Nicknamed “Crime Dog” for his surname’s similarity to that of a certain canine officer, McGriff was an offensive powerhouse for four different teams. But while he was a constant run producer for those clubs, totaling eight 30-dinger seasons (seven consecutive) and six 100-RBI seasons, he rarely received his due respect and was traded by all the teams he slugged for. At the end of his career, with home runs in an incredible 37 different stadiums, the Crime Dog could truly say that he was a man for every ballpark.
McGriff was an inspiring clubhouse presence throughout his career, happy and affable with the media as well as teammates, but was still an intense student of the game. Not only did the lanky first baseman work on his pitch selection and defense to upgrade his weak tools in his early years, but he was also a quick learner on the basepaths: Despite having below-average speed, his stealing percentage was quite good, and he succeeded in two-thirds of his career attempts.
A year and a half after being drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees, the minor-league McGriff was shipped off to the Toronto Blue Jays in December 1982, one of the many short-sighted transactions the Bombers would engineer that decade. After making the Jays squad as a platoon DH in 1987, when he broke Jesse Barfield‘s team rookie record for homers, McGriff beat out Willie Upshaw and Cecil Fielder for the starting first baseman role the following spring. Though his fielding was erratic that season, the Crime Dog finished second in the American League in homers (34) and slugging (.552).
McGriff was a household name by 1989, his league-leading 36 dingers combined with 92 RBIs, 98 runs, and 119 walks helping Toronto to the division title. Though his next season was as powerful — his batting average increased by 31 points — the Blue Jays decided to ship him and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar in December 1990.
The change of scenery didn’t affect the hot-hitting McGriff, who repeated his fine campaigns in California. But in July 1993, McGriff was involved in another lopsided trade that left Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn remarking “I can’t understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.” Ostensibly to trim payroll, San Diego traded the smokin’ Crime Dog to the Atlanta Braves for three minor leaguers, none of whom would pan out in the majors.
In Georgia, McGriff became the bedrock at first base for most of the ’90s, helping the club reach four League Championships and two World Series. Another feather in his cap came in the 1994 All-Star Game, when McGriff took home the game MVP award for his ninth-inning game-tying homer off reliever Lee Smith.
With the newly-signed Andres Galarraga solidly at first in April 1998, the Braves dealt McGriff to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for an undisclosed amount of cash. The transaction was bittersweet for the Crime Dog; while he was excited to play in his hometown, he was disappointed that the Atlanta front office gave up on him after a decrease in his homers the year before, which he blamed on the new dimensions of Turner Field.
McGriff came home to Tampa Bay, and for the first time in his major league career, hit fewer than 20 home runs in a full season. But he bounced back in 1999, slugging over thirty dingers for his record fourth team. Having signed a contract extension after the season, McGriff showed he was still powerful, posting 27 longjacks and 106 ribbies, receiving an American League All-Star nod, and tallying his 400th career homer and 2000th career hit in 2000.
On May 8, 2001, McGriff slugged his 422nd shot off the Baltimore Orioles’ Jose Mercedes, joining Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, and Eddie Murray as the only players to hit home runs off 300 different pitchers. By the All-Star break, the Crime Dog had posted a .330 average with 15 homers, and 53 RBIs, numbers which drew significant interest from playoff-bound teams. A deal was struck to send McGriff to the pennant-seeking Chicago Cubs in mid-July, but the first baseman initially declined the move, stating that he wanted to stay near his family in their hometown of Tampa Bay. But after two weeks of mounting postseason anxiety, McGriff accepted the deal, going to Chicago for Manny Aybar and a player to be named later.