Best Forgotten Seasons: Part 24 – The Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays, a franchise that played its inaugural season back in 1977, were born in the era of disco, Jimmy Carter, and Laverne and Shirley, not exactly the high water mark of Western Civilization.
Tweeners like myself (neither a true Baby-Boomer nor a Gen-X‘er), remember this period as our awkward transition through puberty and on into high school.
After six miserable seasons, however, the Blue Jays became a respectable ball-club — and stayed that way — for the next eleven consecutive seasons. They reached the pinnacle of success by winning back-to-back World Championships over first the Braves, then the Phillies, in 1992-93.
Alas, Joe Carter‘s walk-off home run off of Mitch Williams in ’93 would be, up to this point, the last great moment in Jays history. Not that they’ve been a bad team, mind you. They finished in third place in their division eight times in ten years from 1998-2007, with a second place finish thrown in as well.
But the glory days, when they regularly drew over 4 million fans per year to the Skydome, have passed them by. The Blue Jays drew just 1.49 million fans this past season, their lowest attendance total since 1982.
Nevertheless, in good times and bad, the Blue Jays have produced their fair share of talented baseball players. Not a single Blue Jay has yet made it into the Hall of Fame, however, although HOF’ers Rickey Henderson, Phil Niekro, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor have worn the Blue Jay uniform.
One other player who wore a Blue Jay uniform and who has a solid case in his favor regarding Hall of Fame worthiness is retired first baseman Fred McGriff.
Fred (Crime Dog) McGriff, who made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986 at the age of 22, was one of the first excellent players the Jays produced. By age 24, McGriff was already one of the most lethal players in his league, smashing 34 homers, scoring 100 runs, and producing an OPS of .928.
But Fred McGriff’s Best Forgotten Season with the Blue Jays was 1989.
In 1989, McGriff smashed an A.L. leading 36 home runs. He also led the league in OPS (.924) and OPS+ (166). He scored 98 runs, drove in 92, collected 289 total bases, and drew a career high 119 walks (second most in the league.) His .524 slugging percentage was also second-best in the league.
McGriff won a Silver Slugger award ’89, and he finished sixth in the MVP voting in only his third big league season.
In December, 1990, McGriff, along with teammate Tony Fernandez, was traded to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. As great a player as McGriff was, this was a trade the Blue Jays certainly cannot regret having made.
McGriff went on to enjoy an excellent career until his retirement at the age of 40 in 2004, having helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a World Championship in 1995.
His final career numbers include 493 homers (tied with Lou Gehrig for 26th all-time), 1,550 RBI’s, 1,349 runs scored, 2,490 hits, 441 doubles, and 4,458 total bases (top 50 all-time.)
Only eight first basemen in history have ever out-homered McGriff (only six if you subtract steroids-tainted Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero.)
McGriff’s career OPS+ (134) is better than approximately 85 current Hall of Famers.
Now, if you’re still with me, let’s take a look at five other first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame: Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler and Bill Terry, and compare them with Fred McGriff. We’ll begin with OPS (on-base + slugging percentage.) Here’s how they stack up:
1) Bill Terry – .899
2) Fred McGriff – .886
3) Orlando Cepeda – .849
4) George Sisler – .847
5) Eddie Murray – .836
6) Tony Perez – .804
Now how about OPS+ (which takes into consideration the era and the home ballpark of the particular player):
1) Bill Terry – 134
2) Fred McGriff – 134
3) Orlando Cepeda – 133
4) Eddie Murray – 129
5) George Sisler – 124
6) Tony Perez – 122
Want still more? How about career WAR? (a cumulative stat):
1) Eddie Murray – 60.2
2) Fred McGriff – 53.2
3) George Sisler – 50.4
4) Tony Perez – 49.6
5) Bill Terry – 48.1
6) Orlando Cepeda – 46.8
Just for the hell of it, how about runs created (the hitter’s basic purpose):
1) Eddie Murray – 1,942
2) Fred McGriff – 1,704
3) Tony Perez – 1,524
4) George Sisler – 1,468
5) Orlando Cepeda – 1,337
6) Bill Terry – 1,280
Notice a trend? When compared to five other HOF first basemen, Fred McGriff comes in second place on each list.
There are those of you who hate these kinds of arguments (A is as good as B, and B is as good as C, so A is as good as C.) You might argue that perhaps none of these players (with the exception of Eddie Murray) belongs in The Hall. Perhaps, you might reason, The Hall should be reserved for only the VERY BEST of the VERY BEST. Guys like Gehrig, Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio, etc.
Well, my friends, we crossed that Rubicon a long, lonely time ago.
Democracy has its merits, but perhaps its one great flaw is the idea that there really isn’t that much difference between the truly great and the merely very good. We live in a democracy, and lots of very good people (and some true mediocrities) have assumed positions of great power,wealth and prestige.
Why should we expect Baseball’s Hall of Fame to be any different?
This is no slight against the career of Fred McGriff, nor against any of the other players on the above lists, for that matter.
Just don’t tell me you know a HOF’er when you see one. Or that a true HOF’er is always obvious.
Numbers are the mother’s milk of this pastime, and the numbers indicate that it is virtually impossible to make an objective, reasonable argument as to why Fred McGriff does not belong in the Hall of Fame.
Now, anyone for a Nick at Night Mork and Mindy Marathon?