If Barry Bonds had never taken steroids, never broken the single-season HR record, and never moved himself into baseball’s holy trinity of HR hitters (i.e. Aaron, Ruth, and Mays), he still would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In addition to his 8 gold gloves and 3 MVPs (pre-juice) he would have finished among the all time leaders in a number of prominent offensive categories. But what has been lost due to the hysteria over Bonds the last few seasons and a serious of injury-plagued seasons is the brilliance that is Ken Griffey, Jr.
Still only 35, Junior has already climbed into the record books and has secured one MVP award to go along with 10 straight gold gloves (and CF is arguably a more difficult position to play than LF). Last year, Griffey managed to play in 128 games and put up excellent numbers (32 HRs, 92 RBIS, .946 OPS) and he has looked excellent in the World Baseball Classic. Bottom line is one can make the argument that if you take away Bonds’ tainted juice seasons and replace them with more realistic estimates of aging performance his totals at 40 would be only marginally better than Junior at 35, and would be significantly less exciting than Junior’s projected totals if he too plays until 40. Point being Junior (already voted the MLB player of the decade for the 1990’s) should be viewed as the player of his generation, not Bonds.
Comparing projected totals is a tricky business, so I make no claims that the analysis that follows is at all authoritative. However, if we compare the juiced Bonds and the projected non-juiced Bonds against the projected juice-free Griffey we see that Griffey’s performance over his career is just as impressive if not more so.
In order to project both Bonds and Griffey’s numbers I assume that each year both players put up totals that are 10% less than their prior years performance. Additionally, I recalculated Bonds’ career totals in light of the ‘juiced years’ (1999-2005). Because I am lazy and do not want to go back and recalculate each players’ OPS lets simlpy look at HR and RBIs, since these are two of the most prominent statistics hall voters look at.
First, Bonds ranks 3rd all time with 708 HRs while Griffey ranks 12th (tied with Mantle) with 536. Bonds, of course, is age 40 while Griffey is only 35. If we project Griffey’s numbers out until his 4oth birthday he ends with a total of 684 HRs which ranks him 4th all-time. Additionally, if we adjust Bonds’ statistics for the juiced years by using a 10% decay he ends up with 572 HRs which ranks 9th (nothing to sneeze at).
Second, Bonds ranks 11th with 1853 RBIs while Griffey ranks 39th with 1536. Bonds’ non-juiced projected total is 1740 ranking him 18th. However, Griffey’s projected career total is 1924, ranking him 7th all time.
Even if Griffey never plays another game his career totals (536, 1536) are only marginally less impressive than a non-juiced Bonds’ (572, 1740; differential of only 6% and 13& respectively) who played 5 more seasons. If Griffey averaged 5 HRs and 40 RBIs over his final five seasons he would match Bonds’ numbers–and given how he looks there is reason to believe he will won’t average substantially better numbers than that.
We can never know the exact impact of Bonds’ substance abuse on his numbers. However, I think the argument can be made that greater appreciation needs to be paid to Griffey and he, not Bonds, should be viewed as the player of his generation.