09/13/2002 00:53 am ET
McGriff closing in on 1,500 RBIs
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Fred McGriff had his chances Thursday to reach 1,500 career RBIs. His teammates squandered their share of scoring chances, too, as the Chicago Cubs stranded 15 baserunners in a sloppy 15-12 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
The first baseman did notch RBI No. 1,499 with a tie-breaking single in the eighth that gave the Cubs a brief 12-11 lead. When McGriff does get to 1,500, he'll be only the 40th player in the big leagues to do so.
"When you're one of 40 people, that's incredible," Cubs hitting coach Jeff Pentland said Thursday.
"It's a nice number," McGriff said of 1,500.
It's also been elusive for McGriff, who has 99 RBIs so far. One more, and he'll reach 100 for the eighth time in his career. If he can manage two more home runs, he'd become the first player in big league history to notch 30-homer seasons for five different teams.
On Thursday, McGriff came up with the bases loaded in the first and none out, but Reds starter Shawn Estes fooled him on a called third strike. McGriff stranded two in the fourth when he grounded out to end the inning. In the seventh, with none out and the bases loaded, McGriff flew out on a 3-0 pitch.
In the eighth, McGriff finally connected off lefty Bruce Chen for a two-out, RBI single. Then the Reds rallied in their half of the inning, fueled by Todd Walker's three-run double.
"It was just one of those nights where we couldn't get the pitching we needed," Cubs interim manager Bruce Kimm said. "We just couldn't hold them tonight."
McGriff will get to 1,500. It's just a matter of time.
"Pete Rose's record [4,256 career hits] is the ultimate record; that shows durability," Kimm said. "But 1,500 RBIs, that's the same thing. You have to be there every day. The numbers show that the guy went to the post."
"I think RBIs sometimes take a backseat, but I think they're more important," Pentland said.
So does McGriff.
"If there's a man on third and you don't get him in, you feel like you hurt your team," McGriff said Thursday. "The name of this game is scoring runs. So, when you don't, you feel like you're hurting the team. You just feel like you did your job when you drive them in. And when you don't, you're upset."
McGriff isn't overly consumed by his own statistics. Teammate Sammy Sosa is just five away from becoming the 18th player to join the 500-homer club, and McGriff trails just 19 home runs behind him.
"Stats are good for statisticians," McGriff said. "I'm trying to win ballgames. RBI are a part of your job."
He's come a long way since his first big league season in 1987 with Toronto, when McGriff hit 20 home runs and drove in 45.
"I never set goals to say, 'Hey, I've got to get 1,500 RBIs,'" McGriff said. "If you had asked me that question then, I never would have thought of that. Your goal every year is to get your 30 or so home runs and drive in your runs."
The milestones are creating a jam at first base, as Kimm keeps McGriff in the lineup and talented Korean rookie Hee Seop Choi on the bench.
"There's no doubt that I want Fred to get 30 homers," Kimm said. "But we have a need to get Choi his at-bats."
How will the manager do both?
"You play both," Kimm said, and he left it at that.
There's no hoopla in McGriff's pursuit of 1,500. No fanfare, no countdown. No postgame news conferences after each RBI hit. But his teammates recognize the importance of driving in runs.
"It's like in football and a receiver with most career catches," said McGriff, a big gridiron fan. "People don't make a big deal of that. If you caught a hundred-and-something touchdowns, everybody would be thinking that's a big deal.
"Home runs, they get all the attention," McGriff said. "[But] RBIs are important to winning."
McGriff has been able to do both.
"You want to get them," he said of the milestones. "But for myself, I know I've been blessed to be able to play this game and stay healthy, so I have so many things to be thankful for. If it's meant to be, it'll happen."
A 20-homer season used to be considered a major achievement. In 1989, McGriff led the American League with 36 home runs. The standards have changed, with players like Sosa hitting 50 and 60 homers a season.
"His RBI numbers have been more incredible than home runs sometimes," Pentland said. "I think home runs are a lot more glamorous. RBIs are more about a guy going about his business."
Which is just what McGriff has tried to do over his 15-plus big league seasons.
Carrie Muskat covers the Cubs for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.