Ken Griffey, Jr. Hits 600: Oh, What Could Have Been

Andrew SilvaCorrespondent IJune 10, 2008

Last night, against the Florida Marlins, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 600th home run in his career off of lefty Mark Hendrickson. A man who was once destined to break Hank Aaron's mark and become the greatest baseball player of all time is now an almost forgotten player, a ghost of the past. 

Had it not been for ESPN tracking Griffey's hunt for the milestone, many of us would be unaware of his accomplishment. Tragically, Ken Griffey Jr. is now a mainstay in the "What if" Hall of Fame.

Before leaving Seattle and catching the injury bug in Cincinnati, Griffey was on pace to become the greatest player in the history of the game. In his first 11 years in the league (all with Seattle), Griffey averaged roughly 36 home runs and 140 games a year. 

However, two of those years have relatively skewed numbers. In 1994, the strike-shortened season, he hit 40 home runs in 111 games, which would be about 58 for a full 162-game season. The following year, he only played in 72 games hitting 17 homers, which is a 38-home run pace. 

Conversely, during the past nine seasons in Cincinnati, he has averaged only 105 games a year. During that period, he also went through what most of us will now unfortunately remember him for—injuries. 

Playing in no more than 83 games from 2002-2004, Griffey hit a total of 41 home runs, a number he nearly matched in the strike-shortened year. Also, let us not forget that during all of these years he also played Gold-Glove caliber center field, day in and day out.

Let me play with his numbers a little bit. If in 2001, (he played only 11 games) and those three injury-plagued years that followed, Griffey hit home runs at a typical rate (36), he would have 681 home runs to date. If I add in what he was on pace to hit during the strike-shortened season he would have 699, one away from joining the super exclusive 700 club. 

If Ken Griffey Jr. had not become injury prone in Cincinnati and stayed around his typical numbers, if he stayed on pace during the strike season, and if he just caught a couple of breaks, we would be talking about Griffey as the greatest player ever without a doubt. 

Unfortunately, a man's career should not and cannot be judged by what he could have done. Yes, Griffey is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and yes, he may be the greatest player of our generation, but to many he is considered the most talented player that ever lived and "only" hit 600 home runs. 

Too bad the man will never be able to outrun what he could have been and let us appreciate him for what he is.