Fred McGriff Keeps Hall Of Fame Hat Logo A Mystery To Be Named Later

Fred McGriff says young black players need to play winter baseball in the Caribbean. The newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame told writers at the San Diego Winter Meetings that playing in the Dominican Republic was a great growing experience.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said McGriff, signed at 17 and in the majors five years later. “The fans were so intense that it was like a World Series.

“And since the Dominican is a third-world country, the kids who play there come back appreciating the United States a little more.”

McGriff was there during the winter of 1984-85, when he was in the organization of the Toronto Blue Jays, who had acquired him from the New York Yankees in a trade publicized only in agate type. Only years later did he blossom into a star first baseman for Toronto, San Diego, and Atlanta.

He also played for the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and his hometown Toronto Blue Jays.

In 19 seasons, he hit 493 home runs, matching Lou Gehrig, and won home run crowns in both leagues. He had a .284 lifetime average and .377 on-base percentage.

McGriff’s biggest hit came Sunday, when the inaugural Contemporary Player Era Committee voted him into Cooperstown. He got the maximum 16 votes from a special panel of historians and Hall of Famers, including former Atlanta teammate Greg Maddux.

“It’s such a great honor,” he said during his press conference at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “It’s Crime Dog time. Unanimous, you know what I’m saying?”

McGriff won’t say what logo he will wear on his Hall of Fame plaque but says he’s already thinking about it. Leading up to the Sunday evening announcement, he went to church, walked around his Tampa neighborhood, and watched football – all on very little sleep.

“I went about my routine,” he said.

During his playing days, the lethal left-handed slugger had another routine.

A five-time All-Star, he finished among the Top 10 in the MVP voting six years in a row, won an All-Star Game MVP award, and brought home a World Series ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves.

“The whole experience in Atlanta was awesome,” said McGriff, who joined the team in 1993 after a mid-season trade with the San Diego Padres. “When I got there, we were 10 games out of first place [in the National League West]. I had injured my ribs during an altercation with the San Francisco Giants a few days earlier and didn’t expect to play right away.

“But I saw my name in the lineup when I got to the ballpark [Atlanta Fulton County Stadium]. I spent two hours in the training room – the game was delayed because the stadium caught fire – and eventually hit a home run in my first game for the Braves.

“We made a great comeback and caught the Giants on the last day of the season but lost the playoffs to the Phillies. A strike cancelled the 1994 post-season but we won it all in 1995, the first time any Atlanta team won a world championship.”

That team produced seven Hall of Famers: Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Maddux, McGriff, manager Bobby Cox, and general manager John Schuerholz.

“When Bobby closed that door, you knew you were in trouble,” McGriff remembered with a grin and a grimace. “You didn’t want to make eye contact. He got tossed so many times [a record 158 ejections] because he didn’t want his players to get tossed.

“Bobby kept everyone together. We not only had good players but good people.”

McGriff also said he enjoyed playing for San Diego. “Tony Gwynn was a magician,” he said of the late Padres outfielder. “He could put on a hit-and-run anytime he was up. If they shifted on him, he would hit the ball right through the open hole in the infield. I have so many great memories of playing with Tony Gwynn.

“Those Padres teams also had Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, and other good players. The Braves were scared when they played the Padres.”

McGriff got to San Diego in a blockbuster deal during the 1990 winter meetings when the Blue Jays sent him to the Padres, along with Tony Fernandez, for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

Although he reached the World Series only twice, with the 1995-96 Braves, he managed 10 home runs in post-season play. Four of them occurred in the final round.

He also had a memorable home run during the 1994 All-Star Game, connecting in the ninth inning against Lee Smith to win MVP honors.

McGriff never approached the required 75 per cent of the vote needed for election to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America [BBWAA]. But he was named to the eight-man ballot produced by the Hall of Fame’s Historical Overview Committee and selected by a separate 16-man panel that met Sunday morning in San Diego.

He will be inducted on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the BBWAA election, to be announced next month. The leading vote-getter last year was Scott Rolen, followed by Todd Helton and Andruw Jones.

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