Ken Griffey Jr.: The Greatest Home Run Hitter of This Era

You know, I was sitting around thinking the other day (and trying not to hurt myself in the process) that, were it not for a string of unfortunate – and severe – injuries, we would probably be talking about Ken Griffey Jr. right now as the greatest home run hitter of all-time and not the enigmatic Barry Bonds.

As it stands right now, I will go out on a limb and say that, even with all that has happened to slow the mind-altering home run pace that Griffey was on in his younger years, he, and not Bonds, is the greatest home run hitter of this era – and possibly any era ever.

Let me explain, while once again, trying not to hurt myself (this thinking thing gets old after a while, if you know what I mean.)
After being selected by the Seattle Mariners with the first overall selection of the 1987 draft, it didn’t take “The Kid” long to, A) get to the major leagues and B) make his impact on the game once he did arrive.

When Griffey finally reached the majors as a 19-year-old in 1989, he almost instantly became one of the best – and most versatile – players in all of baseball and one of its most likeable and marketable stars as well.

While Griffey only posted modest home run numbers his first four seasons, averaging an unassuming 21.7 per season, his improvement in the home run department was steady, if not dramatic.

Here are “Junior’s” statistics for his first four major league seasons.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP
1989 19 SEA AL 127 455 61 120 23 0 16 61 16 7 44 83 .264 .329

1990 20 SEA AL 155 597 91 179 28 7 22 80 16 11 63 81 .300 .366

1991 21 SEA AL 154 548 76 179 42 1 22 100 18 6 71 82 .327 .399

1992 22 SEA AL 142 565 83 174 39 4 27 103 10 5 44 67 .308 .361

Once again, although Griffey wasn’t a prolific home run hitter as soon as he entered the majors, once he cracked the 30-home run mark, he became a long ball hitter of epic proportions who, for seven out of eight seasons, hammered 40 or more home runs and twice hit more than 50.

Not only was Griffey perennially near, or at, the top of several batting categories, he was also as skillful defensively as he was dominant offensively, as his 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1990 to 1999 while playing centerfield for the Mariners attests. Griffey routinely made spectacular plays in the outfield whether leaping, climbing the outfield wall or sacrificing his body by diving for sinking line drives.

The point is, once Griffey went from star to superstar, he was, hands down the best all-around player in the game and certainly one of the best home run hitters of his era.

Here are Griffey’s statistics for the eight-year period from 1993 to 2000 where he hit a staggering 351 home runs. Before I go any further let me also add that Griffey did miss over half of the regular season in 1995, when he hit only 17 home runs, because of an injury.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP
1993 23 SEA AL 156 582 113 180 38 3 45 109 17 9 96 91 .309 .408

1994 24 SEA AL 111 433 94 140 24 4 40 90 11 3 56 73 .323 .402

1995 25 SEA AL 72 260 52 67 7 0 17 42 4 2 52 53 .258 .379

1996 26 SEA AL 140 545 125 165 26 2 49 140 16 1 78 104 .303 .392

1997 27 SEA AL 157 608 125 185 34 3 56 147 15 4 76 121 .304 .382

1998 28 SEA AL 161 633 120 180 33 3 56 146 20 5 76 121 .284 .365

1999 29 SEA AL 160 606 123 173 26 3 48 134 24 7 91 108 .285 .384

2000 30 CIN NL 145 520 100 141 22 3 40 118 6 4 94 117 .271 .387

Now, following the 2000 season, which was an adjustment in itself since it was his first season in Cincinnati – and first year facing National League pitching – Griffey began to have a series of injuries that led to a slip in performance that has been nearly as documented as his prolific rise to superstardom.

From 2001 through 2004, Griffey missed a staggering 331 games out of a possible 648 regular season games – over 50 percent. Worse yet for Griffey, were the collective effects of the injuries, which lowered his bat speed, making him less effective even when he was healthy.

In 2001, Griffey injured his hamstring during spring training and basically ended his season until June that year. He finished that season with his lowest home run and RBI totals since his injury-plagued season of 1995.

In 2002, Griffey suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and a torn right hamstring, both severely debilitating injuries that limited him to only 70 games and eight home runs.

In 2003, Griffey dislocated his right shoulder while diving in the outfield and was never the same that season as well.

In 2004, Griffey entered the regular season healthy and actually played well enough to earn his 12th starting selection to the All-Star team. He collected his 500th career homer, but then suffered another tear in his right hamstring. Two days after returning from the injury, he completely tore the same hamstring when he attempted to make a sliding catch in the outfield. Less than a week later, Griffey had season-ending surgery

Last season, Griffey began to show the form – and power – for which he had become accustomed to displaying on a nightly basis.

The effortless swing returned and he hit 35 home runs, his highest since his first year with the Reds.

During the second game of this season, Griffey hit home run number 537 to pass New York Yankees legend, Mickey Mantle and took over 11th place on the all-time list.

However, many baseball observers believe Griffey’s numerous injuries were the result of a decade of playing on the Kingdome’s artificial turf, which, I can say from first-hand knowledge, is akin to playing the game on an asphalt parking lot covered with cheap carpet.

Many others suggest that Griffey’s lack of commitment to exercise while he was in his twenties – since he was always supremely gifted athletically – opened him up to injury problems, as he got older. Although I personally agree more with this theory than the artificial turf theory, whatever the causes of Griffey’s injuries, he clearly became a shell of himself whenever he did step on the playing field during this period.

Here are Griffey’s statistics for the four seasons between 2001 and 2004.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP
2001 31 CIN NL 111 364 57 104 20 2 22 65 2 0 44 72 .286 .365

2002 32 CIN NL 70 197 17 52 8 0 8 23 1 2 28 39 .264 .358

2003 33 CIN NL 53 166 34 41 12 1 13 26 1 0 27 44 .247 .370

2004 34 CIN NL 83 300 49 76 18 0 20 60 1 0 44 67 .253 .351

Now, let me say that, whatever was the cause of Griffey’s lingering health issues, which were mostly leg related, I never like to blame an injury on a player unless they’re just out and out dogging it. I mean, no one steps on any playing field looking to get injured (unless it’s professional boxing of course).

At any rate, I let me explain why I believe that Griffey is still the greatest home run hitter of this era.

Number one, Griffey has been as squeaky clean as they come. He’s never, in the slightest fashion, been linked to any illegal substance. No one in his or her right mind would even associate him with such nonsense. Having said that, let’s take a look at what Griffey’s numbers could look like if he were healthy and posted numbers similar to those he had the previous five seasons in Seattle, which was an astronomical 50.2 homers per season, and the numbers become mind boggling. Griffey’s current numbers would be some where in the neighborhood of approximately 700 home runs.

To be honest about it, before the endless injuries, Griffey was being mentioned as the first man who could possibly get to 800 home runs. I have computed that, at 35 home runs a year for the next five seasons, a fairly reasonable number, Griffey would still end up with over 700 home runs. Now, of course, that is assuming he is healthy enough to play another five seasons (which is certainly questionable) but whatever the numbers currently are, Griffey has shown that he is arguably, the greatest home run hitter of his era – and of all-time

Here are Griffey’s career totals.

Batting Statistics

Year Ag Tm Lg G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP
1989 19 SEA AL 127 455 61 120 23 0 16 61 16 7 44 83 .264 .329

1990 20 SEA AL 155 597 91 179 28 7 22 80 16 11 63 81 .300 .366

1991 21 SEA AL 154 548 76 179 42 1 22 100 18 6 71 82 .327 .399

1992 22 SEA AL 142 565 83 174 39 4 27 103 10 5 44 67 .308 .361

1993 23 SEA AL 156 582 113 180 38 3 45 109 17 9 96 91 .309 .408

1994 24 SEA AL 111 433 94 140 24 4 40 90 11 3 56 73 .323 .402

1995 25 SEA AL 72 260 52 67 7 0 17 42 4 2 52 53 .258 .379

1996 26 SEA AL 140 545 125 165 26 2 49 140 16 1 78 104 .303 .392

1997 27 SEA AL 157 608 125 185 34 3 56 147 15 4 76 121 .304 .382

1998 28 SEA AL 161 633 120 180 33 3 56 146 20 5 76 121 .284 .365

1999 29 SEA AL 160 606 123 173 26 3 48 134 24 7 91 108 .285 .384

2000 30 CIN NL 145 520 100 141 22 3 40 118 6 4 94 117 .271 .387

2001 31 CIN NL 111 364 57 104 20 2 22 65 2 0 44 72 .286 .365

2002 32 CIN NL 70 197 17 52 8 0 8 23 1 2 28 39 .264 .358 .

2003 33 CIN NL 53 166 34 41 12 1 13 26 1 0 27 44 .247 .370 .

2004 34 CIN NL 83 300 49 76 18 0 20 60 1 0 44 67 .253 .351

2005 35 CIN NL 128 491 85 148 30 0 35 92 0 1 54 93 .301 .369

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG

2006 Season 35 143 19 41 7 0 11 35 0 .287 .346 .566

Career 2159 8009 1424 2345 437 36 547 1571 178 .293 .377 .561

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