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Forty years ago tonight, Hank Aaron belted career home run number 715, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time list. The record stood for 33 years until Barry Bonds passed Aaron. Some say Aaron is still the home run king because of Bonds’ alleged connection to performance-enhancing drugs.
Regardless, there was a time where Mariners fans were looking ahead to watching Ken Griffey Jr launch past Hank Aaron, and it wasn’t supposed to be close. Griffey finished with 630 home runs – which is 6th all-time. But many saw a future in which The Kid, would have been number one.
At the end of the 1999 season, Griffey had just finished one of the great runs in baseball history. Four straight years of 40+ homers and six out of seven. Griffey’s career home run total stood at 398, tied with Dale Murphy. But at the age of 29, he still had at least 10 more years left and at least five in his prime.
Statisticians and prognosticators – myself included – formulated that Griffey would have another four years of 40 or more homers, three years with 30 or more and finish his career with three years of 20 or more. Based on my math from 1999, I predicted that
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Griffey would pass Hank Aaron on or around August 5, 2009.
I had Griffey playing through 2011 and finishing with 809 home runs.
But, the Kid was traded to Cincinnati. And the injury problems that robbed him of almost a full season’s worth of games prior to the 2000 season, reared their ugly heads again throughout the rest of his career.
He fell dramatically off pace and it became apparent by 2007, that he no longer had enough momentum to pass Aaron.
Over his 22 year career, Junior missed out on approximately five full season’s worth of games. That’s about 810 games at about 3.66 at-bats per game. Take into account his HR/AB ratio for his career (1 HR for every 15.5 AB) and that’s approximately 191 home runs he was shorted.
Add that to his 630 and we can estimate that he could have had 821 home runs and people would be saying, “Barry who?”
But, life happens and Griffey did deal with injuries. Many point to the fact that he was hurt so long because he WASN’T on performance-enhancing drugs – which will help his case when his name comes on the Hall of Fame ballot.
So today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of an amazing accomplishment. But I still can’t help but wonder what could have been for Mariners fans.