Fred McGriff, known as the Crime Dog during his playing days, is finally heading to Cooperstown. A reward for a stellar career, including nearly 500 home runs, the first baseman was inducted into the hall of fame on July 23, 2023. Over his 19-year career, McGriff compiled five All-Star selections, three Silver Slugger awards at his position, and hit 30 or more home runs in a season 10 times. He is perhaps best known for his time in the Atlanta Braves organization, where he led the team to its first Major League Baseball championship. McGriff has been one former player whom other ex-MLB players would always say needs to be in Cooperstown as McGriff himself said in December when he was elected to the Hall of Fame: “I run into a lot of former players and they all say I had a great career and I need to be in the Hall of Fame. So I’m really enjoying myself. It’s just such a special moment to call myself a Hall of Famer. Now it’s ‘Fred McGriff, Hall of Famer.’”
McGriff, the son of a TV repair shop owner and a schoolteacher, briefly discussed the values the pair instilled in him during an emotional speech “It’s been a long journey. I encourage you, whatever your dream is, to never give up. Always remember to stay true to who you are. There will be fires along the way, but those fires can ignite the spark for the next season of your life.’’ In a show of respect, when McGriff was introduced, the entire 50-member Hall of Fame class shook his hand as he made his way to the stage. During his speech, when McGriff mentioned his mother and father’s support as he was first starting to play baseball, the emotions started to flow. McGriff nearly broke into tears but his wife, Veronica, was in the crowd crying for the both of them.
McGriff’s story is one that will undoubtedly be a little rarer in the coming years because Black American participation in the sport is waning. In 1991, McGriff’s heyday, there were more Black American baseball players on MLB rosters. At Opening Day that year, 18.3% of MLB players were American-born Black players, but in 2022 that percentage had fallen to 7.2%. According to Esquire, socioeconomic factors explain little of Major League Baseball’s lack of effort at bridging this gap. Even its managers are taking up the fight, as Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker discussed the lack of Black players in the 2022 World Series: “Well, I don’t think that’s something that baseball should really be proud of,’’ Baker said. “It looks bad. It lets people know that it didn’t take a year, or even a decade to get to this point.”
Although there were Black American players selected at the top of the 2023 MLB entry draft, there is still a fight to get more Black American players into the league, particularly from HBCU’s. In 2022, there was not a single player from an HBCU invited to the league’s draft combine. There was also not a single player from an HBCU rostered on an MLB franchise. As a response, Ken Griffey Jr., a hall-of-fame centerfielder put together a showcase designed to increase awareness of the talent located at the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In association with the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, Griffey developed the event to address the lack of attention to those programs as he told NPR: “When you go to the lower-tier colleges, they’re out there because they love the game, because they’re not being seen like they should be,” Griffey says. “They’re not getting the exposure, like everyone else. And so they love the game differently than someone who’s just good at it.” Hopefully, Griffey’s initiative can lead to the next Fred McGriff, an American-born Black player who loves the game eventually being rewarded with the game’s highest honor.