Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Thursday, July 26, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:51 PM ET
Crime Dog don't play

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

The Cubbies need a hero.

Fred McGriff
So, Fred McGriff doesn't want to be the Cubs' savior. Would you?
Big deal. The Cubbies have been needing a hero for the last hundred years.

So I, for one, understand Fred McGriff's thinking: What difference am I gonna make?

Who is Fred McGriff? He is a longtime big-leaguer who doesn't make waves, never has. He is known around the big leagues as Crime Dog. And, as we all know by now, Crime Don't Play.

So the Cubs need a lefty bat with pop to protect Sammy Sosa in manager Don Baylor's lineup, so they can go to the World Series for the first time since 1776. The man for the job is said to be this mild-mannered Crime Dog, the veteran Tampa Bay Devil Rays slugger, who, while playing for four teams in three decades, had yet to be quoted, except by Tom Emanski, until this came up.

Tom Emanski sells a lot of videos. He must, as often as his commercials run on ESPN. Think it worked on the heads of the Cubs fans, and the Cubs' braintrust, such as it is?

"You must have the Tom Emanski Baseball video."

"I must have the Tom Emanski Baseball video."

"You must have a Fred McGriff testimonial."

"I must have a Fred McGriff testimonial."

"You must have Fred McGriff."

"I must have Fred McGriff."

  McGriff was doing a different kind of charity work, making appearances in the fight against Cystic Fibrosis, cheering up sick young kids, other people's kids, while their parents stared and wept and thanked him from the bottom of their hearts. I'm not making this part up. That sort of beat saving the Cubs, maybe.  
  

Fred McGriff has said ... well, I don't actually know what Fred McGriff has said, nobody does, because it was 1995, last time anybody heard him speak other than on Tom Emanski's video. Fred didn't actually say this, but he might have thought it: "Uh ... I don't know if I want to be traded to the Cubs. I sort of like it here. This is kind of, like, my home. I'm maybe preparing for, uh, retirement. I sort of have, you know, kids, who have a teensy bit looked forward to me being around, after 20 years being a nomad in pro ball ..."

The nerve of this guy! Doesn't he know who he works for? Us! Not them! Family? What family? The guy ain't supposed to have a family. Didn't Daniel Moynihan say them guys didn't have families? Don't he know the drill? Apparently not. McGriff has, thus far, refused a trade to Our Cubs, and we want to know: What's his problem? Don't he know what's at stake?

This is what's at stake. This is 2001, the Chicago Cubs' best shot at a pennant since that ball went through first baseman Leon Durham's legs! McGriff has a chance to go down in history with ... Bill Buckner! Crime Dog is a first baseman, too. Just like them. Doesn't he want what they have?

Playing at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field?! What could be better?!

How about Lasix surgery? Coffee at Starbucks? Going to relax at the beach in Sarasota or Clearwater?

Have you ever seen the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field? That whole quaint little bandbox thing is highly overrated. Definitely the inside experience at Wrigley is overblown. If the Cubs were so beloved, seems management would have refurbished their den long ago. The allure of Wrigley plays in the mythology department at Northwestern U., or to shirtless bleacher bums reamed on tepid beer, but Hannibal Lecter's jail cell had more charm than the home clubbie at Wrigs.

And say, the Cubs are already in first place in their division, without the Crime Doggie! Matty Stairsy, as Matt Stairs has become known since he became a Cub, is a lefty professional hitter. Now he's no Fred McGriff at the plate or afield, but he's still a professional hitter. The Toy Blowgun. He's hard. And he's blond. Brad Pitt could play him in the movie, as the key grounder goes through his legs. Brad Pitt could never play Fred McGriff.

Think Crime Dog doesn't know this?

Even if the Cubs got Crime Dog, what guarantee does he have that they won't wind up blaming him for extending a misery that he has had nothing to do with before now?

Fred McGriff
McGriff might be the only thing in the D-Rays organization that can be described as "professional."
Suppose, through no fault of his own, the Cubs don't make the World Series? Who do you supposed is going to be blamed for it? Sammy Sosa? Kerry Wood? Leo Durocher? Ernie Banks?

No. They'll blame mild-mannered Crime Dog, who was down in Tampa Bay minding his own business until the Bryant Gumbels, Billy Murrays, Jimmy Piersalls, etc., of the world decided their Cubs needed him. Why would Crime Dog turn this down, and be so ambivalent about it? Why wouldn't he jump at the chance? Probably for the same reason you wouldn't jump at the chance of piloting the Bolivian space shuttle, if you had served time in the Bolivian Air Force.

Explain? OK, we will. But first, let's see what's in Crime Dog's jacket.

Crime Dog was signed by the New York Yankees out of high school. Down Florida way, way back in the day. Smiled then, and basically hasn't stopped smiling since. Ol' Jim didn't smile so much in Huckleberry Finn. Bojangles with Shirley Temple was like Scrooge, when compared to Fred McGriff.

Crime Dog didn't do anything wrong at all. I know, because I checked. Kept his nose clean, didn't run down managers or teammates, got his rest, and then his numbers. Fielded the position, worked his way up from the minors, hit for power. Legit big-leaguer. What'd he get for it? Did he get to join the current Yankee dynasty, catching Derek Jeter's throws, leaping vainly for Knobby's throws, smiling vacantly at Steinbrenner's latest goofball quote?

No. He got traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Crime Dog played well for the Blue Jays. That's where I met him. Super guy. I tried to get him to say controversial things for my own benefit not his, but he was having none of it. He just smiled and talked in clichés like a good ballplayer is supposed to and mostly played baseball. When they ran a story about him in the Illy, it was called, "Give Us A Smile, Hit It A Mile." Wow.

But I will say, he was doing a different kind of charity work then, making appearances in the fight against Cystic Fibrosis, cheering up sick young kids, other people's kids, while their parents stared and wept and thanked him from the bottom of their hearts. I'm not making this part up. That sort of beat saving the Cubs, maybe. Depends on who your kids are, I guess.

And what did Crime Dog get for this? Did he get to join the Toronto Blue Jays two World Series titles in '93 and '94? The Jays even had the Cubs beat. They had never won a World Series! The Cubs haven't won one for a long time, a long, long time, eons -- but they've won. The entire country of Canada had never won a World Series.

But was Crime Dog allowed to stay around? No. He was traded to the San Diego Padres, and Roberto Alomar came to the Toronto Blue Jays, and Cito Gaston managed the hell out of the club, and Toronto won the World Series, thanks to the Crime Dog.

That's two.

Fred McGriff
McGriff's only World Series ring was won with the Braves -- not the Yanks or Jays.
San Diego, we won't even discuss. The Padres have never won the World Series, either -- the hapless Cubs have more company than we like to let on -- but you don't see the Padres whining about it, do you? They take losing and their lumps not so seriously in San Diego. But did Crime Dog cry and balk and kick over water buckets and bitch and piss and moan because he had to go there?

No.

Crime Dog was then traded to the Atlanta Braves. And they did win a World Series title, in 1995. Now, the Braves had never won a World Series title in Atlanta before, either. Never. Cubs have no exclusive rights in the area of baseball futility. The Atlanta Braves of the Fred McGriff Era -- nobody has never called the Braves run of division titles in the 1990s the Fred McGriff Era before, probably, and surely never will again.

And that's likely what would happen with the Cubs, even if he goes there, and they win the World Series. You can bet it'll be called the Don Baylor Era, or the Sammy Sosa Era, or the Kerry Wood Era, or the Al Capone Era, or the Jesse Jackson Love Child Era, any era but the plain and simple Fred McGriff Era. And if Stephen King writes a book about it, it won't be called "The Girl That Loved Fred McGriff."

OK. Back to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. They probably should have won three or four World Series titles, that's what you remember about them. Not that they won, but that they didn't win enough. Why would the Cubs be different?

If Fred McGriff were to go there, and they were to win the World Series, somebody would say, "Yeah, but you still owe us for all those years of Cub frustration. Sign here. Two more years," and then where'd Crime Dog be? Stuck on the North Side of Chicago, with Sammy Sosa riding in his limo, forgetting to say thank you, after Sammy had already hogged all the usable space in the quaint little bandbox of home clubhouse at the Wrigs.

  Crime Dog is looking smarter every minute. And you know what, he probably loves his wife way more than David Justice loved Halle Berry.  
  

With the Braves, there was bickering even though they did win the World Series in 1995. Winning the World Series doesn't stop the papers from coming out, or keep people from booing or calling you a bum.

The guy who hit the home run to win it all for the Braves in the final World Series game in '95, or whenever it was the Braves won it -- I don't exactly remember what year it was, when the Braves won the World Series, that's how important it is, in the end, way, way more important than tucking your kid in at night, or taking him to his silly soccer game, or answering her silly questions about what she should wear to church with you, right? -- he was ostracized for saying the fans might kill them if they didn't win that final game.

His name was David Justice. He ended up being traded to Cleveland, losing Halle Berry to a oily-voiced crooner named Eric Benet. Now, which would you rather have? A home run to win the World Series, or Halle Berry?

Please.

Crime Dog is looking smarter every minute. And you know what, he probably loves his wife way more than David Justice loved Halle Berry.

The guy's unfocused, I say.

Finally, Crime Dog was shipped off to Tampa Bay, having learned quite a bit in three decades in the big leagues. Now the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are in worse shape, historically, than perhaps any team in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rays, in a word, stink. Your average ballplayer would run from Tampa Bay.

Yet Crime Dog gives the franchise his best efforts. In fact, if Tampa Bay didn't have Fred McGriff on its roster, it would be really hard to think of the franchise as professional. But Fred McGriff has enough money to retire on, and something money can't buy, which is peace of mind.

He can go to work, and be professional, and give his hometown team something to be proud of, after having lived a nomadic life of a big-leaguer for parts of three decades. He can be with his wife and kids, instead of playing ball out of a cramped clubhouse with some big-pec'd, six-packed, big-headed superstar taking up all the area, along with a bunch of somebody else's big crybabies instead of his one little ones around, his own little ones who never complained about him missing their childhood, and he'll never have to hear somebody say, "I heard Halle Berry is after Fred McGriff, and his marriage is in trouble. Too bad about that ball going between his legs. I knew we never should have traded for that bum."

I know. Ernie Banks wouldn't turn down the chance to play for the Cubs. Ernie Banks would say, "It's a beautiful day, and let's play two!" Ernie Banks would run through a brick wall for Our Cubbies.

  Trying to get the Cubs to a World Series is like running through a brick wall, come to think of it. Leo Durocher said he'd get the Cubs to the World Series in '69 or die trying; look what happened to Leo.  
  

And trying to get the Cubs to a World Series is like running through a brick wall, come to think of it. Leo Durocher said he'd get the Cubs to the World Series in '69 or die trying; look what happened to Leo.

But good ol' Ernie Banks, he'd give her a shot, even though Ernie Banks must be getting close to 70 years old by now, and he would be hard pressed to average .270 today. He could hit .250 off today's pitching, sure, even though he's 70 years old. But he couldn't hit for power anymore. Of course, he's already in Chicago, and his children, if he has any, are grown. The Cubs passed on Ernie. They feel like they need Crime Dog.

For some reason, Crime Dog doesn't feel like he needs them.

For all me, you and Road Dog know, McGriff will change his mind before Tuesday's trade deadline, and OK a trade to the Chicago Cubs.

And if he does do that, just to be accomodating, a couple of kids he knows might look at him balefully, like he betrayed them or something.

Yeah. Like they count.

They'll whisper, "Say it ain't so, Dad. Say it ain't so."

The little whiners.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."