McGriff’s Wait For Baseball Hall of Fame Honor Finally Over
Fred McGriff was surrounded by many friends in Cooperstown this past weekend to celebrate his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Who knew that a friendship that began in Little League ball in Tampa, Florida would come full circle in New York's Otsego County. But, nearly 1,300 miles separating the "Home of Baseball" in rural Upstate New York and the "Rain City" on the Gulf Coast of Florida couldn't keep a lifelong, cherished friendship apart last Sunday.
A 19-year MLB career culminating with the game's highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame, had McGriff sharing the spotlight with fellow inductee Scott Rolen on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center one mile outside of Cooperstown's village line. Of the many familiar faces seated in front of the stage sporting 48 returning hall of famers, there was one invitee of McGriff's with perhaps a bit more understanding of the elite former first baseman.
Beginning his journey last weekend to Cooperstown from Tampa International Airport was Dave Magadan. With a direct flight to Syracuse's Hancock International Airport, it was there that Magadan, himself an MLB alum of 16 big league seasons including with the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, would make the 100 miles drive through five Upstate counties in his rented car en route to his final destination - The Otesaga Resort on Lake Street.
As hall of fame central for everything taking place for the sport's biggest weekend of each summer, neither McGriff or Magadan, his pal from childhood, could image not being there for each other for this important event.
As Magadan, first cousin and godson of longtime MLB player and manager Lou Piniella, stared at the stage that was filled with legends including Griffey Jr., Bench, Boggs (another Tampa native), and La Russa (like McGriff, a graduate of Jefferson High in the Hillsborough County Public School system), like his friend being inducted that day, many memories rushed back from a time long ago.
"Fred and I have known each other most of our lives," remembered Magadan during a phone conversation days before leaving for his hometown airport. " We played in the same Little League together. When we played pro ball, each off-season we hit together. He's just a really, really good friend I was happy that he asked me to be (in Cooperstown) there."
McGriff received word last December that, at age 59, he was finally, and officially, a hall of famer. He was voted in by the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee. Plans began back then for being in Cooperstown for the 74th inductions ceremonies. 19 seasons, five all-star selections, 3 Silver Slugger Awards, and a World Series championship (1995 Atlanta Braves), led McGriff's cavalcade of accomplishments to a permanent place at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown.
Before both friends were being paid to play baseball, each saw the other grow from before their teens to when they were drafted; Magadan in 1983 by the New York Mets and McGriff, a year younger than his Tampa buddy, by the New York Yankees in 1981.
"We played against each other, and never on the same team," says Magadan, who last season served as the Colorado Rockies' hitting coach. "In 1981 we reconnected in American Legion Ball."
While McGriff called quits his playing career after the 2004 season, Magadan hung up his spikes three seasons early, after spending his last three years with the San Diego Padres.
McGriff is the seventh member of the Braves organization that dominated the National League for a solid decade (1995-2005) to make it to the Hall of Fame. Teammates Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddox, along with manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz are once again associated with McGriff, at an even higher MLB level.
Baseball players, without exception, can remember with great detail when they were called-up for the first time, for their first MLB game. Ironically, 1986 is when, yet again McGriff and Magadan's baseball shadows overlap. Three games played with the Toronto Blue Jays for the future hall of famer (in May), and 10 games for Magadan with the soon-to-be champion Mets (in September).
For Magadan when fondly recalling his growing up with McGriff through every level of baseball in the Tampa area, this wasn't his first time soaking up the history surrounding the Village of Cooperstown. Selected in 1981 at the George W. Rulon American Legion Player of the Year (West Tampa Memorial Post 248), the following summer, during the weekend of the Hall's 1982 inductions that included Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson, Magadan was in town to receive his award.
"I was there (Cooperstown)for the inductions, and the Hall of Fame Game (Mets VS Chicago White Sox)," explained Magadan a graduate of Tampa's Jesuit High School.
The quick trip north for Magagan days ago adds to the long list of memories that he can file away from his good friend Frederick Stanley McGriff. If ever there was a real life comparison to the baseball flick - The Sandlot, a group of young friends growing up playing baseball, and tracking them to adulthood, Fred and Dave should be added to the roster with Scotty Smalls, Benjamin Franklin Rodriquez, and 'Ham' Porter.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.