Fred McGriff. (Wikipedia).

He was just seven home runs away from immortality.

Fred McGriff, the Braves, Blue Jays and Devil Rays star first baseman who plied his trade mostly in the 1990s, stopped at the doorstop of greatness.

Or, de jure greatness, at least. Greatness made official. Greatness as decided by a handful of scribes.

Just seven home runs. That’s all he needed to get there, to be let in, to be included among heroes and legends, names that transcend sport and roll off the tongue as readily as Michael Jackson and Jack Nicholson.

Just seven home runs.

Over the course of 19 seasons, from 1986 to 2004, McGriff hit .284. He had nearly 2,500 hits and 1,550 RBI—an average of over 80 per year.

He slugged over .500 and scored more than 1,300 runs—more than Barry Larkin and Vladimir Guerrero and Harmon Killebrew. He drew over 1,300 walks, t00, and a full 171 of them were intentional, because he was so feared a batsmen. In 1991, he led the league in such free passes, with 26.

Tim Raines, Ted Simmons and Harold Baines never finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting. Fred McGriff did.

Neither Robin Yount nor Jeff Bagwell made five All-Star Games. Fred McGriff did.

Jim Thome, who clobbered over 600 career home runs, won one, single, solitary Silver Slugger. Fred McGriff won three.

Among all players, ever, he ranks near the top in slugging percentage and extra base hits and, heck, even putouts.

And all those RBI. He had more than Mantle and DiMaggio and Stargell, not quite as many as McCovey, but more than Berra and Piazza and Bench.

From 1991 to 2001, a span of 11 seasons, he averaged exactly 100 per year; he reached the triple digit mark eight times, including 2002, one of his final campaigns, as he was winding down his career.

Just seven home runs.

McGriff hit .435 in the 1993 American League Championship Series, his second postseason appearance, and .333 in the 1997 NLCS, his last.

In between, he reached the playoffs three more times, and played 33 more games, posting a career slash line of .303/.385/.532. He slugged 10 dingers. He drove 37 runs home.

A World Series ring would’ve been a dream for Atlanta in 1995, instead of a reality, without McGriff leading them. In that year’s NLDS, he hit .333; in the ALCS, his on-base percentage was .526; in the Fall Classic, he slugged .609.

In 2010, McGriff became eligible for the Hall of Fame; Andre Dawson was elected that year, and Bert Blyleven was just a few votes short. McGriff—Crime Dog—appeared on 116 ballots. 423 writers didn’t vote for him. Barely a fifth of them did.

And so it went for the next decade. In 2014, with Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine debuting on the ticket, he hit his nadir, with less than 70 voters choosing his name. Jeff Kent earned more votes. If it’s any consolation, Larry Walker earned less.

Come their final try on the ballot, players usually see a boost in support. Often, it’s substantial—Walker jumped over 20 points in his last year to earn election. Tim Raines’ support popped more than 16 points; Edgar Martinez’s, 15 points exactly.

McGriff, too, spiked in his ultimate chance. As much as Raines, in fact.

He earned less than 40 percent of the vote and fell off the ballot.

Just seven home runs.

During his career, McGriff was one of the game’s premier sluggers—no, actually, that’s an understatement. He was one of the best sluggers of all time.

He averaged one home run every 17.6 at-bats—better than Mel Ott and Johnny Mize!—and led the league in that statistic twice. From 1987 to 2002, a span of 16 seasons, he averaged 30 homers per year and never had less than 19 in a season.

Consistency was his trademark. Knock 1987 off that stretch and for 15 years he had no less than 81 RBI or 135 hits in any given year—and his hits fell that low only because it was a strike-shortened season, 1994, and he played just 113 games.

He slugged 30 or more home runs 10 times, or for more than half of his career and though he never reached 40, well, neither did Eddie Murray or Stan Musial. And Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Frank Robinson did it just once, each.

Just seven home runs.

The 500 home run club has 27 members. Barry Bonds sits at the top with 762 and it tails off with Murray at 504. In between, there’s Jimmie Foxx and Ernie Banks and, of course, Babe Ruth.

Each player who reached 500 home runs before 1997 is in the Hall of Fame, elected resoundingly, with little hesitation. Eleven of those 15 men joined on the first ballot; six earned 90 percent of the vote, three earned 95 percent.

Since then, Ken Griffey, Jr. was chosen, just a couple votes shy of a unanimous selection. Frank Thomas got in, and so did Jim Thome.

Of those not yet there, Albert Pujols is still active and might join Henry Aaron and Willie Mays with more than 95 percent of the vote when his chance arrives. Two, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, are not yet eligible, having been retired too short a time to appear on the ballot.

Everyone else was swept up in the anti-steroid witch hunt, having been caught or accused of juicing, and the baseball moralists who predominate the voting class refuse to grant them election.

Rightly or wrongly, Bonds and Sheffield and Ramirez still wait their turns. But even they’ve had better luck with the writers than McGriff ever did. Bonds appeared on nearly 62 percent of the ballots last year, his second-to-last chance and—if recent history is any indication—he might yet see a spike of 15 points and walk into Cooperstown. Sheffield passed 40 percent for the first time in the most recent election, his seventh, and he, too, is trending toward eventual induction. Even Ramirez, who was suspended twice for steroid use, earned more than 28 percent of the vote in his fifth try.

McGriff took home 11.7 percent of the vote his fifth go-around.

And he was never even accused of or associated with steroid use. He never tested positive. He appeared in no reports. He can’t be grouped with Sheffield or McGwire, Bonds or Palmeiro.

He’d fit more alongside Griffey and Murray, Mays and Aaron.

Just seven home runs.

But McGriff hit only 493 home runs in his 19 seasons. With a few more, he’d be mentioned in the same breath as Foxx and McCovey, his baseball cards would be set aside and not tossed in a shoebox. You have more fingers than McGriff needed home runs to join a club of elites, a pantheon that would bestow on him legendary status, that would forever transform him from a consistent slugger to one of the best home run hitters of all time.

Each eligible man with 500 or more home runs not associated with performance enhancing drugs is in the Hall of Fame. To maintain that uniformity, McGriff would have been elected, first round, no doubt, if he reached the mark. Because that’s what the voters do. They select members of that club for Cooperstown. Seven home runs, that’s all McGriff needed to get there.

Just seven home runs.


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