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Shoulda, woulda, coulda

Last night, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 564th home run of his career to move into 10th place on the all-time list. Reading about his accomplishment, I was surprised he was so far up on the list, given the number of injuries he’s had since coming into the league in 1989. That got me wondering about what might have been had Griffey stayed healthy throughout his career…if he would have lived up to the promise of his youth when he was predicted to become one of the game’s all-time greats.

Looking at his stats, I assumed a full season to be 155 games and extrapolated what his home run total would have been for each season after his rookie year in which he played under 155 games. Given that methodology, Griffey would have hit about 687 home runs up to this point. In two of those seasons, 1995 and 2002, his adjusted home run numbers were far below the usual because of injuries limiting his at-bats and effectiveness at the plate. Further adjusting those numbers brings the total up to 717 home runs, good for 3rd place on the all-time list and a race to the top with Barry Bonds.

Of course, if you’re going to play what-if, Babe Ruth had a couple of seasons in which he missed a lot of games and also played in the era of the 154-game season. Willie Mays played a big chunk of his career in the 154-game season era as well. Ted Williams, while known more for hitting for average, missed a lot of games for WWII & the Korean War (almost 5 full seasons) and played in the 154-game season era…and still hit 521 home runs.

Reader comments

jkottkeApr 25, 2007 at 11:50AM

The other thing that stands out for me on the all-time home run list is the fellow sitting at #24 on the list, Alex Rodriguez. At 31, he's hit 478 home runs in just over 11 seasons. If he stays healthy and plays 9-10 more seasons at a similar level, whatever Bonds does this season becomes irrelevant.

Blake SnowApr 25, 2007 at 12:03PM

Too bad for Griffey. He was the baseball player when I was a kid, and then quickly faded. Your post title says it all...

Justin ReeseApr 25, 2007 at 12:05PM

This is probably the reason you usually disable comments, but the pedant in me can't help it: number of injuries, not amount. Any time you're dealing with quantity (people, Skittles, etc.) you use "number". Any time you're dealing with volume or severity (water, idiocy), you use "amount".

That is all. I like Silksreen, and also baseball. (Whew.)

JosephApr 25, 2007 at 12:06PM

It's interesting to look at the 162 game averages listed on all of the big home run hitters of the 90s and 00s -- Sosa, Griffey, Rodriguez, Bonds--average over 41 home runs, while players like Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt and Hank Aaron max out at 37. Babe Ruth's 162 game average is 46 home runs, which clearly means that getting loaded and eating hot dogs in the dugout is the path to home run glory.

tienApr 25, 2007 at 12:12PM

yeah, griffey jr was totally on pace before the injury bug. he was really the man when i was a kid.

and a-rod should break any HR record that bonds sets. that is, unless he totally falls apart mentally.

epcApr 25, 2007 at 12:16PM

Did you factor in the 1994 baseball strike (about August 1994 to April 1995)?

cushieApr 25, 2007 at 12:19PM

Also, his powerful swing may cause/exacerbate injuries so it's impossible to say that he could have hit all those home runs without sometimes getting injured.

LeonApr 25, 2007 at 12:31PM

Imagine how many he'd have if he was powered by BALCO.

BenApr 25, 2007 at 12:35PM

My first thought was "Griffey, he's still just a couple of years into the majors," and then I realized it's been 18 years! Probably has a lot to do with my hording his rookie cards back in '89 and then losing interest in the whole baseball card thing a year later.

jkottkeApr 25, 2007 at 12:44PM

Yeah, the only reason I even noticed his home run total at all is that 1989 Upper Deck card of his, which card is burned into my brain as a highlight of my youth and, come to think of it, the first bit of graphic design I remember noticing/studying/coveting.

monkeyinaboxApr 25, 2007 at 12:54PM

Yep, the 89 UD Griffey was the really hot card to have. Of course so was the 86 Donruss Jose Canseco. I think there are a few cards from 84-89 that really stick in a lot of collectors minds that just the mention of can remind us of the glory days of baseball cards.

David JacobsApr 25, 2007 at 12:56PM

There are so many wonderful what-ifs. To the hitters' advantage, the manufacturing process of the baseballs has changed so that balls are wound tighter and discarded faster, pitching talent is diluted across 30 teams, and new ballparks are built to coddle stars. On the other hand, there's good evidence that the majority of fastball pitchers have been on steroids (and probably still are).

garyApr 25, 2007 at 1:17PM

Griffey not an all time great?

An mvp, 10 gold gloves, 12 all star selections, could hit 600 home runs, similar stats (according to baseball-reference) to Mantle. In the 90s griffey was touted as having the ability to be the greatest ever, and he's going to fall short. Arod took over that job. But he certainly is an all time great.

MarkApr 25, 2007 at 1:27PM

A-Rod won't beat the record. The person to watch on that list is Pujols (tied at 163rd at the ripe old age of 27).

Bill KApr 25, 2007 at 1:58PM

Too bad for the Seattle Mariners actually. Both of these guys should have been locked up.

TrentApr 25, 2007 at 2:08PM

It's amazing to think that Hank Aaron is probably going to be passed three times in the next twenty years (Bonds, then A-Rod, then Pujols). Seriously, do some career-length projections for A-Rod and Pujols. If Pujols plays until he's 43 or 44 and really hits his prime in about five years for a few seasons, he could potentially get into the four figures for career home runs.

David JacobsApr 25, 2007 at 2:26PM

"The person to watch on that list is Pujols (tied at 163rd at the ripe old age of 27)." "If Pujols plays until he's 43 or 44 and really hits his prime in about five years for a few seasons, he could potentially get into the four figures for career home runs."

Pujols isn't 27, he's probably 32 or 33. And he's also been linked (more directly than BB) to Steroids, so my money's on Big Al to end up with around 550 home runs.

mattbucherApr 25, 2007 at 3:55PM

A-Rod and Griffey are amazing fielders, Ruth was a fantastic pitcher, Bonds has 500 SB, Pujols? Not so much of a fielder or base-stealer. Of all those guys, I'd take Barry Bonds as the most fun to watch (granted I never saw Ruth play).

JApr 25, 2007 at 4:24PM

I don't think the 154-game season has much bearing on career records. It can even be seen as a positive: less wear-and-tear on the body each season could have prolonged a player's career, allowing for an extra season or two of stats accumulation.

AdamApr 25, 2007 at 4:33PM

Aside from the plague of injury, the main difference between Griffey and A-Rod is that people in Seattle still love Ken Griffey Jr. He gave us a love for baseball. He is coming back June 22nd for a 3-game series. It will have the highest attendance of the season for Safeco Field.

Alex will never break the HR record as he is possessed by the godless, Yankee equivalent of Satan.

WillApr 25, 2007 at 5:15PM

Gary wrote:
"But [Grif] certainly is an all time great."

Thank you. I was wondering how long it would take for someone to point that out.

jkottkeApr 25, 2007 at 7:16PM

Griffey not an all time great?

Depends on your sample size. When I wrote "one of the game's all-time greats", I was talking about the 10-20 best players ever, a group which doesn't presently include Griffey, especially given his lack of postseason participation. My fault for not making that more explicit.

BTW, poking around a little, I found this list of the 10 best players in the history of the game and this more statistical analysis. No pitchers, unless you count Ruth. That doesn't seem right somehow. Of course, pitchers don't play as many games as everyone else, so maybe that's fair.

JoshApr 25, 2007 at 7:44PM

Maybe not top 20, but Griffey definitely cracks the top 50 in my opinion, and I would still call him "one of the game's all-time greats." Plus, he still has 2-3 decent NL seasons ahead of him, and more if he ends up as a DH to improve his counting stats. Granted, it's less time than that because he's injury prone, but he could still gain some ground on the all time list.

But sure, if he was mostly healthy his entire career he could have had a shot at the top 5, he was that good. He was absolutely ridiculous in center and still has the most graceful swing I've ever seen.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.