Imagine being a high school baseball coach and you cut a player who eventually becomes one of the game’s greatest players.
That’s what happened to Fred McGriff.
Why is Fred McGriff not in the Hall of Fame? A clean player smack dab in the middle of the steroid era, The Crime Dog played 19 seasons, slashing .284/.377/.509. He had 493 HRs, 1550 RBI, and won WS with the Braves. What gives? @MLB @baseballhall pic.twitter.com/ILyq3OPhN6
— Joel Lindsey (@Joel_Lindsey) September 5, 2022
To be fair, when he initially tried out for his high school baseball team, McGriff was a tad on the small side.
After sprouting in size, he made the team the following year.
McGriff, who also went by the moniker “Crime Dog,” would play in the MLB for 19 years, win the World Series once, and become a five-time All-Star.
The Crime Dog was adept at hitting for power and smashing home runs.
This is the story of Fred McGriff.
Early Exposure to Baseball Ignites a Passion for the Game
Frederick Stanley McGriff was born on Halloween night, 1963 in Tampa, Florida.
#OTD in 1963, Major League Baseball star Fred McGriff is born in Tampa. McGriff attended Jefferson High School and was drafted by the Yankees in 1981. He returned to Tampa in the late '90s and early 2000s, finishing his career with the Rays. pic.twitter.com/avmQC87QeH
— Tampa Bay History Center (@TampaBayHistory) October 31, 2018
As a young child in Tampa, McGriff was exposed to the sport of baseball early.
He grew up only a few blocks from the stadium where the Cincinnati Reds played their spring training games.
McGriff spent each spring at the stadium and even sold items as a vendor.
“I can’t remember going to my first game,” he once said. “I mean, I was always at a baseball game. I lived at ballgames. I always loved the game.”
As soon as he could, McGriff began playing baseball at the Little League level and tried out for the Jefferson High School baseball team as a sophomore.
A Career That Nearly Wasn’t
Jefferson High was coached by Emeterio “Pop” Cuesta, and Pop frequently produced good players and a competitive team.
McGriff didn’t stand a chance and was cut, although Cuesta explained why years later.
“First of all, this is not the Fred McGriff here as a sophomore,” Cuesta said at an event attended by McGriff in 2011. “The Fred McGriff that was here was about 5-foot-6, 5-foot-7 with glasses. I told him to hit the ball, I mean, he hit it, but it wouldn’t go very far.”
Thankfully, McGriff grew a few inches, found some power, and made the team as a junior.
He was a much-improved player that year and became a solid pro prospect as a senior.
During his final prep year, MLB scouts attended a Jefferson High game to watch the opposing pitcher, Doc Gooden.
Although Gooden was as good as advertised, McGriff got the scouts’ attention when he crushed a monster home run off a Gooden pitch.
“I swear, that’s still one of the longest home runs I’ve ever given up,” Gooden told the LA Times in 1992.
By the end of the season, McGriff accepted a scholarship to play baseball with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Not So Fast…
During the ninth round of the 1981 MLB Amateur Draft, the New York Yankees selected McGriff and offered a $20,000 bonus.
McGriff took the offer and declined the scholarship to Georgia.
After spending time in the Yanks’ farm system, New York traded him in 1982 along with two teammates and cash to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray.
The Yankees made a lot of bad moves back in the day. This was one of them. pic.twitter.com/tn48PDy3ph
— ⚾ J. Daniel ⚾ (@JDaniel2033) December 9, 2020
The deal has long been criticized as one of the worst ever by the Yankees.
McGriff spent the next few years in the Toronto minor leagues honing his swing.
It was during this time that he met hitting coach Tom Emanski, who helped McGriff improve his swing and raise his batting average.
McGriff would eventually work with Emanski on a series of videos designed to help kids with their baseball mechanics.
By 1986, McGriff finally reached the majors when he appeared in three games for the Blue Jays.
McGriff Proves He Belongs
In 1987, Fred began his major league career by staying with the parent club and hitting .247 with 20 homers and 43 RBIs.
The following year, McGriff improved his marks by hitting .282 with 34 home runs and 82 RBIs.
Then, in 1989, McGriff hit the first home run in Toronto’s new Sky Dome and would end up leading the AL with 36 homers.
Sept. 4, 1989 – In a 5-2 win over the White Sox, Fred McGriff hit his 36th home run of the season, most in the American League in 1989. McGriff also went on to win the A.L. Silver Slugger Award for 1B. pic.twitter.com/M8riR4STAp
— Today in Blue Jays History (@today_jays) September 4, 2022
He would also be honored with the first of three career Silver Slugger Awards.
“Fred… has a good eye and power, a combination you don’t see too often anymore,” said former Toronto teammate, Lloyd Moseby. “And the power. You know that highlight reel that shows the Willie Mays catch and then switched to the fan who grabs his head with his hands in amazement? Fred McGriff does that to you when he hits a home run.”
Toronto ended the year 89-73 and lost to the Oakland A’s 4-1 in the AL Championship Series.
During the series, McGriff struggled and only produced three hits in 21 at-bats.
In 1990, McGriff cemented himself as one of the best hitters in the game when he batted .300 and hit 35 home runs along with 88 RBIs.
Trade to San Diego
By the end of the ’90 season, McGriff was one of the youngest stars in the game.
ESPN anchor Chris Berman, borrowing from the character, “McGruff, the Crime Dog,” gave McGriff the nickname “Crime Dog” for his hitting prowess.
Even as his fame grew, McGriff’s humility stayed the same.
“You know what I always dreamed? I dreamed of being a ballplayer. I guess all kids dream that, don’t they? But you know, I dreamed that dream even when I was awake. Now when I hit some of my longest home runs, I don’t even swing hard. How I do it, I don’t know. But baseball will humble you real quick. I stay prepared for that.”
Before the 1991 season, Toronto surprisingly traded Crime Dog to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.
— 1969-Present (@PadresHistory) July 11, 2022
Both players would help the Blue Jays win back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993.
Meanwhile, McGriff continued to crush opponents in the National League.
For the next two years, he would hit more than 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and post .278 and .286 batting averages, respectively.
During the ’91 season, McGriff hit grand slams in two consecutive games, becoming just the third NL player in the past century to achieve the accomplishment.
McGriff would win the Silver Slugger Award again in 1992 in part by leading the NL in homers with 35.
He was also voted to the first of five All-Star teams.
“The Four Tops”
— 1986-92 Pittsburgh Pirates (@1992Pirates) September 1, 2022
With a potent lineup that included the “Four Tops” (McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tony Gwinn, and Tony Fernandez), San Diego would win more than 80 games in 1991 and ’92 but miss the postseason both years.
In five of his first six full big league seasons, McGriff had a slugging percentage over .500.
His seventh season in 1993 didn’t look so good when he was parked with a .190 batting average through the first month.
By mid-summer, his hitting had improved but San Diego was in the midst of a 101-loss season.
In an effort to shed salaries, the Padres traded McGriff to the Atlanta Braves in late July.
Crime Dog Makes an Immediate Impact
He arrived in Atlanta to find the Braves several games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants.
McGriff’s first game as a Brave was marked by a fire in the press box.
— Andrew Kjorlaug (@akjorlaug) July 21, 2018
It was later noted that the incident seemed to be the start of something special for Atlanta and the Crime Dog.
During that same game, McGriff belted a two-run homer that helped tie the score and lead the Braves to an 8-5 comeback win.
Atlanta would continue to run hot and ended the season with a 104-58 record and a trip to the NLCS.
The Braves pitching staff was so dominant sometimes Fred McGriff would take phone calls at first base. “Crime Dog here. No, the game’s not over yet. Maddux is pitching.” pic.twitter.com/3WBE8fjcNt
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) September 6, 2021
The team then lost the National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games, but the Crime Dog continued his torrid hitting and batted .435 during the series along with a home run and four RBIs.
“With McGriff on the team, the Braves were definitely combustible. Fred McGriff got the Braves red hot,” said author Lang Whitaker in his book The Time of Bobby Cox.
For the season, McGriff hit a total of .291, 37 homers, and 101 RBIs.
He was given a third Silver Slugger Award after the season.
Atlanta Wins the World Series
In 1994, McGriff was having a banner year that included an MVP award in the Mid-Summer Classic that was won by the NL in extra innings.
Then, the players’ strike ended the season a month later and led to the first World Series cancellation in almost a century.
McGriff returned in 1995 to hit .280, 27 home runs, and 93 RBIs while Atlanta won 90 games and headed to the postseason.
Happy 58th to the Crime Dog!! It's about time to see Fred McGriff in the Hall of Fame. He helped @Braves
to '95 #WorldSeries title, belted 493 HRs, .886 OPS, 134 OPS+; 52.6 WAR. Read about his career @sabr BioProject https://t.co/4cfvvQT4SX pic.twitter.com/Ie4cFfjI9x
— SABR BioProject (@SABRbioproject) October 31, 2021
The Braves discarded the Colorado Rockies in four games in the NL Division Series before shutting out the Cincinnati Reds in four games in the NLCS.
Crime Dog hit .438 in the series and was recognized by teammates as one of the primary reasons behind the Braves’ success.
“He just makes everyone else a better hitter,” said teammate Ron Gant. “I hit in front of him. It wasn’t that the pitchers were throwing me different pitches. They were throwing me the same pitches, but I was just more of an aggressive hitter with him hitting behind me. He just makes everyone else better.”
Atlanta had played, and lost, in the World Series in 1991 and 1992.
The team was determined not to let it happen again in ’95.
During Game One against the Cleveland Indians, McGriff launched a home run off opposing pitcher Orel Hershiser in his first World Series at-bat.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) October 31, 2021
Two games later, he hit another homer and provided a steady bat in the Braves’ eventual six-game Series win.
“When you pull it off and finally achieve it, it’s a beautiful thing,” McGriff said on MLB Network. “The individual goals are great, but when you win that World Series it’s special. They can’t take that away from you.”
Near Repeat in ’96
McGriff’s consistency was evident in 1996 when he hit .295 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs.
His home run mark pushed him over 300 for his career.
The Braves continued their NL dominance by going 96-66 during the regular season and defeating the LA Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Atlanta’s quest for back-to-back championships ended when the New York Yankees swept the Braves in the World Series.
Crime Dog Returns to Tampa
In 1997, the Braves won 101 games, defeated the Houston Astros in the NLDS, and lost in six games to the upstart Florida Marlins in the NLCS.
McGriff batted. 277 with 22 homers and 97 RBIs.
The following year, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks began playing as MLB expansion teams.
Believing his best years were behind him, Atlanta allowed McGriff to be available in the expansion draft.
He was signed by his hometown Devil Rays and batted .284, with 19 home runs, and 81 RBIs in 1998.
Fred McGriff was definitely known for his Devil Rays’ days. 😉 pic.twitter.com/Al8x0hmONP
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) July 30, 2022
In 1999, Crime Dog found his stroke again and had a .310 batting average (just the third time in his career he hit over .300), 32 homers, and 104 RBIs.
The 2000 Devil Rays looked to have a potent lineup with McGriff, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, and Greg Vaughn.
Local media called the group the “Hit Show,” and fans believed the franchise would reach its first postseason.
Jose Canseco, Vinny Castillo, Greg Vaughn and Fred McGriff in those 🔥 Devil Rays uniforms. pic.twitter.com/uevcrwkIu6
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) March 28, 2021
Instead, the team won 69 games, the exact same amount as the previous year.
Crime Dog did well, batting .277 with 27 homers, and 106 RBIs.
He also reached 400 homers for his career during the season.
A Cub, a Dodger, and Back to Tampa
McGriff began the 2001 season with Tampa Bay before the Chicago Cubs made a trade for him to boost their lineup.
Even with the Crime Dog’s steady bat, the Cubs failed to make the postseason with an 88-74 record.
Chicago kept him around in 2002 and McGriff had a solid year with a .273 batting average, 30 home runs, and 103 RBIs.
His homer mark signified the tenth time in his career that McGriff hit 30 or more homers in a season.
He also became the first player in history to hit 30 or more home runs with five different organizations.
On this day in 2002…
Fred McGriff becomes the 1st player to hit 30 home runs in a season for 5 different teams (Jays, Braves, Padres, Devil Rays, and Cubs). The 'Crime Dog's' first inning PNC poke also sets a record for being the 42nd major league park in which he's homered. pic.twitter.com/AQEpUEtLlF
— Andrew Belleson (@ChicagoCubsPA) September 22, 2018
Chicago finished the year fifth in their division and released McGriff.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave him an opportunity in 2003, and Crime Dog struggled.
Injuries and inconsistencies began to gnaw away at the 39-year-old.
McGriff played in 86 games and batted .249 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs.
He was released by LA after the year and returned to Tampa Bay for the 2004 season.
Fred McGriff with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays – old school pic.twitter.com/oKxfCEbDQF
— Michael P (@PadresSince1976) August 14, 2019
After beginning the year in Triple-A, McGriff joined the parent club in late May.
By that time, the writing was on the wall and he was released at the end of July after batting only .181 with two homers and seven RBIs.
McGriff retired the following spring, just seven homers short of 500.
In 19 years, the Crime Dog had a .284 batting average, 493 home runs (tied with Lou Gehrig), 1,550 RBIs, 1,349 runs scored, a slugging percentage of .509, and 2,490 hits.
He was a five-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, World Series champion, and two-time league home run leader.
Life Since Retirement
After first appearing in Tom Emanski’s videos in the early 1990s, McGriff continued to advertise for Emanski for the next decade.
The commercials for the videos became one of the longest-running ads in television history.
Never forget Fred McGriff absolutely convinced us all that Tom Emanski had the greatest instructional tapes of all time. It gets results, goddamnit! pic.twitter.com/Ll0PIMtqNI
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) May 9, 2022
McGriff’s compensation was modest even though the videos did well.
“I’m sure he (Emanski) made millions,” McGriff added, “but the thing is, he did a great job and he did help me get to the big leagues. He helped me make a great living also.”
Since retiring, McGriff has coached for some of the teams he played for and also served as a consultant for a number of organizations.
In 2015, the Braves hired McGriff as a spring training coach and scout.
After becoming eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, McGriff has not yet cracked the 75% of votes needed for induction.
That is a serious oversight according to many of his peers.
In January of 2022, former Braves teammate John Smoltz tweeted that McGriff undoubtedly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Famer John Smoltz says that undoubtedly former Atlanta teammate Fred McGriff deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. McGriff should be a slam dunk to be elected in December on Today's Game era committee ballot along with 3-time World Series champion manager Bruce Bochy.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 26, 2022
McGriff and his wife, Veronica, have been married for more than 30 years and have two children.