McGriff a force in the community
Original Ray generous with offers of help
ST. PETERSBURG -- Fred McGriff is not ready to retire yet -- from baseball, or from helping his fellow man.
And while he waits on a call from any team with an invitation to Spring Training, which could give him a shot at reaching the 500 career home run mark, he's not waiting to pass on his legacy to his children, Eric and Erica. He spends much of his non-workout time with them now.
"My family is very important to me and so is my community," said McGriff, who has 493 career homers.
McGriff got his sense of community from his parents. They helped him understand his responsibilities as a parent and an athlete, and he had no trouble doing what he could to help those less fortunate.
Long before he became one of the original Devil Rays, McGriff established a fund to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation in his hometown of Tampa. Every February, he would bring his athletic friends to town and put on a big charity golf tournament at his stately north Tampa community, Avila.
When he was traded to the expansion Rays before the 1998 season, he started donating money for every single, double, triple and home run he hit to aid sick children.
"It's important to do what you can," McGriff said. "All you have to do is visit the kids once."
McGriff, who grew up in Tampa, graduated from Jefferson High School and became a hometown hero. But the lefty first baseman did not mind taking his community duties to another level. And as a veteran on the early Tampa Bay teams, McGriff let the younger players know that they have responsibilities.
"He did things the right way," said fellow Tampa native Tino Martinez, who finally had the chance to play alongside McGriff in 2004. "He was a role model for kids. Never a problem off the field. When I was at Jefferson (High) and then at the University of Tampa, he would always come back and help out. He'd prepare me for life in the big leagues.
"Back then, hitting 30 homers every year was huge, and we started thinking about [how] what he was doing was something special. With the guys from Tampa, he helped us all. He gave us confidence. We knew that if Fred could make it, we could hit in the Major Leagues too."
McGriff considered helping out part of his Major League duty.
"There are great rewards to giving back to your community," McGriff said. "It's important not just for hometown guys but also for players who come to live in the area where they play. They can help. It really doesn't take that much effort."
Of course, McGriff was helped all along the way by his teammates and coaches.
The Rays brought him back last season for a shot at 500 home runs -- and maybe a better chance at the Hall of Fame -- in large part because of his all-around involvement.
"I've known him for quite a while and Fred is a good player and a good man," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "I always encourage our players to get involved in the community. And it helps when some like Fred steps up and does his part."
No matter how his playing career ends, McGriff is assured of having a legacy of just what he had hoped -- consistency.
In the 16 seasons from 1987 to 2002, McGriff hit between 19 and 37 home runs. In 15 of those years, he drove in at least 81 runs.
He helped the Braves win their 1995 World Series title, and he was the MVP of the 1994 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.
McGriff has hit home runs in a Major League-record 43 different ballparks. And he is one of three Major League players who has hit at least 200 home runs in both leagues.
"I knew if I worked hard, stayed healthy and was consistent, good things would happen," McGriff said. "Consistency was my main goal."
McGriff is the Rays' all-time leader in home runs (99), RBIs (359) and walks (305), and he is 11th all-time among left-handed hitters, and fourth among first basemen, with his 493 homers.
In his career, McGriff has had 8,757 at-bats in 2,460 games, 2,490 hits, 1,349 runs scored, 1,550 RBIs and 1,305 walks.
McGriff was drafted by the Yankees in 1981, but he started his Major League career with the Blue Jays (1986-90). He has played for the Padres (1991-93), Braves (1993-97), Rays (1998-2001, 2004), Cubs (2001-02) and Dodgers (2003).
Because of the way he went about his business, McGriff has always been admired and supported by his baseball friends from Tampa.
"I was one of the people trying to encourage Fred to keep playing (last winter)," Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield said. "He (was) so close to 500 home runs and he'd be the first guy from Tampa to do that, and it would kind of put him in an elite class.
"I just felt like when you get this close, you should go for it. A lot of times players just don't have the edge anymore to do what we do for so long, but to reach a goal like that (would have been) incredible. I wanted him to try not just for him but for all of us (Major League players from Tampa)."
If McGriff does not reach the 500-homer mark, he won't be disappointed.
"Growing up in Tampa, I never dreamed of hitting 500 home runs," McGriff said. "I just dreamed about playing in the big leagues."
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.