 2nd at-bat that night against the Cardinals which I think tied the game. It was basically what put the fire into the team and off they went. Within three weeks they had closed the gap with the Giants.

  4. aap212 5 years ago

    Awesome feature. For a guy who was traded so many times, there can’t be any sweeter baseball epitaph than “Put simply, no one who ever traded for Fred McGriff had reason to regret it.” I still would take Toronto’s side of that trade, but what a majestically huge trade that was.

  5. Torgos_Executive_Powder 5 years ago

    I’ve never understood this, can someone help me: Why did Atlanta allow McGriff to be taken by Tampa Bay in the expansion draft? It worked out OK, as they were able to sign Galarraga for 1998, but still, for someone as productive and consistent as him, it’s surprising.

    • aap212 5 years ago

      They didn’t. They sold him. When a first baseman slugs .441 at age 33, you can be forgiven for thinking the best is done with. It provided a nice homecoming story for McGriff and the Devil Rays and gave the Braves room to sign Andres Galarraga, who was phenomenal for them that first year before he had his fight with cancer.

    • They sold him. It wasn’t that they didn’t want him, but the Braves wanted to add a RH bat to the lineup to protect Chipper Jones from getting turned around to bat RH. That bat was Galarraga and in order to pay him the Braves had to unload salary and open up 1B.

  6. I think he’s a HOF player. Never heard steriods, never heard controversy. Played his position well and consistently for a long time. Someone should do a writeup of how he ranks in his generation and against other HOF members.

  7. I immediately think of Tom Emanski. Anyone who doesn’t do the same (even if not immediately), I pity.

  8. das411 5 years ago

    Very, very underrated player who should be in the Hall of Fame…just so we can see him wearing that Tom Emanski hat on his plaque!

    • studio179 5 years ago

      Yes, who could forget the hat! It was all about the hat!

      Nobody could wear that hat Like the ‘Crime Dog’.

  9. bjsguess 5 years ago

    McGriff was a stud. I’m glad articles like this get written so people who didn’t follow baseball at the time can appreciate some of these older players.

    That Toronto deal was crazy. Tony Fernandez had a very weird career. The Pads got him when he was 28. Coming off some solid years of posting an OPS in the 750 range, great glove, and good speed (20-25SB’s). He was ready to bust out … but he didn’t. In his 2 years with the team he never posted an OPS above 700. The guy has a good year with the Reds in 94, but then nothing worth noting until 98. But, in 98 and 99 Fernandez has his two best years by far posting OPS+’s of 120 and 124. This occurred during his age 36 and 37 seasons.

    A guy is called up to the bigs at 21, starts regularly at 22, hits his peak at ages 36/37, and is out of baseball at 39.

    • aap212 5 years ago

      Yeah, Fernandez gets a little underrated just because he definitely wasn’t a hall of famer. But he was good for a really long time with flashes of greatness.

      Given the age you’ve placed yourself at, if you’ve never really looked at Eric Davis’ stats from when he was young, do it now. Even the numbers are fun to look at.

      • bjsguess 5 years ago

        I don’t want to date myself too much but I really started following baseball in 1985.

        Eric Davis was an absolute stud. The guy just couldn’t stay healthy. Phenomenal defensively, a demon on the basepaths (80SB’s and 27 HR’s in 86), and just all around good guy.

        From 85 to 90 he averaged (per 162 games):
        276/367/526 – 36 HR’s and 51 SB’s … and most of his time was spent in CF

        There were a couple of guys around that same time that were just amazing combinations of speed and power.

  10. Great player, better person. I think he’ll get his due in the Hall as time passes.

  11. TheReturnOfMrBlanks 5 years ago

    He was a Beast on Super Nintendo’s Ken Griffey Jr presents Major League Baseball.
    Him + Justice + Gant + Deion was sweet mix.

  12. Red_Line_9 5 years ago

    The additions of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson to the Hall of Fame really raises the question on just what qualifies a player for induction. Not to diminish the careers of both of those men, but there are quite a few players who put up similar if not better numbers. Fred McGriff would be one of those players in my mind.

    I have more of a conservative view of who belongs in the Hall. It’s just my personal view. A Hall of Fame induction should never be questionable. I’m not hearing much grumbling about Greg Maddux’s induction. Curt Schilling on the other hand might raise the boo birds.

  13. “What do you think of when you hear Fred McGriff’s name?”

    Crime dog.

  14. Will_Clarks_Gauchos 5 years ago

    Will Clark

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