McGriff, 59, was immortalized as one of baseball’s greatest sluggers in Cooperstown, New York. He took the stage surrounded by 48 Hall of Famers, many of whom kept trying to shake his hand before he sat down.
“I learned a lesson, just to shake one guy’s hand,” McGriff said, laughing. “I shook (Ken) Griffey’s hand, then (Johnny) Bench, (John) Schuerholz, Chipper (Jones) and those guys. Then I heard a chant or something like that. I’m thinking, ‘Is this a crowd (waiting to shake my hand)?’ I turn around and it’s like, ‘Oh boy.’ Once emotionally you get into it, you’re like, ‘I’ll go over there and shake their hands.’”
McGriff, nicknamed Crime Dog, played for six teams across his 19-year career, spending five seasons each with the Blue Jays, Braves and Devil Rays. While he opted not to represent a team on his plaque, McGriff might be best known for his time with the Braves (1993-97). He hit 130 homers in Atlanta and was an integral part of the Braves’ 1995 championship team.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred read aloud McGriff’s plaque, which was to be displayed Sunday evening in the right corner of the Hall. It will be above fellow 2023 inductee Scott Rolen and right of Buck O’Neil.
The plaque reads: “Crushed the ball with consistency for 19 seasons using smooth left-handed swing to amass 493 home runs and 1,550 RBI. Hit 30 or more homers 10 times, the first to do so for five different teams. Finished among his league’s top five in long balls and OPS in seven straight seasons, 1988-1994, topping the AL in homers in 1989 and the NL in 1992. Delivered heroics as clean-up hitter for the 1995 World Series champion Braves and hit .303 in 50 career postseason games. Three-time Silver Slugger at first base and five-time All-Star earned 1994 All-Star game MVP honors.”
McGriff then shared his baseball story with the audience and his peers. He said his initial goal was simply to make the majors, adding he “exceeded every expectation I could ever imagine, and then some. … And now to have a plaque forever hanging in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s unbelievable.”
He followed with asking the crowd about their dreams. Since elementary school, his was to play in the majors. Growing up in Tampa, he recalled living less than a mile from the Reds’ complex, where he and his friends would attend spring training games and seek foul balls — those could be exchanged for a hot dog and Coke.
McGriff remembered failing to make the cut for his Jefferson High baseball team as a sophomore. He used it as motivation, continuing to get stronger before making the team the following season. Coach Pop Cuesta is teased about that decision to this day.
The slugger thanked each franchise that employed him. He recalled his early struggles in the minors. He recounted his first at-bat, a single up the middle off Cleveland’s Don Schulze. He remembered being acquired by two Hall of Fame executives, Pat Gillick and Schuerholz, and later being traded by the former.
When revisiting the Braves acquiring him from San Diego in July 1993, McGriff told one of his favorite stories about his debut, July 20, 1993. He drove from Tampa to Atlanta that day thinking he wouldn’t be in the lineup due to sore ribs. He was, but the press box famously caught fire and delayed the game for two hours. McGriff received treatment in the meantime.
“I started the game, tied it up in the sixth inning with the home run, then the next day, I hit two more home runs,” McGriff said. “And the Braves team caught on fire. We ended up catching the Giants after being 10 games out of first place at the time of the trade, and we won the division. The ‘93 team was the best team I believe I ever played on, with (Tom) Glavine, (Greg) Maddux and (John) Smoltz pitching, plus Bobby Cox leading the way.
“Two years later, in 1995, with a healthy Chipper Jones, it all came together. We finally pulled it off and won the first championship for the city of Atlanta. It was the proudest team moment of my career.”
McGriff discussed learning he’d made the Hall of Fame, which he called “the best phone call of my life.” He thanked long-time coach Ed Napoleon, with whom he worked in the Yankees system after being drafted; Dave Magadan, his friend and workout partner; and Cito Gaston, who was his hitting coach in Toronto.
He spoke about his late parents, how they supported him and constantly praised him to others. He thanked his siblings. He thanked his wife of 35 years, Veronica, “who has been with me since we worked together at Burger King.” And he thanked his two children, Erick and Ericka.
“It was phenomenal, epic, incredible, magnificent,” said Veronica, who cried heavily during the speech she was describing. “It was so special just hearing (him talk about family).”
McGriff had several Braves associates in Cooperstown, with Jones, Maddux and Schuerholz. Former second baseman Mark Lemke was among the other old teammates who went to New York. Glavine and Smoltz couldn’t make the event due to personal matters. The Hall of Fame’s shop offered more Braves-related McGriff merchandise than any of his other clubs. While the Cooperstown scene wasn’t as congested as some past years, plenty of Braves fans made the trip.
As McGriff closed his speech, he left the audience with encouragement — and made one more reference to the press box setting ablaze.
“I’m humbled to be standing on this stage with some of the greatest players to ever play this game,” he said. “Honestly, I would’ve been happy playing one day in the big leagues. This means a lot to me. So I encourage you, whatever your dream is, to never give up and always remember to stay true to who you are.
“There will be fires along the way, but those fires can ignite the spark to the next season of your life.”