The Contemporary Baseball Era of the Baseball Hall of Fame will meet on Sunday to consider eight candidates for induction to Cooperstown. One of the Hall of Fame hopefuls is Fred McGriff, who played one of his nineteen major league season with the Dodgers. We look back at that year, 2003, on today’s Leading Off with True Blue LA podcast.
McGriff signed with the Dodgers for his age-39 season, which should have been a red flag, even though he was incredibly productive the previous two seasons. He came to Los Angeles only 22 home runs shy of 500, and after averaging 30 home runs for the four years prior to joining the Dodgers, it seemed like a milestone was imminent.
But after never landing on the injured list in his first 18 seasons, McGriff was sidelined twice with the Dodgers, with groin and knee injuries. After 10 home runs in LA’s first 66 games, if which he played in 63 and started 60, McGriff was on pace to reach 500 home runs that year, something no player has even done while with the Dodgers. But with those two IL stints, McGriff played in only 23 of the team’s last 96 games, starting 19.
McGriff was nearly a league-average hitter with the Dodgers, hitting .249/.322/.428 with 13 home runs and a 98 wRC+, which was the worst season of his career to that point. He was not the cause of the Dodgers’ problems in 2003, but that he was one of LA’s best hitters was emblematic of the most extreme Dodgers team of my lifetime, and possibly in franchise history.
In addition to McGriff relatively struggling, the Dodgers got down years from Adrián Beltré, Paul LoDuca, Dave Roberts, plus Shawn Green was still very good but a shoulder injury sapped his power, never to reach his 2001-02 heights again. Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora took over the middle infield and were excellent on defense, but did not hit at all. As a team, the Dodgers were dead last in the majors scoring just 3.54 runs per game, and their 78 wRC+ is third-worst in franchise history.
Without bats in their hands though, the 2003 Dodgers were sublime. With a rotation led by great years from Kevin Brown and Hideo Nomo, and peak Eric Gagne — the Cy Young Award winner that year — leading a fierce bullpen that included Guillermo Mota and Paul Quantrill also posting sub-2.00 ERAs. The Dodgers that year allowed the fewest runs in baseball, which fueled their 85 wins and pseudo-contention. LA’s 128 ERA+ was the best in franchise history until the Dodgers over the last three year rewrote the record book when it comes to run prevention.
It didn’t end with a postseason appearance, but the 2003 Dodgers’ season was still memorable, with McGriff just one of the many characters. McGriff will find out his Hall of Fame fate on Sunday night at the winter meetings, when committee voting results will be announced.
- The 2023 Contemporary Baseball Era ballot
- McGriff’s Hall of Fame case, from Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs
- How the new era committee rules could limit Hall of Fame selections, from FanGraphs
Episode link (time: 18:31)