All but the most casual baseball fans know that Eddie Murray is a legend – first ballot Hall of Famer and a rare member of the exclusive 500 home run, 3000 hit club. There is nothing to be gained by debating something as obviously true as Murray's status as one of the greats. Similarly, serious fans understand that, despite having the most staggeringly awesome nickname in baseball history, Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff is not going to make it into Cooperstown. He probably won't even be on the ballot anymore after a few years.
We know Crime Dog's problem because we have all heard the argument: good but never great, no MVP awards, no singular defining moments in big games, and only six All-Star selections in 19 seasons. He is the classic "accumulator", a guy who approached big milestones simply by playing forever at an above-average level. Never a true star. If there was a Hall of the Very Good, McGriff would be in it. But not the Hall of Fame.
So it would be pretty silly to compare Crime Dog to Steady Eddie Murray, right? Of course it would, inasmuch as they were the exact same player. No, I take that back; McGriff was better.
PLUS, TOM EMANSKI COMMERCIALS. TAKE THAT, MURRAY.
McGriff retired with 493 HR and 2490 hits, both short of the magical 500/3000 markers. Murray posted 504 and 3255 hits, easily clearing the hurdle on hits but just squeaking by on HR. If McGriff had hit a paltry 7 more HR over 19 years, he would get into the HOF. Why? Because everyone with 500 HR gets in. Because it's 500! Which is a magical number! McGriff with 493 = good not great. McGriff with 501 = Hall of Famer.
Crime Dog matches up favorably with Murray in almost every category. 6 All-Star appearances in 19 season (8/21 for Murray). No MVP awards for either. One World Series ring each. A slash line of .284/.377/.509 (.287/.359/.476 for Murray). OPS+ of 134, five points above Murray's 129. Both played first base, and defense is one area in which Murray clearly outdoes Freddie (3 Gold Gloves, 6.5 career defensive Wins against Replacement). But let's not kid ourselves, nobody voted for Murray because of his D and no one will vote against McGriff on that basis either.
Here's the best part: McGriff's failure to hit the 500/3000 marks was nothing but a stroke of bad luck. Consider the following:
In short, Murray was the classic Accumulator. He was never a true superstar and he crossed the 500/3000 because he played forever and never got hurt. None of his career statistics differ significantly from McGriff's (not to mention other Accumulators like Paul Konerko, Rafael Palmeiro, or Dave "I'll play until I'm 43 to get 3000 hits" Winfield). He was a better defensive player than the Crime Dog but that is about it.
So the question is why Murray is a first ballot Hall of Famer and McGriff is not HOF-level. It boils down to the worship of arbitrary statistical milestones, namely the 500 HR barrier. In the most important stats like OPS+ or OBP, McGriff was actually better than Murray (and Winfield). A player's career does not become more impressive – certainly not in any meaningful way – when he moves from 499 to 500. Usually sportswriters and HOF voters fall back on the "no championships" argument, but Murray and McGriff each own a ring and the same number of WS appearances. Instead, they have to rely on dumb statistics like wins, total hits, and career HR totals to include or exclude players who
never played in New York or Boston failed to meet the nebulous standards of true "stardom."
(PS: If I really wanted to be mean we could have used Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, or Winfield as a comparison instead of Murray. WTF on Dawson. Nice 119 OPS+ and .323 OBP, loser.)