Does He Belong? Fred McGriff nears the 500-homer mark, but Cooperstown is another story

June 13, 2004

Waiting in the on-deck circle behind Ken Griffey Jr. for a crack
at 500 home runs is Fred McGriff. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are
giving the 40-year-old DH an opportunity to hit the eight more
home runs he needs to join the 500 club. Let the countdown--and
the debate--begin.

No player ever has tested the merits of 500 home runs more
severely than McGriff. The milestone has traditionally served as
validation of a player's place in the Hall of Fame. (Actually,
every player who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot with more
than 442 home runs has been elected, though Jose Canseco and his
462 home runs are likely to raise the bar.) McGriff, however, has
had such an understated and itinerant career that his passage to
Cooperstown remains in question.

McGriff, for instance, never has hit 40 homers in a season. Eddie
Murray is the only 500-homer hitter never to have hit 40, but
Murray hit another magic milestone with 3,000 hits. (McGriff had
2,480 through Sunday.) In McGriff's favor, his batting, on-base
and slugging averages (.285, .378, .511) are comparable with
those of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey (.270, .374, .515). McGriff
has just nine fewer RBIs (1,546-1,555) and has more top 10 MVP
finishes (6-4) than McCovey.

Griffey and McGriff could make this the second consecutive year
in which two players hit their 500th home runs; Sammy Sosa and
Rafael Palmeiro did so last year, and never before had two
players done it in the same season. After McGriff, however, the
doors of the 500 club figure to close until at least 2006. Then
Juan Gonzalez (434 at week's end), Frank Thomas (430), Jeff
Bagwell (428) and Jim Thome (395) may be knocking. --Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: MARK GOLDMAN (MCGRIFF) ON DECK Will 500 homers make McGriff Hall-worthy?