For Fred McGriff And Dale Murphy, Contemporary Baseball Era Peers Could Mean A Hall Of Fame Call

As we’ve all been reminded innumerable times, there are no sure things in life. But even before the members of the electorate were revealed Monday, there were few things more nearly certain than the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee electing at least one candidate when it gathers and votes today during the winter meetings in San Diego.

Even counting the post-Bill Mazeroski drought — there were no Veterans Committee candidates enshrined from 2002 through 2007 — the Veterans Committee, or whatever moniker bestowed upon it by the Hall of Fame, has elected at least one candidate 50 times in the 60 years it has convened since 1960. There was no election in 2020, when the pandemic didn’t allow for an in-person meeting of the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era committees.

Choosing 1960 as a cutoff date for this exercise isn’t solely a matter of finding a nice round number of years. Discounting 2020 — when the Baseball Writers Association of America pitched a shutout but there was still a ceremony in Cooperstown in September 2021 honoring the class of 2020, which had its original ceremony pushed back due to the pandemic — the last time no one at all was inducted into the Hall of Fame was…1960.

And with no legitimate first-ballot possibilities on the ballots distributed to eligible voting members of the BBWAA and with only one returning candidate (Scott Rolen at 63.2 percent) having received at least 60 percent of the vote last year, there’s a pretty good chance it’s the Contemporary Baseball Era or bust.

And let’s face it: Whether it’s spoken about in the room or not, it’s pretty well understood the Baseball Hall of Fame isn’t in the business of not inducting someone.

So while there are no sure things, it’s a nearly sure thing that someone is getting elected today. And it’s a slightly less nearer of a sure thing that someone — or those someones — will be longtime Braves stars Fred McGriff and/or Dale Murphy.

While neither McGriff or Murphy came close to induction during their time on the BBWAA ballot, the former sluggers looked like the candidates with the best chance of getting in even before the first two people mentioned in the Hall of Fame’s press release were Hall of Famers and Braves icons Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux.

The presence of Jones and Maddux aren’t enough to vault McGriff and/or Murphy into Cooperstown — a candidate must be named on 75 percent of the 16 ballots, which even those of us who failed anything resembling advanced math can figure out is 12 votes. But even just a couple potentially positive voices for a candidate within these small electorates can be the deciding factor, as the contentious elections of Mazeroski and Harold Baines proved in 2000 and 2018, respectively.

Jones and Maddux could be particularly beneficial for McGriff, who played with the duo on the Braves’ 1995 World Series-winning team and finished with 493 homers — tied for 29th all-time — but never got more than 39.8 percent of the vote in 10 years on the writer’s ballot.

Yet McGriff was viewed as clean compared to the majority of the peers with whom he shared eras. McGriff hit 191 homers in the pre-steroid boom from 1987 through 1992, third-most in the bigs behind Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. He then hit 287 homers from 1993 through 2002, 15th-most in the majors behind PED-linked players such as Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, Mo Vaughn and Alex Rodriguez.

McGriff was also good enough long enough that it’s difficult to narrow down his peak. Was it when he hit 319 homers from 1988 through 1997 (behind only McGwire and Bonds)? Was it when he posted a .914 OPS from 1987 through 1996, fourth among players with at least 1,000 games played behind Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and McGwire? Or was it when he racked up 993 RBIs from 1991 through 2000, 10th most behind a group including a trio of Hall of Famers (Frank Thomas, Griffey and Jeff Bagwell) and five PED-linked players (Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, Palmeiro, Bonds and Sosa)?

After a decade-long stretch in which eight players with more homers than McGriff either fell off the ballot or displayed no real traction due to their credible ties to PED usage, McGriff — who also has a link in the electorate to executive Paul Beeston, who was the Blue Jays’ president when McGriff was traded to the Padres following the 1990 season — represents a chance to thread a delicate needle by inducting someone from the steroid era without inducting someone directly connected TO the steroid era.

Likewise, Murphy offers a chance at a feel-good induction tale after a lengthy period of ambivalence regarding the candidates on the writer’s ballot. Murphy looked like a surefire future inductee when he became the youngest player to win back-to-back MVPs when he earned the honors in the NL at ages 26 and 27 in 1982 and 1983.

He didn’t place in the top 5 again but ended the 1980s with the second-most homers (308), in between Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray, and tied with Schmidt for the second-most RBIs (929) behind only Murray (996). Murphy only ranked 19th in the majors in OPS during the ‘80s yet led all big leaguers in games played (1,537) and at-bats (5,694).

But Murphy was already declining at the end of the decade. After hitting .227 with 44 homers and 161 RBIs in 1988-89, Murphy hit just .245 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 1990, when he was traded to the Phillies. He finished his career by hitting .236 with 20 homers over parts of the next three seasons with the Phillies and Rockies and retired with 398 homers, which ranked him 27th all-time and behind 24 current or future Hall of Famers.

By the time Murphy appeared on the writers’ ballot for the first time in 1999, he’d fallen to 32nd. And by the time his eligibility was exhausted in 2013, he’d slipped to 54th. He never got more than 23.2 percent of the vote from the BBWAA electorate.

Murphy received fewer than four votes during the 2019 Modern Baseball Era voting. But perhaps his spotless reputation as one of baseball’s good guys and the inclusion of two fellow popular ex-Braves — as well as Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell, all of whom were inducted via recent iterations of the Veterans Committee and might be able to appreciate the plights of Murphy and McGriff — will result in a much closer look this time.

The presence of Morris, who led the majors in wins (162) and innings pitched (2,443 2/3) while ranking third in strikeouts (1,629) during the ‘80s but was tied for 41st in ERA (3.66) among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings — could be especially helpful for Murphy’s hopes of being presented as the one of the best of his decade.

With such a small and unpredictable electorate, there is always the possibility of a surprise candidate emerging. Don Mattingly, another 1980s superstar and all-around decent person who also received received fewer than four votes via the Modern Baseball Era voting in 2019, could also benefit from a closer examination conducted largely by his peers. Curt Schilling has a much better chance of his post-career nonsense being rendered irrelevant by this electorate, but let’s not forget Schilling — once dubbed a horse’s back end by his own general manager — was a handful for his contemporaries in the pre-social media era.

The biggest surprise would be one of the steroid era candidates — Bonds, Belle, Palmeiro and Roger Clemens — getting the 12 votes necessary in a ballot overseen in a non-voting capacity by Hall chairwoman of the board Jane Forbes Clark. A slightly smaller surprise would be Atlanta not being represented on stage at the Clark Sports Center on July 23.