‘What if’s’ sadly define Griffey Jr.’s legacy on and off field

By Dave Fultz

In the last year, baseball has had to endure the Mitchell Report, congressional hearings and everything else the “Steroid Era” could throw at it.

Even with all this, the biggest story of the year was Barry Bonds and No. 756. Fans were forced to look on helplessly as the disgraced slugger took a little more of their game with each swing of the bat.

But we can try to forget about all that for the next few weeks and wonder for a while what could have been.

Let’s watch Ken Griffey Jr. chase his 600th career home run and think about what baseball would be like if he (and we, for that matter) hadn’t been so darned unlucky.

We wouldn’t be stuck with Surly Barry as our unwanted Home Run King; we’d have Junior to look forward to.

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Without recent injuries, Junior would probably be passing the 700 homer mark, not 600. This isn’t just a guess; the numbers back it up.

Since Junior was traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 2000, he has missed a whopping 453 games. Most of these games were lost to a litany of injuries Griffey has suffered in the last seven years.

Over his career, Junior has averaged one home run about every four games, even with the injuries. So, if he had managed to play each one of those 453 games he missed in Cincinnati, Junior would have about an extra 110 home runs to his name. This would put Griffey at just more than 700 home runs at age 38, ahead of Bonds’ total at the same age, and he would still be going strong with his legs under him.

Needless to say, Junior would be well on his way to becoming baseball’s all-time home run leader, and we (the fans) would be glad to have him.

And why shouldn’t we be? Griffey has always been the storybook baseball hero, from cover to cover.

Junior is the son of a baseball great who won a couple of World Series rings with the Reds on his way to becoming a Cincinnati legend.

The younger Griffey was a superstar in high school and became the No. 1 pick in the draft after he graduated. He had it all – a good glove, speed, a batter’s eye and that promising power.

He made it to the majors at the young age of 19, just in time to play two seasons on the same team as his dad before the older Griffey retired. Always a fan favorite, Junior rarely took the field without a smile on his face.

Ten years later, Griffey was established as an All-Star and Gold Glove winner every year of the 1990s while with Seattle – then he decided it was time for a change.

He didn’t want more money, he didn’t want anything more than just to play for his dad’s team (the Reds) and wear his dad’s number (30) until the end of his playing days.

Junior thanked the fans of Seattle for their support, went to Cincinnati to finish his career and claim his place as baseball’s home run king. But even the most well-intentioned men run into bad luck.

Griffey has come out every “Steroid Era” controversy unscathed; there has never even been a whiff of suspicion around “the Kid.” He always had such a sweet swing and is one of the only sluggers from his era left standing.

Here we are, almost eight years later, and Griffey is just now closing in on 600 home runs.

His place in history was seemingly stolen from him by a series of injuries, but he still marches on.

So now, for every fan of my generation who doesn’t have a voice, I’m here to say thank you to Mr. Griffey.

We all used your signature mitt, played your games on Super Nintendo and mimicked your swing endlessly. Hell, when I was growing up, I even taught myself to hit left-handed – as well as righty – because of you.

It should have been you, Junior, up there with Hammerin’ Hank and the Babe.

Thank you for playing the game the right way, for sticking it out despite the hand you’ve been dealt over the years and for showing us there are still heroes in baseball.

Dave Fultz is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].