Did The Hobby Totally Underestimate Fred McGriff’s Hall of Fame Odds?

Let’s face it, the sports collectibles and sports cards hobby focuses on stars and super-stars. Common player cards from the 1980s and 1990s are in many instances worth the same or less than they were back in the day. We now all admittingly know that the production numbers were vast, and anything less than Mint and Near-Mint is basically worthless. But the hobby still chases its new Hall of Fame players and those who are destined to become Hall of Fame members. And now Fred McGriff has just received enough votes by sports writers to become a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2023.

Fred McGriff was undeniably a great player. And what you are about to see here should not change that. But… There also needs to be an honesty here. The sports collectibles hobby just didn’t give Fred McGriff the same enthusiasm as other hot rookies that came into the MLB in the years around McGriff. The Hall of Fame’s announcement noted that McGriff himself has never even visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, and even included that he was even cut from his baseball team as a sophomore in high school.

Fred McGriff was a bad ass during the peak of his career. Many of us in #TheHobby just never expected that McGriff was destinated for the Hall of Fame when his rookie cards were being issued. In fact, the Baseball-Reference website shows that he played in 3 games in 1986 and 107 games in 1987.  While McGriff hit 20 homers in 1987 for Toronto, he didn’t have a .300 batting average until 1990 despite having slugging percentages above .500 from 1987 to 1990.

McGriff was also more or less a journeyman with many teams under his career — Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers; and he finished in 2004 after just 27 more games with the Devil Rays with just 13 hits, 2 homers, 7 RBI, .181 batting average and .306 slugging. McGriff’s career stats include some serious numbers like 493 career home runs, some 2,490 hits and 1,550 RBI, a .284 batting average, followed by a .377 on-base and a .509 slugging percentage. He ended up with 5 All-Star team appearances and hit 30 homers or more in 10 seasons (and those homers were with different 5 teams).

The 1986 Donruss Leaf card #28 as the “Rated Rookie” is considered the true McGriff rookie card. But his real debut year included rookie cards from the 1987 Donruss “The Rookies” set. The Toys R Us Rookies set from 1988 also included McGriff, a year later than most. There was a 1987 Fleer Update card for Fred McGriff, and a regular 1987 Donruss rookie of Fred McGriff. And the 1987 Topps Traded set (#74T) also was also issued.

The truth about dealers and collectors in the 1986 to 1987 period is that we just didn’t even think of the words Fred McGriff very much (if ever). And again, he turned out to be a bad ass in baseball. Here were some of the other great upcoming baseball players that card dealers and collectors were focused on in those years: Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson, Bobby Bonilla, Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmiero, Will Clark, Rubin Sierra, and Barry Larkin. There were even other hot prospects at the time like Wally Joyner, Todd Worrell, Doug Drabek, Jim Deshaies, John Kruk, and Danny Tartabull that we were buying to sell. Ask collectors who some of those guys are today and it’s likely to result in just a blank stare.

And because the sports card hobby’s “Junk Wax Era” star cards probably now number in the millions, many card collectors have not even submitted Fred McGriff rookie cards graded. The 1986 Donruss #28 card of Fred McGriff that is considered the only real rookie just isn’t all that popular of a card in grading terms. PSA’s total graded population of that 1986 Donruss set is just 27,303 graded cards for the entire 653-card set (plus checklists). Card #28 of McGriff as of December 4, 2022 was 3,607 PSA-graded examples without qualifiers. Of that population and the easily blemished dual blue borders easily showing so much wear and imperfections, PSA only counted 412 perfect PSA 10 examples and 1,437 PSA 9 examples.

Big news is still big news, and the announcement of getting enough votes to get into the Hall of Fame does spur some buying in card collectors. PWCC Marketplace has already logged two high sales of the 1986 Donruss #28 Fred McGriff rookie around the Hall of Fame votes — one was for $525.00 on 12/4/2022 and on was $498 on 12/4/2022. Image below by PWCC Marketplace.

Fred McGriff rookie

eBay’s freshest data as of the early morning hours of December 5, 2022 also shows many sales under the term “Fred McGriff Rookie” as graded and ungraded cards with sale prices of $10.00 and less. Most are Buy It Now sales and some were “or Best Offer” with prices that are still too small to even register among high-end rookie collectors. Other sales are $17.00, $34.98, $40.00 and some even breached above $100 in fresh Buy It Now listings from December 4, 2022 as the Hall of Fame news circulated. And a PSA 10 graded 1987 Fleer Update Glossy McGriff card even sold as much as $299.99 in a Buy It Now format, followed by a $189.99 Buy It Now price for a 1987 Topps Traded also graded PSA 10.

A 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold Fred McGriff /30 #66 PSA 10 GEM MINT (Pop. 1/1 for the 10 at the time) sold for $1,750.00 on 6/15/2021 in a Fixed Price sale via PWCC Marketplace. Two other PSA 9 examples sold thru PWCC’s fixed price sales for $1,400.00 (12/28/2021) and $1,250.00 (12/30/2021). And a 1986 Leaf Fred McGriff ROOKIE RC #28 PSA 10 GEM MINT sold for $1,702.00 in a PWCC Weekly Auction (4/15/2021).

Aren’t game-used bats and jerseys from Hall of Famers supposed to be worth a lot of money? To prove how little value #TheHobby has given McGriff over time, these are some of the most expensive items ever sold as Fred McGriff items that are only McGriff items (non-team, multi-player, etc.). There may be other items that have sold for more, but this is what was found via the traditional go-to sources:

  • 1993-97 Fred McGriff Game Used & Signed Bat (PSA/DNA GU 9.5) sold Nov 19, 2022 for $1,380.00 via Heritage.
  • 1993 Fred McGriff Game Used and Signed Atlanta Braves Home Jersey (PSA/DNA & Bill Henderson LOA) sold for $1,200.00 via Goldin.
  • 1997 Fred McGriff Game Used & Signed Atlanta Braves Turn Back the Clock to 1938 Black Crackers Jersey (MEARS A10 & Beckett) sold for $840.00 via Goldin.
  • 1990-91 Fred McGriff Game Used & Signed Worth WC135 Model Bat (PSA/DNA GU 8.5 & Beckett) sold for $800.00 via Goldin.
  • 1997 Fred McGriff Game Used and Signed Atlanta Braves Throw Back Jersey (Beckett) sold for $675.00 via Goldin.
  • 1996 Fred McGriff World Series Game Worn & Signed Atlanta Braves Jersey sold on Oct 18, 2018 for $660.00 via Heritage.
  • 2002 Fred McGriff Game Worn Chicago Cubs Uniform sold on May 16, 2019 for $528.00 via Heritage.
  • 1992 Fred McGriff San Diego Padres Team Issued Jersey sold on May 17, 2019 for $480.00 via Heritage.

The reality is that Fred McGriff was a great baseball player. Along with helping the Braves in the 1990s, he was sought after and employed by many teams to please the fans. Baseball card collectors eventually figured out McGriff’s prowess in the 1990s as his popularity rose. Just don’t ask how many Fred McGriff rookie card collectors there were when those cards were being issued along with so many others.