10 June 2008

Junior Griffey

In the century-plus history of Major League Baseball, only six players have accumulated six-hundred or more career homeruns.  Ken Griffey, Jr. became the sixth yesterday.  He needs ten to pass Sammy Sosa for fifth place, all time.  Whether his career will last long enough for him to tie or pass Willie Mays for fourth is questionable, as Mays ended his career with 690.

What does it say about us as fans, or even us as a society that at the same time we applaud this magnificent accomplishment, we cannot help but ponder how much farther along the all-time list he might have been, were it not for that bum hamstring of his?  This is, after all, only the sixth player ever to hit 600 homeruns out of all the players who have ever worn a big league uniform.  Mark McGwire didn't do it.  Reggie Jackson didn't do it.  Mantle, Maris, Yaz, Teddy Ballgame, neither Iron Horse, so on and so forth: none of them did it.  And nobody holds it against those guys.  Why, then, does Junior's accomplishment feel hollow?  Why can't his 600 (and counting) simply amaze us?

Perhaps because there was never any doubt about his potential.  Junior has always had the single sweetest swing in all of baseball; watching him is more than watching a well-oiled machine, more than watching an artist.  Many predict that it won't matter how many homeruns anyone hits in a few years, that Alex Rodriguez is destined to become the all-time homerun hitting champion.  That may be, and yet one cannot help but wonder...if A-Rod should reach 600 and we doubt his health and ability to keep going much farther, will that milestone, too, be hollow?

Incidentally, Dusty Baker has managed three of the six members of the 600 Homerun club: Junior, Sosa and Barry Bonds.  Baker also managed Bonds in 2002, when he set the single-season record.  Surely, that will earn him a spot in a trivia game somewhere.

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