Baseball Hall of Fame countdown: Fred McGriff, a model of consistency, down to his last shot

USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 10 candidates on the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in advance of the Jan. 22 election results. The countdown is based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.

No. 9: Fred McGriff

During his peak, Fred McGriff was one of the most feared power hitters in baseball.

But like Hall of Fame candidate Gary Sheffield, whose playing career virtually spanned the same years as McGriff, he played during the height of the so-called steroid era that’s costing many of his contemporaries consideration for the Hall.

His career numbers, which would have been considered mammoth even a few years earlier, were matched or exceeded by a significant group that played during his generation (1986-2004) of inflated offensive numbers.

His resume is based on durability and consistency. He had seven consecutive seasons (1988-94) of at least 30 homers and eight seasons of 100 or more RBI.

But, even though he was never implicated in performance-enhancing drug use and advocated cleansing the game of PEDs during and after his 19-year playing career, it may not be enough to earn induction. 

The case for

McGriff put up garish power numbers. 

He slugged 493 career homers — which then ranked 21st all-time and equaled first-ballot Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig — and had a .886 OPS, which before the turn of the century ranked 10th among any player with at least 8,000 at-bats.

During his peak from 1988-94, McGriff had a slash line of .288/.390/.545 and averaged 148 games, 35 home runs and 95 RBI.

In 1993, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves and became an integral part of a team that finished 51-19 that overtook the San Francisco Giants to claim first place in the National League West. He finished with a career-high 37 homers and fourth place in the NL MVP voting that season.  

He also enjoyed a brilliant postseason career — reaching the playoffs five times and posting a slash line of .303/.385/.532 in 50 games — better than his regular season output. In 1995, he won his only World Series championship ring with the Braves.

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The case against 

Bad timing?

He made his major league debut the same year as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro – three generational sluggers who all ultimately were implicated in PED use. Though McGriff was a five-time All-Star and led the NL in homers three years after he had accomplished the same feat in the AL — the first to do so in the Live Ball Era — he couldn’t match the accomplishments of his counterparts.

While his overall resume should not be denied, he was never the best in any given year. He never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting, unlike contemporaries Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell, who each won MVP awards on their way to Hall of Fame enshrinement.

X-factors

Just how important are home runs?

Not too long ago, slugging 500 home runs, or close to it, meant near-automatic consideration for the Hall. 

Not so much anymore.

The only players — Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa — with more home runs than McGriff at the time of his retirement not in the Hall have been linked to steroids. Willie Stargell and Stan Musial, who each slugged 18 less homers, have been enshrined.   

He and Sheffield, with 509 career homers, are the only players ever to hit at least 30 home runs in one season for five teams. 

Consensus 

This is McGriff’s 10th and final year on the ballot before he’s referred to an appointed electorate — Today’s Game Era Committee — for consideration. It’s likely his best chance.

He’s never received more than 23.9% of votes from the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, and according to early returns from @NotMrTibbs’ ballot tracker, he will once again fall short. While he’s picked up votes (36.5%), he’s still far from the 75% needed. 

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