Career, Interrupted: Top 25 MLB Careers That Were Cut Short
Baseball became America’s pastime almost immediately from the sport’s inception.
The game’s greatness shines for several reasons. The methodical pace of play between pitcher and catcher, as well as batter and fielder, allow for easy conversation among friends.
The baseball season itself begins in the spring, coinciding in time with nature’s yearly rejuvenation, and continues through summer when the weather is dry and the days are long enough to play two.
The creation of the sport is itself a tale of American folklore, and Americans are wary to trudge on the sagas of their history.
It also doesn’t hurt that certain men named Cobb, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Mantle, Musial and DiMaggio, along with so many others, brought a heroic presence to the lives of millions, through both the best and worst times of our nation’s history.
From roaring economic excess to crashing stock markets, there was baseball. From World Wars to Pleasantville and back to war again, there was baseball.
From radios to broadband, streetcars to subways, and megaphones to smartphones, there was baseball.
With that sublime inspiration, there also comes a callous reality to the game.
How else can you describe a sport where the very best hitters fail seven out of every ten times they enter the batter’s box? Or where the very best teams leave the park losers at least sixty times during the season?
As great as baseball is, it is a sport surrounded, cloaked and otherwise ensconced in failure.
Failure does bring one thing that success rarely does — a chance for introspection. When it comes to developing one’s self, a little humility and modesty can go a long way towards true growth as a person.
Baseball gives us that proverbial chance to get up, dust ourselves off — no matter the circumstance or score — and try, try again.
However, the game (and life) are not always kind to its members. For a select few in the game's history, their greatness was never fully realized.
Stolen. Self-destructed. Injury. Prejudice. Tragedy.
I give you the Top 25 MLB careers that were cut short...
Satchel Paige: Baseball's color barrier kept this pitching great from reaching the MLB until he was 41 years old. Amazingly, Paige still had five seasons left in the tank and won All-Star recognition at the ages of 45 and 46. As a Negro Leaguer, Paige won twice as many games as he lost and had a career WHIP of 0.95, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He struck out almost a batter per inning and finished over half of the games he started. Paige would be much higher on this list, if it didn't seem so appropriate for his legacy that we don't speculate too much as to how he would have dominated the majors.
Eric Davis: From 1986-90, Davis averaged 30 home runs and 40 steals per season, in addition to winning three Gold Gloves. He sparked a World Series sweep of the Oakland A's by homering in his first at-bat of Game 1 in 1990. Imagine what could have been for the elegant, slick-fielding Davis before injury after injury cut short what should have been the prime seasons of his career. Davis spent the 1995 season in "retirement" before returning for one more stint in the major leagues. That too was derailed after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997. Davis missed most of that season but recovered and played four more, hitting 28 home runs with a .327 average in 1998 at the age of 36.
Rick Ankiel: Which career of Ankiel should we discuss as the one cut short? The one where he retires from pitching at just 24, after starting 30 games, winning 11, and striking out 194 batters in 175 innings as a 20-year-old? Or the one where he doesn't make his debut as a hitter until 27? If Ankiel had the determination and focus so many of the names on this list have, he could either have been a superstar starting pitcher or a powerful run-producing bat. Instead, Ankiel is a hitter who never had enough seasoning to make it big as a hitter and a pitcher who personifies the question, "What if?"
25. Juan Encarnacion
Juan Encarnacion was a player who could do a little bit of everything.
He had good power mixed with above-average speed. He drove in more than his fair share of runs and could play all three outfield spots when necessary.
Everything ended on August 31, 2007, when Encarnarcion was hit in the face by a foul ball as he stood in the on-deck circle waiting his turn at the plate.
Encarnacion sustained multiple fractures, and his eye socket was completely crushed.
A baseball career should never end this way. Encarnacion was one of the good ones.
24. Lyman Bostock
During the mid-to-late 1970s, there wasn't a better hitting tandem than the Minnesota Twins' Rod Carew and Lyman Bostock.
In 1977, Carew (.388) and Bostock (.336) finished first and second in batting average in the American League.
Bostock left the Twins after that season as a free agent to join the California Angels.
Less than a year later, he was dead.
While visiting family one day after a game in Chicago, Bostock caught a ride with his uncle and another woman.
A car pulled up along side Bostock, driven by the estranged husband of the woman with Bostock and his uncle.
The driver got out, aimed his shotgun at the car and pulled the trigger, hitting Bostock in the head.
Bostock died that night, ending a promising career much too soon.
By 1979, Carew himself was traded to the Angels, one season too late to rejoin his former hitting mate.
23. Bob Feller
While most young men spend their high school and college years actually, you know, in high school and college, Bob Feller instead spent those years dominating American League hitters.
By the time Feller was 23, he was already a grizzled MLB veteran of six seasons.
From 1939 to 1941, Feller won 76 games, leading the league in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts each season.
All of this between the ages of 20 and 22.
After 1941, Feller didn't pitch again in the majors until the very end of the 1945 season.
Due to a little thing called World War II. Feller became the first athlete to enlist in the Army two days after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Feller missed four of his prime pitching seasons serving in combat, and while his service to our country was indisputable, it was a shame for baseball fans
Feller finished his career with 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. Missing those four seasons probably cost Feller 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts. Those numbers would have made him on the cusp of the top-five overall in MLB history for those categories.
22. Mo Vaughn
Between 1995 and 2000, there may not have been a nastier, more dangerous or more feared hitter than Mo Vaughn.
A notorious plate crowder, Vaughn pushed his strike zone where he wanted it (outside), lest a pitcher try to come inside and risk hitting him.
During Vaughn's prime seasons, he averaged nearly 38 home runs and 118 RBI with a .945 OPS for both the Red Sox and Angels.
Injuries began to plague him almost immediately upon his arrival in Anaheim, forcing Vaughn to sit out the entire 2001 season.
In 2002, he returned to the Mets but was soon finished, ending his career with 328 home runs and 1,024 RBI.
Vaughn was a pure hitter trapped inside the body of an NFL linebacker.
For a brief time period, Vaughn ruled over Boston and the American League, but his ankles and legs had other plans.
21. Thurman Munson
When you think of accomplishments by some of the all-time Yankee greats, things like World Series championships, MVP awards, Gold Gloves and All-Star nominations come to mind.
For Thurman Munson, he did all of that and more, becoming the only Yankee to win both an MVP and Rookie of the Year award with the franchise.
Munson enjoyed the postseason spotlight like any true Yankee, batting .357 in 30 playoff games.
However, on August 2, 1979, Munson's career and life ended abruptly and tragically when he crashed the plane he was piloting, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of the Yankees family and its fans.
It wasn't supposed to end this way for Munson.
Munson should have been able to retire as a Yankee on his own terms, and spend his retirement basking in reunion celebrations and championship glories.
20. Roy Campanella
Roy Campanella brought power and hitting prowess to a position that had never seen anything like it before with any previous catcher.
Campanella had four 30-plus home run seasons and led the league in RBI with 142 in 1953. He was an eight-time All-Star and won three MVP awards, second only to Barry Bonds' seven.
Campanella didn't begin his MLB career until he was 26, missing his first few potential seasons due to baseball's color barrier.
The end of Campanella's career was also tragically cut short in an automobile accident after the 1957 season.He broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in the accident, paralyzing him from the shoulders down.
He was past his prime playing years at the time of the accident. However, he was only one year removed from his last All-Star appearance and only two years from his last MVP award.
But for ten years, there was no better hitting catcher than Campanella.
19. J.R. Richard
Only the most dedicated baseball historians know the story of J.R. Richard.
Richard should have retired as the best pitcher in Astros history, leading the franchise in every important statistical category.
He averaged over 16 wins during his first five full seasons with the Astros, and he was well on his way to another 20-win season in 1980.
Before a July game during that 1980 season, Richard suffered a stroke on the field, effectively ending his professional career.
This couldn't have came at a worse time for Richard, as he was at the height of his game, having just earned his first All-Star selection. Richard was 10-4 at the time with a 1.90 ERA.
For a Houston Astros franchise that has seen the likes of Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Roy Oswalt, Joe Niekro and Larry Dierker take the mound, Richard still holds the single-season franchise record for strikeouts (313).
Richard also has the second-lowest earned run average in franchise history (minimum 1,000 innings), earning an NL-low 2.71 ERA in 1979. He still remains third overall for the Astros franchise in career strikeouts.
All of this in only six seasons as a full-time starting pitcher.
18. Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly's career is the tale of two stories: before and after his many back injuries.
BBI (before back injuries), Mattingly was a run-producing, power-hitting doubles machine for the Yankees.
He won the MVP award in 1985, leading the AL in doubles (48) and RBI (145), while hitting 35 home runs and batting .324.
From 1984 to 1989, Mattingly won five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and was named to the All-Star team every season. He was on a surefire track to the Hall of Fame.
Back troubles, however, starting derailing Mattingly's career during the 1990 season, and he hit a career-low .256 with only 42 RBI in 102 games.
He still was a capable player over his final five seasons, never hitting below .288, and winning four more Gold Gloves, but he was never close to regaining his power-hitting form of old.
Mattingly's career totals do not tell even half his story. For most of the 1980s, he was simply a perfect baseball player.
17. Curt Flood
The story of Curt Flood is one that must be told over and over for future generations of baseball fans.
Flood is to modern-day baseball players what Jackie Robinson was to African-American players in the mid-1900s.
Flood was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, and it cost him his career at the apex of his prime.
After winning six consecutive Gold Gloves, while maintaining a .300 batting average, as the center fielder for the two-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Flood was traded in a seven-player deal to Philadelphia in 1969.
The rest is history. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, claiming that MLB's reserve clause was unfair as it kept players chained to their teams for life.
Flood challenged baseball's powers in court. He lost.
Future baseball players won, however, as MLB eventually opened to the idea of free agency and allowed players who had 10 years of MLB service (five with the same team) to veto any trade.
16. Albert Belle
During the 1990s, Albert Belle was second to none as a pure power hitter.
Belle led the American League in RBI three times during the 1990s, becoming baseball's first 50/50 man in home runs and doubles in 1995.
During his prime as baseball's biggest offensive threat, Belle strung together eight consecutive 30-homer seasons, and nine consecutive 100-RBI seasons.
Belle won five Silver Slugger Awards during that time, and he knew how to earn his keep, twice becoming baseball's highest-paid player.
Belle should have spent the 2000s chasing career milestones of 600 home runs and 2,000 RBI.
Instead, Belle's career ended after the 2000 season due to osteoarthritis, a degenerative hip condition.
15. Mark Prior
As quickly as a 21-year-old Mark Prior took the city of Chicago and the National League by storm, winning 18 games while striking out 245 batters in 211 innings in 2003, he seemingly vanished from the game.
Well, Prior's demise wasn't as dramatic as that statement implies, but he does epitomize the concept of unfulfilled talent.
As one half of a dominant starting pitching tandem with Kerry Wood, Prior helped lead the Cubs to a division title in 2003.
Over the next two seasons, Prior battled an assortment of injuries from Achilles tendon problems to a fractured elbow.
He faithfully took the ball when asked, making 48 starts in between stints on the disabled list over the 2004 and 2005 seasons. But he never again approached his 2003 form.
Shoulder problems ultimately kept Prior off the pitching mound, and but for a few starts at the beginning of the 2006 season, Prior has not made a single appearance for a major league club.
Since 2006, he has attempted comebacks with several franchises, signing incentive-laden deals, minor league contracts and even trying the independent leagues.
Right now, he is currently attempting yet another return to the game, this time with a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
14. Josh Hamilton
Only those who have been banished to Siberia do not know the story of Josh Hamilton.
Less than a month after his 18th birthday, Hamilton was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. Hamilton spent the first handful of years of his professional career battling drug and alcohol abuse.
He never appeared in a major league game for the Rays.
Hamilton, in fact, did not play baseball at all from 2004 to 2006, stuck between rehab stints and suspensions.
It wasn't until Hamilton was 26 that he made his major league debut. Despite a few turns on the disabled list, Hamilton has not disappointed his team or fans.
Hamilton's reached 90 RBI in a season four times, including a league-leading 130 in 2008.
Hamilton won the MVP award in 2010, leading the AL in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS.
Hamilton has finally fulfilled his potential as a power hitter. Now imagine if Hamilton had begun his career four or five years earlier, like he was supposed to.
Common sense says that the poisons Hamilton riddled his body with will eventually take its toll on his long-term career health. So, enjoy the product now, baseball fans.
13. Darryl Kile
From a pitcher's point of view, if you can't hit the black with a 95 mph fastball, you need to be able to use deception to fool major league hitters.
Meet Darryl Kile.
Kile's curveball broke so sharply over the plate, that it set a new standard for those seeking that "12 to 6" hook.
Fast forward to June 22, 2002. Fast forward past the no-hitter thrown in 1993 and the 19-win season of 1997. Fast forward past the big free agent contract and the 20-win season in 2000.
On that sunny day in June, Kile failed to show up at Wrigley Field for an afternoon game against the Cubs.
Normally one of the first players to arrive at the stadium on game day, former Cardinals teammate and close friend Mike Matheny instantly knew something was wrong.
He was right: Kile didn't wake up that morning. He had died of a heart attack in his sleep.
Kile's Cardinals teammates dedicated the rest of the season to their fallen brother, DK57. And what a magical season it was.
The Cardinals fittingly won exactly 57 games after Kile's death to capture the Central Division crown. Kile's jersey received what can only be considered the largest champagne and beer celebration of all time.
Kile should have been there in person to help lead his team through the playoffs. Win or lose, he should have been there.
12. Kerry Wood
Had there ever been a single, more dominant performance from a rookie pitcher than the one Kerry Wood threw in 1998 against the Astros?
In only his fifth career start, Wood tied the major league record of 20 strikeouts in throwing a one-hit complete game shutout, considered by some baseball historians as the finest pitching performance of all time.
In Wood's rookie season, he won 13 games, and struck out 233 batters in 166 2/3 innings, capturing the Rookie of the Year award.
That was the beginning of the end for Wood. He missed the following season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Wood again found his dominant form, albeit briefly, in 2003, alongside his similarly impaired pitching partner Mark Prior.
Wood led the NL in strikeouts that season (266), but after 2003, he never won more than eight games in a single season and started more than 10 games only once.
Surgery after surgery plagued Wood's career. And he ultimately retired this past May in his second stint with the Cubs.
Wood, however, did it in classic style, with a strikeout.
11. Chris Carpenter
For a pitcher like Chris Carpenter, who has won multiple World Series championships, a Cy Young Award and an ERA title, it really is all about the career standings.
Carpenter has won 61 percent of his decisions over his 14-year career, but it didn't come without turmoil.
Carpenter missed an entire season and a half between 2002 and 2003 due to a torn labrum. However, he rebounded superbly over the next three seasons winning 51 games and losing only 18, while striking out 549 batters in 650 innings.
Again, Carpenter's career was sidelined due to injury, and he made only a handful of appearances in the 2007 (one start) and 2008 (three starts) seasons.
Carpenter rebounded successfully, finishing second in the Cy Young balloting in 2009, going 17-4, with a league-low 2.24 ERA.
Carpenter will miss the entire 2012 season recovering from yet another surgery, this time to repair thoracic outlet syndrome. No one knows if Carpenter will ever throw a pitch again.
Sit down for a second, and do the math. Those lost seasons easily cost Carpenter 70-75 wins, and probably close to 700 strikeouts.
Carpenter is the definition of a staff ace. He should have ended his career as MLB's active leader in wins and strikeouts, thus cementing what should have been a Hall of Fame career.
10. Fernando Valenzuela
What do you get when a rookie pitcher wins his first eight decisions, leads the league in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, earns the Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and goes 3-1 in the playoffs with two complete game victories en route to a World Series championship?
In a word: Fernando-mania!
For a city starving for winning baseball, Fernando Valenzuela came at the perfect time for Los Angeles.
A flamboyant, brash pitcher, Valenzuela took a city, and all of baseball, by storm as a 20-year-old in 1981.
He proved to be far from a one-trick pony, as he averaged 211 strikeouts per season while winning 99 games from 1982 to 1987.
Valenzuela's career took a nasty dive after the 1990 season, coinciding with his release from the Dodgers.
Valenzuela attempted a few comebacks, and even pitched in the Mexican league, missing all of the 1992 season. However, he never came close to approaching his success with Los Angeles.
9. Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar Garciaparra is arguably second only to Ted Williams in Red Sox history when it comes to the most impressive mix of power and hitting for average.
In Garciaparra's first four full seasons, he averaged 198 hits, 110 runs scored, 105 RBI and won two batting titles, hitting .357 and .372 in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
In 2001, Garciaparra suffered a broken right wrist, an injury that ended his season after just 21 games and ultimately came to define his career.
Garciaparra returned in 2002 still an elite hitter, capable of 200-hit seasons and a .300-plus batting average, but the good times did not last very long.
The Red Sox traded Garciaparra to the Cubs at the trading deadline in 2004, and then proceeded to break the curse of Babe Ruth by winning the World Series.
Garciaparra then suffered a string of injuries over the next several seasons, limiting him to 81 games or fewer four times in his last six seasons.
Garciaparra hit .323 with a .923 OPS as a Red Sox. At the end of his tenure in Boston, he was on track to challenge career milestones of 3,000 hits, 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBI.
8. Bo Jackson
Between winning the Heisman Trophy, earning simultaneous All-Star selections in both the NFL and MLB, and being the all-knowing face of a nation-wide advertising campaign for Nike, Bo Jackson lived every kid's dream sports life.
Jackson played the game of baseball with a reckless abandon. In the field, Jackson attacked the baseball like a hunter attacks its prey.
At the plate, Jackson swung so ferociously that it was an act of cruel and inhuman punishment whenever he made contact with something, whether it the ball or with his leg after a strikeout.
Jackson didn't disappoint the Kansas City faithful, swatting 107 home runs in his four full seasons as a Royal.
The combination of playing both football and baseball for four consecutive seasons surely wore on Jackson, and when he injured his hip on a tackle in 1990, he was never the same.
Jackson's football career ended immediately, and he played only 23 games in 1991, while missing the entire 1992 MLB season.
Jackson stuck it out for two more partial seasons before retiring for good.
Who knows how many home runs Jackson would have hit had he never injured his hip, or if he never played football at all?
Only Bo does.
7. Dwight Gooden
Before Dwight Gooden could legally buy a beer in New York City, he had already become the toast of NYC.
How else can you explain a 41-13 record, 544 strikeouts in 495 innings and winning both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in Gooden's first two seasons?
In 1985, Gooden might have put together one of the finest pitching seasons of all time. Twenty-four wins, a league-low 1.53 earned-run average, 0.965 WHIP and 16 complete games (with eight shutouts).
Gooden capped it off with a landslide victory in the Cy Young balloting.
By the end of Gooden's fifth major league season, at just 23, he had won 91 games, struck out over 1,100 batters, and seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
But the cracks were already starting to show.
By 1997, Gooden had already tested positive for cocaine use, and in 1989, he was limited to just 17 starts, due to a shoulder injury.
Gooden lost much of the 1994 season due to suspension and stints in rehab for his drug problems. And when he tested positive again during the suspension, MLB suspended him for all of the 1995 season as well.
In 1996, Gooden returned to the game, this time as a Yankee, but the results were terrible.
Blame the drug use for ruining such a promising career.
Blame the injuries due to an extremely heavy workload early in Gooden's career.
Blame them both.
6. Darryl Strawberry
All budding five-tool baseball players in the modern game are compared to one player: Darryl Strawberry.
The first overall pick by the New York Mets in the 1980 MLB Draft, Strawberry was the total package. At 6'6" and 190 pounds, Strawberry looked like no other baseball player of his day.
He played like no other baseball player either.
In 1983, Strawberry was named Rookie of the Year, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 74 runs.
Strawberry continued his dominance, showing off his impressive mix of power and speed.
For the first nine years of his career, Strawberry never hit less than the 26 home runs he hit as a rookie, and he stole more than 25 bases five times.
Strawberry's 1987 and 1988 campaigns were by far his best. Those years, he combined for 78 home runs (leading the NL in 1988), 205 RBI, 65 stolen bases and an OPS just shy of .950.
By the time Strawberry was 30, he was on the cusp of 300 career home runs and seemed destined for 500, 600 or more.
However, Strawberry would hit only 55 home runs over the next eight seasons of his career.
Injuries, poor performance and a suspension from cocaine use would severely limit Strawberry's playing time over the next several seasons (he averaged 35 games played per season from 1992 to 1997).
In 1998, Strawberry then was diagnosed with colon cancer, and he retired after the 1999 season.
5. Mark Fidrych
The Summer of 1976 belonged to Mark Fidrych. As a 21-year-old rookie, he won 19 games that season, leading the league with a 2.34 earned run average.
Fidrych finished 24 of the 29 games he started and became the talk of the major leagues, with his on-the-mound antics and distinct unique flare.
Fidrych packed Tiger Stadium in Detroit every time he pitched, and fans were hardly ever disappointed.
However, as quickly as Fidrych became a household name, he was gone from the game.
A knee injury at the start of the 1977 season, combined with undiagnosed rotator cuff problems, would limit Fidrych to only 18 starts over the next three seasons.
By the end of 1980, Fidrych was done pitching, and he disappeared to his home in Massachusetts.
Fidrych is the epitome of a career interrupted. It only serves to make his legend loom that much larger.
4. Shoeless Joe Jackson
The numbers Shoeless Joe Jackson put up during his career are almost laughable.
His career batting average (.356) is the third-highest in baseball history, and five times Jackson bested an OPS of 1.000.
From 1911 to 1913, Jackson compiled 656 hits, stole 102 bases and hit .393.
Jackson's finest season, however, may have been his last.
In 1920, Jackson hit .382, and set career highs in home runs (12) and RBI (121). This was amidst allegations that he, along with seven other White Sox teammates, conspired to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series on payment from gamblers.
This was a World Series, mind you, in which Jackson hit .375 with a World Series record 12 hits.
Ultimately acquitted by a jury of any wrongdoing, Jackson was nonetheless banned from the game, along with the other seven.
He never played again.
3. Sandy Koufax
From 1961 to 1966, there was no better pitcher in the game than Sandy Koufax.
Koufax won 129 games during that time (losing only 47), throwing 35 shutouts and four no-hitters (including one perfect game).
He won five consecutive ERA titles during those years, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP award (with two runner-up finishes) and led the National League in strikeouts four times.
Then, it all suddenly ended. It's as if Koufax vanished from the earth.
In reality, Koufax had been pitching in severe pain for a while, making his run of extreme dominance even more impressing.
Koufax's elbow pain persisted through many of his final years, and after the 1966 season, he called it quits at just 30.
2. Ted Williams
Boston Red Sox fans can blame Adolf Hitler and the Japanese military for keeping Ted Williams from being considered perhaps the most accomplished baseball player of all time.
Williams' three years of military service during World War II robbed him of three of his prime hitting seasons.
At that time, Williams was drafted into the military in 1943, there was no better offensive talent in baseball.
Williams was coming off consecutive league-leading numbers in runs scored, home runs, walks, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage.
Williams' post-military career began in 1946, and he did not miss a beat. From 1946 to 1951, Williams won two batting titles, two MVP awards, completed the Triple Crown and led the league multiple times in more categories than can be listed.
A broken arm in 1950 kept Williams from leading the American League in OPS for eight consecutive seasons.
Williams again missed most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons when he was called again to serve in the military during the Korean War.
That's five of Williams' best years gone. Just imagine where he'd find himself among the all-time leaders, had he been given the chance at a full career.
You can add some 170 home runs to his career total (521), putting him in Babe Ruth territory. Williams is also missing more than enough RBI and runs scored to make him the runaway career leader in both categories.
Instead of 2,654 hits, Williams career total should look more like 3,500. Instead of six batting titles, we should be talking about 10.
You get the picture.
1. Ken Griffey Jr.
The numbers say Barry Bonds is baseball's career home-run king.
The fans often say that Hank Aaron still holds the record, untainted by any performance enhancers.
However, Ken Griffey Jr. may have the rightful claim to the throne atop baseball's most prestigious career feat.
From 1993 to 2000, Griffey Jr. won four home run titles, and but for one injury-truncated season, he never hit less than 40 home runs.
In 1995, Griffey famously crashed into the outfield wall, severely injuring his wrist, and limiting him to only 72 games that season.
Griffey returned the following season and over the next four seasons, he hit 209 home runs and drove in 567 runs.
Upon Griffey's trade in 2000 to his hometown Cincinnati Reds, he began a streak of a different color.
For three consecutive seasons (2002-04), Griffey suffered season-ending injuries each year, limiting him to just 226 games over those three seasons.
What would baseball history look like had Griffey been able to stay somewhat healthy during his prime?
Griffey lost out on probably 125 home runs due to his many injuries. Instead of 630 home runs, Griffey should be looking at something more like 755. Sound familiar?
Maybe instead of just 10 Gold Gloves, Griffey might have a two or three more, giving him for the most of any outfielder.
Griffey would easily have reached 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI and 2,000 runs scored.
But what his injuries really cost baseball fans was witnessing Griffey chase and pass Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king. All without the cloud of suspicion or the awkwardness of doubt.