Fred McGriff’s final three years in the Hall of Fame election process — the BBWAA ballot phase — were the first three years that I had the honor of casting a vote. The ballot was still insanely crowded, a result of the 10-vote maximum and a glut of PED-connected superstars.
I did not vote for McGriff.
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The more research I did, two things became pretty clear: 1. McGriff absolutely would eventually wind up in Cooperstown (column spoiler: his time is now). 2. My vote wouldn’t have any sort of impact toward the Crime Dog’s final place in baseball immortality. The ballot was too jam-packed with worthy candidates, and his vote totals — consistently in the 12 to 22 percent range — were far too low for the sort of late surge that would have been needed for him to reach the 75 percent mark needed for induction.
So I did not check the box on my ballot next to McGriff’s name. Yeah, I know, it sounds convoluted. The Hall of Fame process has always been more complicated than necessary, and the arrival of so many PED-connected players threw a bucketful of wrenches into the Cooperstown machinery.
Here’s what I wrote about McGriff the final time he was on a BBWAA ballot, as part of my annual thorough-as-I-can-make-it ballot explanation column.
McGriff will wind up in Cooperstown, of this I’m sure. I imagine he’ll be an easy choice for the next Today’s Game Era committee vote, which will be part of the Class of 2022. The Crime Dog was a consistent, reliable source of power through his excellent career. In his 15-year peak (shaving off his first two seasons and last two seasons), he averaged 31 home runs (high of 37, low of 19), 102 RBIs (high of 107, low of 82) and an .894 OPS (high of 1.012, low of .797). He was part of a World Series-winning team (he hit two homers against Cleveland for the 1995 Braves) and hit .303 with 10 homers, 37 RBIs and a .917 OPS in 50 career playoff games. Hell of a career. His candidacy on the BBWAA ballot was hurt significantly by crowded ballots, which is a shame.
Note: The Era Committee votes were pushed back a year by the pandemic, making McGriff eligible for the class of 2023, not the class of 2022. Also, in April, the Hall restructured the Era Committees, so now McGriff is on the Contemporary Baseball Era Players ballot.
So that’s where we are now. The Contemporary Baseball Era Players committee recently announced the eight players to appear on the class of 2023 ballot. Because of the arrival of several high-profile players who just dropped off the BBWAA ballot — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa — the composition of the ballot was a real question. You could have easily made a case for 20-plus players to appear on the ballot. Another complicating factor: With the restructuring in the spring, the number of spots on the ballot was reduced from 10 to eight.
The eight: McGriff, Bonds, Clemens, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Albert Belle. Notable players left off: Sosa, Lou Whitaker, Mark McGwire, Kenny Lofton, Keith Hernandez, David Cone, Dave Stieb and Will Clark.
And yet another change to the Era Committee process this year: In past iterations, the members of a committee — 16 voters, made up of Hall of Famers, former executives and select media members — were allowed to vote for four players on the 10-person ballot. Now, they’re only allowed to vote for three players on an eight-person ballot. The vote total required for induction remains the same: 75 percent, which means 12 votes or more.
It’s absolutely a recipe for a potential shutout. Truth is, there’s probably only one candidate who could save the day — a shutout is definitely possible on the BBWAA ballot, too — and give the Hall of Fame a reason to actually hold an Induction Ceremony next summer.
That person, of course, is Fred McGriff. And how fitting would it be that a star who was for so long overlooked in the Hall of Fame process to get the stage to himself?
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McGriff stands alone on this crowded ballot. He has not a whiff of scandal throughout his long and stellar career, and it’s easy to see at least five voters having trouble with the controversy crowd. Among the non-controversial players — basically, McGriff, Mattingly and Murphy — his career numbers are clearly superior. McGriff has significant advantages in home runs, RBIs, hits, runs, OPS, WAR, etc. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a voter marks the spot for Mattingly or Murphy and not McGriff.
And let’s talk about the career home runs. Those in the McGriff camp have long pointed to his 493 home runs as the reason he’s out, because he didn’t reach the magic number of 500. In their minds, if he’d reached 500 — and to them, it’s not his fault he didn’t, because he lost so many games in his prime to the 1994-95 labor dispute that wiped out so many contests — he would have already been elected.
Sorry, but I don’t buy that for a second.
Think what you want about the BBWAA voters — we have our flaws, no doubt — but the difference between sitting at 12 to 23 percent in the voting and getting 75 percent is not seven home runs. The biggest reason, as mentioned a few times, was the crowded ballot with the problematic 10-vote maximum. In McGriff’s first year of eligibility, he received 21.5 percent on a ballot with 10 players who are now in the Hall of Fame. In his final two seasons of eligibility, he received 23.2 and then 39.8 percent — a healthy, though ultimately irrelevant last-year jump — but a total of eight players were elected in those two years. Oh, and you also had the controversy crowd getting more than 40 percent of the vote. Yeah, crowded.
And it was like that every year in between, too. Maybe if the time frame hadn’t been shortened from 15 years down to 10, things would be different. If you want to blame something or someone, blame all the stellar players who were elected while McGriff was on the ballot — 24 of them — and players such as Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, Sosa, McGwire and Manny Ramirez who presented compelling but flawed cases for entry.
But this feels like McGriff’s time. It’s later than he deserved, but standing alone on the stage, well, maybe that would make up for the delay, just a little bit.