A few days ago, there was an excellent conversation in the comments section of Joe Posnanski’s “Hall of Fame Outsiders” article on Fred McGriff in The Athletic. Numerous people who weren’t fans of the various teams on which McGriff played noted that he was their favorite player on a rival team.
I grew up in small-town southwestern Ontario, and came of baseball-age in the 1980s when the Jays-Tigers rivalry was white-hot — both teams were great, they were geographically close to each other, and a lot of us remember that stretch drive in 1987. Joe Kool’s, a sports bar in London, Ontario, advertised itself as being “exactly halfway between Detroit and Toronto,” as to attract fans of both teams to their establishment, I suppose.
Two of my neighbors, who were of my grandparents’ generation, were big Blue Jays fans at the time. When we’d see each other across our back yards we’d often good-naturedly shout things like, “Hey, your Jays lost last night!” and “I don’t think Doyle Alexander’s gonna do it for those Tigers!” (He did, of course, and I’ll go on the record to say I still think the Tigers did well in that trade.)
And so we get to Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff. Sure, he was a Blue Jay... but you couldn’t deny how great that swing was. I might’ve been rooting against the Jays with all my heart, but how could you not like McGriff? I played first base a lot on my youth softball team, so I felt a kinship with fellow first-sackers at the time — plus, all the cool kids hit left-handed, just like McGriff did. I would never have admitted it to anyone, but darn it, I liked the cut of his jib. I felt a pang of sadness when he was traded to San Diego in the Roberto Alomar deal.
(Honorable mention goes to another sweet-swinging lefty first baseman from the Jays, John Olerud. He had that ridiculous 1993 season, of course, but there wasn’t much not to like about Johnny-O overall.)
Who was your favorite player on a rival team when you were growing up? Someone you didn’t want your friends to know you actually rooted for? Tell us all about them in the comments below.