McGriff Q&A Part 2: Hall of Fame snub and advice for prospects

These days he’s a Braves special assistant in baseball operations, but in the mid-1990s Fred McGriff, aka “Crime Dog,” was a sweet-swinging power hitter who helped bring Atlanta a World Series title.

The genial McGriff, who at 54 still looks fit enough to play, has a wealth of experiences from a 19-year playing career and shares his knowledge with Braves players and prospects at spring training and throughout the season in visits to minor league affiliates.

McGriff hit more than 30 homers six times before he turned 30 and had ten 30-homer seasons in a career with six teams. He finished with 493 homers, 1,550 RBIs and a .284 average, .377 on-base percentage, .509 slugging percentage and .886 OPS -- statistics that warrant serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, though he’s inexplicably received less than 25 percent of the votes for nine years on the writers’ ballot.

McGriff talked with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week in Dunedin, Fla., the spring-training home of the first organization he played for, the Toronto Blue Jays. This is the second part of a two-part interview.

The first part, in which he talked about Braves prospects and why Freddie Freeman is susceptible to injury, is linked here and was published Thursday at myAJC.com.

Q. I’ve talked to Murph (Dale Murphy) about this, too -- when you look at your stats and your Hall of Fame voting totals, are you surprised they’re as low as they are? Do you think it could actually come down to something as trivial as getting seven more homers if there hadn’t been a (1994) strike, which would’ve given you 500 homers and maybe helped in the view of some voters? I just don’t understand the low vote totals when I look at your stats, plus the fact that you excelled in multiple postseasons and won a World Series.

A. No, I don't see it that way (re: 500 homers) because there's  lot of Hall of Famers who don't have those numbers. You can't say, oh, if you'd have hit seven more home runs. ... That shouldn't be an issue because there's a lot of guys who don't have (statistics as good as his).

Q. I don’t get it. I’ve wondered if maybe it’s because you didn’t play for a more high-profile team most of your career, or what it is. Because it just doesn’t make sense that your voting total wouldn’t be higher, that you’re not in the Hall of Fame or even close in the voting so far. What do you think?

A. That's the million-dollar question. You've got to ask your people. (He laughs.) See, and if you look at Murph (Braves icon Dale Murphy, who also is not in the Hall of Fame), he won MVP awards. You're talking about the best player – people voted him the best player in the league. It's like Alan Trammell and Jack Morris are finally in there (recently voted in by the era committee). As a player, I know who was a good player and who was a bad player, and Alan Trammell was a good player. There's a lot of politics.

Q. Some argue a DH like Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall, that’s he’s gotten short-changed not getting in yet. But you look at your numbers and think about the fact you played a position, first base, your whole career. Even at the end you didn’t slip into a less-demanding DH role.

A. Nope, I didn't play (DH). ... (He paused, adds in a tone of resignation.) But I was blessed, man. Coming from Tampa and hitting one damn home run in the big leagues was awesome.

Q. So you’re able to look at it that way instead of being upset or bitter about not being in the Hall of Fame or even getting serious consideration so far?

A. (Laughs) I've got six screws in my body, and I'm trying to fight every day. I've got four screws in my neck, had back surgery.

Q. I didn’t realize that. Which makes it even more impressive that you’ve maintained what looks like the same physique you had as a player. How does that happen? Most of your contemporaries can’t say the same thing.

A. I still work out. I've got a little (exercise) app on my phone. I do body-weight exercises. I don't do any running or anything like that, I just do some push-ups, stuff like that.

Q. Do you ever get in the batting cage and hit during BP?

A. (Laughs) No. The guys try to get me to hit. In the minors I may do it, but up here (at a spring training game) there's too many people watching.

Q. So you’ve done it in the minors. Can you still hit it out?

A. I can still hit one (he laughs). The best part (of going to minor leagues) for me is talking to these kids. That's the best. Because I really get to pick their brains. You just sit there talking to them and if they trust you, they'll start opening up to you, and they start talking about life, about their approach to hitting, stuff like that.

Q. So you’ve gotten a chance to get to know some of these guys who’ve been on the way the last couple of years, guys that are real close now like Austin Riley, Alex Jackson?

A. Yeah. You try to show them little stuff, you try to tell them. Like for instance, we're watching (Tigers slugger) Miguel Cabrera in Lakeland and I'm telling Riley, watch him hit, man. Watch him in batting practice. Watch his mannerisms, watch his hands because this guy is one of the best hitters ever. Just pointing little things out to him because you know things that as a player you went through, so you try to translate it to them.

So if I like a guy – like I like Riley and those guys – so if I like them, I take care of them, I try to help them out. Because it’s hard, hitting is hard. It’s the hardest thing to do consistently. Hitting in the big leagues ain’t easy, man.

Q. You really like Riley, huh? Chipper (Jones) says the same thing, he really thinks he’ll be a good third baseman.

A. He's a great kid. He may have little adjustments here and there that he's got to make, but everybody does. Everybody's got adjustments to make.

Q. Do you have good memories of playing here (in Dunedin when he was with the Blue Jays)?

A. Oh yeah, it's awesome.

(At this point Braves coaches Ron Washington and Eric Young came off the field during batting practice and started talking smack to each other and to McGriff from the end of the dugout, the three former big-leaguers talking about their exploits as players. McGriff tells them when he sees former Braves teammates Tom Glavine and John Smoltz he lets them know he hit well against them.)

“These guys,” McGriff says, smiling at the coaches at the other end of the dugout. “Like, I don’t miss playing, but I miss the guys. That’s why I’ve got to be Alex (Anthopoulos)’s right-handed man. Let me be a special assistant to the GM. If you want to make a trade, say, ‘Hey Fred, go check out so-and-so.’ Show a brother a little love.” (He laughs.)

Q. What do they have you doing now?

A. Just baseball operations. Like, during the season I'll go to the minors for about five days, to Gwinnett and Rome. I'll go to minor league camp, I'll start helping those guys. It is cool, I like talking to the young kids. Half of them weren't even born when I was playing. They'll Google me and ... then the next day they'll come back talking noise.

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