Why Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame hopes are looking up

The Jefferson High star and former Devil Rayís hopes of reaching Cooperstown are no longer in the hands of baseball writers, and thatís a good thing.
Former Devil Ray Fred McGriff, right, shakes hands with ex-teammate Tino Martinez, left, after throwing the ceremonial first pitch during the game against the Seattle Mariners on June 9, 2018, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.  McGriff's hopes of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame have taken an interesting twist. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Former Devil Ray Fred McGriff, right, shakes hands with ex-teammate Tino Martinez, left, after throwing the ceremonial first pitch during the game against the Seattle Mariners on June 9, 2018, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. McGriff's hopes of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame have taken an interesting twist. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published January 16
Updated January 17

His phone will not ring. Immortality will not be on hold.

For Fred McGriff, it’s snubbing time again. Results from the latest Hall of Fame voting by baseball writers will be announced next week, and McGriff is going to fall far, far short of election.

This is unfortunate but, in a strange way, fortuitous.

As of next week, McGriff is no longer at the mercy of the writers. They’ve had 10 years to consider his candidacy, and he will never again be fodder for their indifference.

Instead, in the winter of 2022, the Jefferson High grad and former Devil Ray will presumably move to one of the Hall’s Eras Committees. And, just like that, his accomplishments will look a little fresher. His presence in a lineup will, once again, seem intimidating.

RELATED: Lou Piniella falls one vote short of Hall of Fame

If he was a victim of poor timing on the writers’ ballots — his candidacy kicked in shortly after the steroid era made his 493 home runs seem practically paltry — McGriff will now benefit from a revamping of the second-chance brigade of Hall voters.

A few years ago, after a series of baffling and uninspiring choices from the now-defunct Veterans Committee, baseball’s Hall changed the way forgotten stars were considered and tilted the odds in favor of players from the 1970s and forward.

Instead of managers, owners, umpires and executives coming out on top most years, the Hall was putting its emphasis back on hitters and pitchers. And it worked. The new Eras Committees elected more players the past two years than in the previous 10 combined.

And so, yes, McGriff should have a better chance with the Class of 2022 than at any time in the past decade.

Now, to be fair, it’s not like baseball writers have been guilty of a grave injustice in McGriff’s case. He’s been a worthy candidate, but not an automatic one. I used to vote for McGriff routinely, but opted for other players when the ballot got more crowded in recent years.

The argument in his favor, however, is a simple one:

For more than 10 years, he was consistently among the top sluggers in the game. From 1988-97, his OPS (combined slugging and on-base percentage) was an impressive .903. If you consider players who averaged at least 500 plate appearances during those 10 seasons, there were only two with a better OPS. Their names were Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr.

McGriff didn’t win an MVP award and didn’t have as many signature moments as some others, but he was a powerful and dependable force for a lot of good teams. Hitting .303 with 10 home runs in 50 postseason games doesn’t look too bad on the resume, either.

So why will he have a better chance with an Eras Committee?

Mostly because the competition will have thinned out. Many of the players who will finish ahead of him next week will either still be on the ballot, or already in the Hall by the time he is eligible again.

Based on a website that monitors ballots released publicly (bbhoftracker.com), McGriff could eclipse 40 percent of the vote for the first time next week. That’s a long way from the 75 percent needed, but it’s also in line with players who were later elected by the various second-chance committees.

Ron Santo never got more than 43.1 percent of the vote from writers, but was eventually elected. Alan Trammell topped out at 40.9. Heck, Harold Baines is going into the Hall this summer despite never being named on more than 6.1 percent of the writers’ ballots.

And the committee for Today’s Game (players from 1988 to present) has already shown its willingness to immediately elect a fresh face. Lee Smith got 34.2 percent support from the writers in his final year on the ballot in 2017, and was elected by the Today’s Game committee two years later.

If you’re wondering who might stand in McGriff’s way on the Today’s Game ballot in 2022, there are a couple of possibilities. If Larry Walker does not make the Hall in his final year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot next year, he might be close to an automatic pick in 2022. And if the committee adds Mark McGwire to the ballot — he wasn’t considered in the last go-around — that could make things interesting.

As of now, there is only one current member of the Today’s Game ballot that has come close to election, missing by a single vote last month.

Fella by the name of Lou Piniella.

But that’s a whole 'nother story.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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