The Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee has unanimously elected Fred McGriff to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Great news for The Crime Dog himself of course, but it might surprise you to know that two Dutch brothers have been waiting for this moment for nearly thirty years as well. A couple of thousand miles away from Cooperstown, this latest induction will be celebrated by the Dutch Fred McGriff Fan Club like a World Series win.
In the Netherlands we’re fortunate enough to be able to fall in love with baseball through our own league. The Dutch Hoofdklasse is nowhere near as good as the Major Leagues are of course, but it’s a nice gateway into the sport. And so it came to be that instead of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, my first favourite ballplayers had names like Patrick van Heijningen, Wanny Werleman and Pierre Richardson, all players from my local team, Smit & Dorlas Quick Amersfoort.
That all changed one Christmas Day, when our uncle, who also took us to Dutch ball games, introduced my twin brother and I to the Avalon Hill baseball board game. He challenged us to a World Series. We could pick every team we wanted, but back then in 1992, we only knew one team: the Toronto Blue Jays, the reigning champions. Little did we know that the game our uncle had brought was three years old and we had the tough task of facing the team that had won it all in that year, the Oakland Athletics (with stars like Dennis Eckersley, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson).
‘89 BLUE JAYS
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game – I won’t bore you with every detail – it closely mimics a real-life game, with a playing card for every player based on their statistics and you get to decide the lineup. I still know our Blue Jays’ team by heart: C Ernie Whitt, 1B Fred McGriff, 2B Nelson Liriano, 3B Kelly Gruber, SS Tony Fernandez, RF Junior Felix, CF George Bell and LF Lloyd Moseby.
Quickly, we lost the first two games and we felt the need to shake things up, but decided to give everybody one last chance. We were not disappointed. In a true power surge, we homered our way to a tied series that eventually went to a Game 7. Although we did lose in the end, all of those Jays stole our hearts forever, especially home run heroes Fernandez and McGriff.
And so did the game. We were completely hooked and needed our own so we could play it ourselves. We didn’t have to wait long, because it was our birthday hardly two weeks after New Year’s Eve and the first present we opened was our very own baseball board game from the ‘92 season.
You can imagine our disappointment when we found out that this new edition did not contain any American League teams, but that made our delight even bigger when we discovered that since that old game Fernandez and McGriff had been traded to the Padres and had joined the likes of Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield and Bip Roberts in San Diego, not to mention the legendary Tony Gwynn.
Although we will never admit it in public, we might have helped them a bit along the way to a couple of championships, something the real Padres never achieved. No holiday, vacation or weekend went by in which we didn’t play a game or two. The players from that era still feel like my generation although we were just eight years old.
During the next couple of years, we found new ways to follow the action overseas. Every year our uncle gave us a new edition of The Complete Handbook of Baseball yearbooks and CNN text (581-588) provided us with daily scores and statistics.
In 1994 we changed allegiances again, when McGriff was traded from San Diego to the Braves (we had lost sight of Fernandez for a couple of years) and won our first ring together. During those playoffs, we could finally see our hero on Dutch national television and let everybody know this was our guy.
McGriff kept hitting 30 homers a year until the wheels came off in 2004. He ended seven dingers shy of 500, but we hoped it would be enough for a ticket to Cooperstown. We had to be patient though, and work our way through ten disappointing ballots – where McGriff would never exceed 39% of the votes – until finally, last Monday morning in the Netherlands, we found out we’re Cooperstown bound.
GENUINE NICE GUY
McGriff has never spoken out against his contemporaries about their use of PED’s, but it has been a reason for me to dislike the players that, in my mind, stole some of his glory. He used to be one of the best sluggers in the game but was surpassed by the likes of Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, because they were juiced up to their eyeballs and at one point couldn’t wipe their asses to save their lives.
Where a lot of our (sports) heroes tend to fall from grace or at least the pedestals we put them on – look at the guy McGriff was traded for to the Padres, for example – but Fred McGriff seems like a nicer guy every interview you see him in. It really couldn’t happen to a better person and I am proud to have been rooting for him for almost 30 years now.
Featured image of Fred McGriff by si.com
Sander Grasman is a guest contributor at Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @GrasmanSD. Want to write for Bat Flips & Nerds’ audience of 10,000+ followers? Click on the “Write for us” link above.