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Editor's note: Each day this week one ESPN writer will examine a "what if ... ?" scenario from the past 25 years. Let us know what you think about today's topic and propose other "what if ...?" scenarios on the ESPN Baseball Tonight Facebook page.
My first thought, as I start to play the What If game with Ken Griffey Jr., is: "Wait a second. Am I nuts?"
We're talking about a guy who hit 630 home runs, won 10 Gold Gloves, got elected to start 13 All-Star Games and played for 22 seasons. And we're wondering what might have been?
|Ken Griffey Jr. reached the majors in 1989 with the Mariners at the age of 19.|
Because, well, have you checked this guy's medical history? One look at those 12 trips to the disabled list, and you want to ask the surgeon general "what if," not a mere baseball writer.
But you also want to ask: What if Griffey had just stayed as healthy as Willie Mays, or Hank Aaron, or Cal Ripken Jr.? Is there any doubt he'd be the all-time Home Run King right now instead of that dastardly Barry L. Bonds?
Well, there's obviously some doubt. But I got so fascinated by this question a few years ago, I actually explored this question from a serious, statistical perspective, with the help of my good friend David Vincent, aka the Sultan of Swat Stats.
Here's how we did it: We divided Griffey's career into three phases: (1) The Early Years (1989-93), when he was relatively healthy but still developing into America's Icon; (2) The Seattle Glory Years (1994-99), when he was still mostly healthy and hitting home runs at a ridiculous rate; and (3) The 21st Century (2000-10), when he moved on to Cincinnati, spent more time on the disabled list than at the dinner table and frustrated everyone, including himself.
We figured out the number of games he missed because of injury in each phase. We then looked at his home run rate in each phase. And here's what we calculated:
If he'd stayed fully healthy, for all 22 of those seasons, this man would have hit another 147 home runs. OK, now add 147 to the 630 home runs he did hit. And it comes to 777 home runs -- or, if you're trying to write a compelling, life-changing What If piece -- 15 more home runs than that Barry L. Bonds guy.
Got you hooked now, don't I?
OK, so there's one minor problem with this logic: Nobody stays "fully healthy" for 22 seasons. That's impossible.
No outfielder in history ever played 150 games or more in even 15 seasons, let alone 22. If I drop that bar to 140, I still get only Johnny Damon (16), Dave Winfield (16), Aaron (16), Mays (15), Bonds (15) and maybe, depending on how you define "outfielder," Carl Yastrzemski (17) and Craig Biggio (16).
So the Sultan tried to convince me Griffey's more realistic total of home runs lost would work out to 100-125. Ah, but guess what? That still gets him to 730-755 career homers.
And we all know that if this guy had been seven or 10 or 20 homers away from Bonds, he would not have unceremoniously retired in 2010. He'd have hung on somehow. And if he had, there'd be only one word to describe him now in our What If fantasy world: