Former Braves slugger Fred McGriff elected to Hall of Fame

Former Braves slugger Fred McGriff was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Era committee on Sunday evening. He was a unanimous selection by the 16-person committee.

“What an honor,” McGriff said. “I finally did it. I got in there. I’ve been totally blessed my whole life and I continue to be blessed. It’s quite an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

The first baseman hit 493 home runs across 19 years with six clubs, including parts of five seasons with the Braves (1993-97). McGriff was the 1994 All-Star Game MVP and won the 1995 World Series with the franchise, hitting .293 with a .885 OPS over his Braves tenure. His 130 homers with the Braves were his most for any franchise. McGriff, 59, was one of the most decorated Braves during their golden 1990s era.

He was also one of the greatest trade-deadline acquisitions in team history, coming over from the Padres during the 1993 season. The Braves caught fire after McGriff’s arrival - literally. July 20, 1993, the night of his debut, a can of Sterno in an unattended suite started a fire a spread across the club level and caused over $1.5 million in damages at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The game was nonetheless played. The Braves rallied from a five-run deficit and tied the game on McGriff’s two-run shot (the player described that as “his biggest moment” with the franchise). They defeated the Cardinals 8-5. It began one of the greatest runs in team history. The Braves overcame a 10-game deficit - nine at the time of the McGriff trade - and went 50-17 after the deal, chasing down the Giants and winning the division by one game. McGriff hit .310 with 19 homers, 18 doubles and 55 RBIs in 68 games.

“That probably was the greatest pennant race - maybe not in history, but it’s close,” McGriff said. As for the night that started it all, McGriff remembered his Braves debut after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked about some of his fondest memories with the franchise.

“When I was in San Diego, we had a little brawl with the Giants and I had bad ribs,” McGriff said. “So I get traded and I can’t play right away. I was talking to Mr. (John) Schuerholz (the Braves’ general manager), and he said, ‘Fred, you come here, you have to be ready to play.’ So on purpose, I flew to Tampa from San Diego. I hung out in Tampa for a few days so my ribs could heal up. Then I drove up to Atlanta. I left Tampa around 12 o’clock, so I figure by the time I get there, there’s no way I’ll be in the lineup. So I get there, go into the clubhouse and my name is in the lineup. And I’m like, ‘oh boy.’

“I’m telling you, the man upstairs (God). So the stadium catches on fire. The game is delayed. So I have two hours for the trainers to work on my ribs. I end up playing, and I hit a home run my first night in Atlanta. That’s stuff you don’t forget.”

McGriff won a Silver Slugger while finishing fourth in MVP voting during the 1993 season. Among Braves players with 2,500 plate appearances, McGriff is fourth in slugging percentage (.516), fifth in on-base percentage (.369) and seventh in average.

“Crime Dog,” as McGriff was called, produced wherever he went. A five-time All-Star, McGriff exceeded 100 RBIs in eight seasons. He was the first player to hit 30-plus home runs with five different franchises. He finished top-10 in MVP voting in six seasons. He led the league in homers twice. His only championship came with the 1995 Braves, who bested Cleveland in six games.

“The World Series was always special,” McGriff said. “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. Great guys on that team. The Madduxes, Glavines, Mark Lemkes, Justices.”

During an MLB Network interview following the announcement, McGriff said he hasn’t decided on which team’s hat will be represented on his Hall of Fame plaque when inducted. He also spent five seasons with the Devils Rays, his hometown club, and Blue Jays, along with three seasons with the Padres, two with the Cubs and one with the Dodgers.

None of the other seven players on the ballot were elected into the Hall of Fame. That group included beloved former Brave and two-time MVP Dale Murphy. He received six votes, putting him six short of qualifying (a player needed 12 of 16 votes to earn induction).

The Contemporary ballot consists of players whose contributions to the sport came from 1980 to the present. McGriff was among a handful of former standout major leaguers considered on the ballot, including Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling.

Braves Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff, was on the board. The group also included former players Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell; major league executives Paul Beeston, Theo Epstein, Arte Moreno, Kim Ng, Dave St. Peter and Ken Williams; and veteran media members/historians Steve Hirdt, LaVelle Neal and Susan Slusser. Hall replaced Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, who was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Others elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be announced Jan. 24. The 2023 Hall of Fame inductions will take place July 23 in Cooperstown.

“It’s going to be a beautiful thing,” McGriff said.