Lefthanded Hitting, Lefthanded Throwing First Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1993-1997
Stats With Braves: .293/.369/.516, 130 HR, 446 RBI, 383 RS
His career with the team was short — one partial season and four full ones, two of which were strike-shortened — but very high impact. The Crime Dog made three All-Star teams as a Brave and finished fourth, eighth, and twentieth in the MVP voting his first three seasons.
The Yankees drafted him in the ninth round in 1981, but were in the early stages of their Moronic Era (good times!) and traded him (and Mike Morgan) to the Blue Jays for nothing of consequence after the 1982 season. (I believe they were clearing roster space for another one of their dumb moves.) He moved through the Jays’ system slowly but surely, not hitting for much of an average but walking and hitting for power. After a brief callup, he was a platoon DH (with Cecil Fielder) for Jimy Williams in 1987 and the first baseman from 1988-1990. In the offseason, he and Tony Fernandez were traded to the Padres for Robby Alomar and Joe Carter in a rare trade of top-level major leaguers. In 1993, the Padres suddenly decided to stop paying reasonable salaries for good players and on July 18 unloaded McGriff to the Braves for Mel Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore (who never played in the majors). I wanted the Braves to trade Klesko instead of Nieves, which shows what I know…
The words “fire sale” became particularly apt when on the day Fred reported to the team the press box caught on fire. Then the team did. McGriff hit .310/.392/.612 in 68 games after displacing Sid Bream (the opposing first baseman in his first game was Gerald Perry!) and the Braves went 51-17 with McGriff in the lineup, finally running down the Giants to take the division. McGriff was fantastic in the NLCS but the rest of the team wasn’t.
In 1994, he was having his best year when the strike hit, hitting .318/.389/.623 with 34 HR. I still think he likely would have won the MVP if the season had run out, even though he finished eighth in the actual voting. Bagwell, the winner, was hurt right before the strike and would have been finished for the season, and I don’t believe that Williams was going to hit 62.
For whatever reason, Fred was not the same player when he came back from the strike. He went from being an elite hitter with OPS+ in the 150-160 range to a fairly ordinary first baseman with one in the 110-120 range. .280/.361/.489 in 1995 and .295/.365/.494 in 1996 aren’t bad, but not what we had gotten used to in the prior year and a half. His .277/.356/.441 line in 1997 is actually rather poor for a first baseman. The Braves went into the expansion draft after the 1997 season evidently hoping that the Devil Rays would take McGriff, but they didn’t. Afterwards, the two teams committed a “trade” that turned into an outright purchase when they couldn’t agree to the PTBNL.
Fred had another rough year in 1998, but was a productive hitter for the Rays in 1999. In 2001, he was having a good year and I among many other Braves fans wanted the team to reacquire him, but he wound up going to the Cubs instead. He had one last good year in 2002 before fading away.
McGriff’s level of production and stats are very similar to Ryan Klesko’s — no surprise, since the young Klesko was a very similar player to McGriff. Fred ranks higher because he wasn’t platooned and because, while he wasn’t Keith Hernandez, he was a much better defensive player… “Crime Dog” is a Bermanism, which shows that anyone can have a good idea once in a while.