2023 Hall of Famer Fred McGriff: Braves run was ‘outstanding’

Former Braves Fred McGriff first baseman talks with infielder Tyler Pastornicky during fielding drills.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Braves Fred McGriff first baseman talks with infielder Tyler Pastornicky during fielding drills.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Fred McGriff couldn’t stop beaming as he reflected on his Braves days. Every sentence seemed to bring out that larger-than-life smile.

“But just the quality of people. Bobby Cox, he ran everything. He was the manager, boss man, he kept everybody in line. Better than a good team, you had good people. The (Greg) Madduxes, the (Tom) Glavines, the David Justices, just good people. So my time there was outstanding.”

And McGriff had a little extra oomph when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked what his time with the Braves meant to him professionally and personally. The slugging first baseman spent parts of five seasons with the Braves, including the team’s 1995 championship campaign.

His answer in its entirety:

“It was awesome because at the time, you didn’t have the Tampa Bay Rays, the Miami Marlins; Atlanta was the closest thing to my home (Tampa),” McGriff said. “So for my parents to have a better opportunity to see me play a lot more, that was great for me at the time. Then joining a great team with great players and great management. Everything about the Braves – that’s when they were just getting hot. They had lost a couple championships.

“But just the quality of people. Bobby Cox, he ran everything. He was the manager, bossman, he kept everybody in line. Better than a good team, you had good people. The (Greg) Madduxes, the (Tom) Glavines, the David Justices, just good people. So my time there was outstanding.”

McGriff continued, mentioning how much he enjoyed playing with two-sport star Deion Sanders, with whom he was teammates in 1993-94.

“Playing with Deion, Deion still cracks me up to this day,” McGriff said with a chuckle. “When I see him, and now he’s with Colorado (as the football coach) and everything, just the stuff he says, he’s saying way back a long time ago in the clubhouse. So you’re laughing all the time. Deion will make you laugh. And to this day, now he’s taken it to another level. It’s all on YouTube and everything else. But he made you laugh every single day.

“It was just a great time being there in Atlanta with the guys. And, of course, winning. We had a real good ballclub for a number of years.”

McGriff’s plaque will leave his hat blank because he spent five seasons each with the Blue Jays, Braves and his hometown Devil Rays. But he’s perhaps best known for his Braves tenure, when he arrived as the crucial middle-of-the-order force the team needed.

The Braves were nine games behind the Giants when they acquired McGriff from the Padres in July 1993 for outfielders Melvin Nieves and Vince Moore, and reliever Donnie Elliott. The team had pitching and defense, but its offense had sputtered, desperately needing a proverbial spark.

“It was easy for me to see – and anybody watching our team – we had a lot of guys, Ron Grant, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, who wanted to be the clean-up hitter because we didn’t have one,” Hall of Fame general manager John Schuerholz said on the team’s latest “Behind The Braves” podcast revisiting McGriff’s acquisition. “We didn’t have a pure clean-up hitter. And they would get into that spot in the lineup, and they’d think you’d have to hit a little harder, swing a little bit more, drive the ball a bit farther, and it took them out of their game.”

McGriff’s first Braves game was among the franchise’s more memorable regular-season contests. On July 20, 1993, the press box caught fire before the game, requiring a lengthy delay and causing $1.5 million in damages at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. McGriff, who’d driven up from Tampa and initially didn’t think he’d play because of sore ribs, received treatment while waiting to see when there’d be a game.

“After the way this day has gone, I’m surprised he’s not back in his car, on (Interstate) 75 and headed back to Tampa,” the late broadcaster Skip Caray said during that game (via the Braves). “Talked to him before the game and he agreed, he’ll never forget his first day in a Braves uniform.”

Indeed, when in December the AJC asked McGriff about his fondest Braves moments, he immediately referenced his first impression. And after the game finally began, the Braves erased a five-run deficit against the Cardinals in the sixth inning, capped with McGriff’s game-tying two-run homer. The Braves won 8-5 to remain nine games back.

Caray had another memorable line earlier in the night, acknowledging McGriff being treated as the franchise’s offensive savior. “We’re doing Fred McGriff a disservice,” he said. “Everybody’s pointing at him, he can’t hit 150 home runs and drive in 600 runs. He’s going to need some help from some of his teammates.”

McGriff didn’t hit 150 home runs, but he was the clean-up masher the Braves sought. He hit .310 with a 1.004 OPS over 68 games, blasting 19 homers and collecting 55 RBIs. McGriff finished fourth in MVP voting, proving one of the greatest trade-deadline acquisitions in history. The Braves went 51-17 after the trade, catching the Giants and winning the National League West by one game before eventually losing the NL Championship Series to the Phillies.

After the 1994 season was trimmed short because of the strike – McGriff was having one of his better seasons and even became the franchise’s first All-Star game MVP – the Braves finally captured their World Series title in 1995, defeating the Indians in six games. McGriff hit .280 with 27 doubles, 27 homers and 97 RBIs over 144 games. He hit .333 with a 1.065 OPS in the postseason with six doubles, four homers and nine RBIs in 14 games.

The World Series was always special,” McGriff said in December. “As a team, the Braves had kept come up short. The pressure was always on us to get over the hump and win. To finally win in 1995 was awesome.”

McGriff, 59, played for the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers across his 19-year career. He hit 130 of his 493 home runs with the Braves, his most for any club.

Among the more powerful hitters of his era, McGriff had eight 100-RBI seasons. He was the first player to slug 30-plus home runs with five different teams. He was a five-time All-Star and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times. He led his league in homers twice. He and catcher Brian McCann (2010) are the only Braves to win an All-Star game MVP.

“I was always enamored by him, just how strong he was,” Rolen said. “How he threw the bat head. I’d get to first base and be scared to death, and he’d talk to me. I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m just going to go.’ But I’ve always looked up to Fred and his career.”

Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, speaking Saturday morning, said of McGriff: “Long time coming. With all the homers, all the consistency, especially the way he played in the postseason. It should’ve been done a lot earlier. But he’s here now. Just a great guy. Taught me a lot about hitting in the middle of the lineup over the years.”

McGriff was elected from the Contemporary Baseball Era Ballot, which consists of players whose contributions to the sport came from 1980 to the present, but who will no longer appear on the BBWAA ballot. A 16-member committee, which included Maddux, voted unanimously for McGriff’s induction.

The Braves have celebrated multiple Hall of Fame inductees over the past decade, a nod to their unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005. McGriff joins Cox (2014), Glavine (2014), Maddux (2014), John Smoltz (2015), Schuerholz (2017) and Jones (2018) as Hall of Famers associated with that success.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Cooperstown. It will air on MLB Network and will be simulcast on MLB.com.

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