Fred McGriff: underrated victim of the 1994-95 strike

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Today is the 22nd anniversary of the 1994-95 players strike. As everyone knows, it killed the 1994 season in its tracks, cancelled the playoffs and World Series, shortened the 1995 season, introduced the concept of scab labor into the sport and led to a humiliating legal defeat for the owners’ position. Indeed, the only thing that didn’t suffer as a result of the strike is the Hall of Fame case for the man most responsible for it. Bud Selig is being canonized as quickly as the baseball establishment can fast track it. Selective memory is a wonderful thing.

While Selig somehow skated, there were a lot of victims of the strike. We’ve long known the most obvious ones. You can’t mention the strike without former Expos fans weighing in. Tony Gwynn’s quest for .400 was thwarted. Several players had a chance to break Roger Maris’ record for homers in a season, four years before it was eventually broken. We were deprived of some dubiousness too: on the day the strike began the first place team in the AL West, the Texas Rangers, were ten games under .500. Someone in that division was gonna have to go to the playoffs. Baseball was spared them having to actually do so.

There is one guy who isn’t mentioned as a strike casualty as often as he should be: Atlanta Braves first baseman Fred McGriff. McGriff wasn’t going to be the MVP in a league with Gwynn, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds and Matt Williams tearing it up like they were, but he was having one of the best seasons of his excellent career. When the music stopped he was hitting .318/.389/.683 with 34 homers and 94 RBI. Excellent production, even if it made him more of a top-10 as opposed to top-3 performer in a very high-powered offensive season in Major League Baseball.

Where this really hurt McGriff was in the long run. Specifically his Hall of Fame case. A Hall of Fame case for which he has never even got 25% of the vote. But the merits of his case are closer than that vote total suggests. Many voters have even said so as he has been considered. The idea is that McGriff is juuuussst short of Hall of Fame quality. He just missed 500 homers, which many consider a benchmark of sorts. Many have said that he lacked a truly dominant season which many Hall of Famers put up. This is a mistaken view, held by people who did not understand the low-offensive era in which McGriff spent most of his prime, and during which he was the premier power hitter of the game, but they believe it anyway.

If the strike doesn’t happen, McGriff would’ve hit something like 40-45 homers. He would’ve driven in around 120. Most importantly, he would’ve topped 500 homers for his career. In the grand scheme of his 19-year career those extra numbers are not statistically significant, but to the Hall of Fame voters who consider McGriff each winter and find him lacking, they are likely tremendously important psychologically speaking. If he cleared 500 homers and put up a “big” season for a single team in the post-1993 era (his most famous season was split between two clubs) I think the story of his Hall of Fame case goes way differently than it has gone.

The strike cost McGriff less than a third of a season and just a tad more from 1995. But I believe they cost McGriff serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.