Editor's note: This article first appeared on MyAJC.com in October, 2015.
What he did: One-time Braves first baseman and cleanup hitter Fred McGriff, or “Crime Dog’’ as he was named by ESPN’s Chris Berman, is really a statistical wonder.
While he didn’t reach the 500-home run plateau, which seems to be a lock to get players into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he led both leagues in home runs, the American League in 1989 and the National League in 1992.
His 493 career home runs ties him with the great Lou Gehrig and he is only one of two players (other is former Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield) to hit at least 30 homers in one season for five different teams.
Can you guess who the fifth team was? The Braves, Toronto, San Diego and Tampa Bay are obvious. The other was with the Cubs in 2002.
Born in Tampa, Fla., it all started for McGriff when he was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in the ninth round of the 1991 amateur draft. But blocked by Don Mattingly at first base, he didn’t stay in the New York system long as the following year he was moved to the Blue Jays along with Dave Collins and Mike Morgan for outfielder Tom Dodd and pitcher Dale Murray in a memorably bad trade. Dodd lasted only one season in New York, and Murray won only three games in three seasons with the Yankees.
With Toronto, McGriff spent five full seasons in the minor leagues and broke out at Triple-A Syracuse in 1986, when he hit 19 home runs and drove in 74 RBIs.
The next season with the Blue Jays, McGriff hit 34 homers, the first of seven consecutive seasons with over 30 homers. In ’89, he led the league with 36 and hit the first home run at Toronto’s SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). He hit .300 in 1990.
But in a blockbuster trade in which San Diego sent Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto, McGriff was traded to the Padres, where he made his first of four All-Star appearances in 1992 and led the NL in homers with 35.
McGriff wasn’t there for long, as the Braves were looking for a cleanup hitter and San Diego was looking to dump salary. He was sent to the Braves on July 18, 1993 for prospects Melvin Nieves, Vince Moore and Donnie Elliott.
Because of a rib injury, McGriff was given an extra day or so to get to Atlanta and in his first game, known for the press-box fire at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, he hit a key home run in a come-from-behind win over St. Louis and ignited a 51-19 run for the Braves, who won the division championship with 104 wins, one more than San Francisco.
During the strike season in 1994, he finished second in the All-Star game home-run derby to Ken Griffey Jr. and then won the game’s MVP on a ninth-inning home run.
McGriff helped the Braves to their world championship title in ’95, hitting two home runs in the World Series against Cleveland. He had a career-best 106 RBIs for the Braves in ’96, but hit only 22 home runs the next season, and the Braves left him unprotected in the expansion draft. He was selected by his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He played there for three-plus seasons and had a solid season in 1999, hitting .310 with 32 home runs. But in 2001, he was traded to the Cubs, and the next season he hit 30 homers and drove in 103 RBIs. The Dodgers then signed him as a free agent, but he spent most of the season hurt, and at age 40 hit just 13 home runs.
Trying to get his home run total to 500, McGriff went back to Tampa Bay, but hit just two homers and was released in July and retired with 493 career homers.
He was a lifetime .284 hitter, drove in 1,305 runs and hit 10 homers and collected 37 RBIs in 50 postseason games.
He reportedly more than $65 million during his career, and McGriff continues to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot but the most votes he has received is 137 which is 23.9 percent of the needed 75 percent to get into Cooperstown. He hopes some day to be put in by the Veterans Committee.
Where he lives: Now 52, McGriff lives in Tampa. He always has been a very private person and said he has been married for 27 years and has two children now in their 20s. By the way, the “Crime Dog’’ nickname comes from a cartoon character McGruff the Crime Dog used to raise children’s awareness on crime.
What he does now: McGriff works as a special assistant for baseball operations for the Braves. He spends a lot of time traveling and visiting all the club’s minor league teams as well as working on the amateur draft and was in the war room for the last draft in June.
On how he feels about the current Braves: “I think the organization is going in the right direction. Now the key is for these young prospects to stay healthy and produce on the field. The thing is Ted Turner doesn’t own the team any more, so the strategy is different.’’
On being traded by the Yankees: “(Owner) George Steinbrenner wanted to win right away, so he was always trading for veteran players. I don’t think a lot of people are complaining about that in New York, considering the number of world championships he won.’’
On his days with the Blue Jays: “They gave me my first chance and at the time were one of the top organizations in baseball. They hit me seventh and eighth in the lineup and let me develop as a player.’’
On being traded from Toronto to San Diego: “The Blue Jays had drafted John Olerud out of high school and were trying to play him in the outfield, but it didn’t work, so they put him at first and I was moved.’’
On coming to the Braves: “The Padres were having a fire sale, so it didn’t surprise me. The owner at the time (Tom Werner) wanted to get out of baseball, but it is interesting that he ended up being the owner in Boston a few years later. It’s funny, but my ribs were really bothering me when I was traded, and the Braves let me go home to Tampa for a day or two to rest them. Then my plan was to come up for the first game in the St. Louis series, but I intentionally left my house in Tampa at noon because I knew I would get up to the game right before it started and would get another night off to rest my ribs. But then came the fire, I was in the lineup and the game started after 9. I spent most of my time before the game in the training room with the trainer working on my ribs. Then I went out and hit that homer. It was crazy.’’
On the best team he played for in Atlanta: “It was 1993 when we had Ron Gant. We had to come from 10 games back of the Giants, and we put it all out there to win the division. I don’t think we had anything left when he played the Phillies in the playoffs.’’
On the ’95 title team: “It was win or bust that year. We had to win it. I remember the World Series against Cleveland. It seems like it kept coming down to one pitch or one at-bat. I wear the ring around a lot. A friend told me you might as well wear it now because you can’t do anything with it when you are not around anymore.’’
On playing in Tampa: “Going back and getting to play in front of my parents in our hometown was really special.’’
On not hitting 500 home runs: “Trust me, I wanted to, but the injuries cut me short.’’
On his nickname: “I hear it to this day. Back then Chris Berman was the man and whatever he said on the air, whether it was true or false, stuck with you.’’
On his legacy: “I think I played great, but will let other people decide on that.’’