Barry Bonds juiced for his numbers. So did Sammy Sosa.
Hank Aaron, although he didn’t cheat, played in 795 more games than Babe Ruth, and had 3,324 more plate appearance to get to his career totals.
So along with Ruth, that leaves just two players that have hit 600 home runs without some sort of controversy or numbers game surrounding the achievement — Willie Mays, and most recently, Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey’s numbers are far more impressive than Sosa’s and Bonds, simply because no cloud of suspicion has ever surrounded him. If not for a major string of injuries since being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, Griffey, not Bonds or Aaron would likely be the home run king, and he would have done it honestly.
Fans love Griffey because he didn’t appear on any Mitchell Report, in a book by Jose Canseco, or anything except for the starting lineup or disabled list throughout his now 20-year career.
He’s respected for having one of the best set of eyes in baseball and arguably the sweetest swing of all time.
Griffey has never had the Bonds-like ego, or the brashness of a Sosa. He’s been a player of the people — a natural phenom that never needed a drug or needle to achieve his numbers.
It’s just about been accepted the nation over that Bonds juiced. Did he cheat under the rules of baseball? No. Neither did Sosa or Mark McGwire. Blame Bud Selig for that mess.
But his biceps got as big as Hulk Hogan’s, his head went up three sizes which might explain the ego boost, and he’s been tied to more shady characters than a bookie on the south side of Youngstown.
Sosa’s numbers, and body, ballooned in the steroids era. In 1990, Sosa’s first full season (153 games), he hit 15 home runs. Fast forward to 1998-2001. Sosa hit 66, 63, 50 and 64 dingers in those seasons. His previous high was 40 in 1996 and that was in just 124 games.
When the question of steroid use in baseball arose, Sosa was the first to say “test me.” So the media asked him to, and then Sosa told them to talk to his lawyer.
Hank Aaron was the Energizer Bunny of his time. He just didn’t stop playing. Even after he broke Ruth’s record, he stuck around and socked a few more. He is the home run king. There’s is no doubt about that, but he did benefit from playing far more than his counterparts.
There will forever be the “what if” factor when it comes to records in any sport. But Griffey’s numbers are more impressive than anything done by Bonds, by McGwire or by Sosa.
Griffey has played the game with more class than arguably anyone in his era. He’s never won a World Series, but even during his stint with the Reds, a team that hasn’t even made the postseason with him on the roster, he still gives 100 percent each and every time out.
He is the role model of how to do it right in Major League Baseball.
Griffey is an ambassador of the game. A true gem in a world of dirt, muck and deceit.
Congratulations Ken. Your efforts and class haven’t gone unnoticed. Baseball fans the world over hope you continue to play for as long as you possibly can.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at firstname.lastname@example.org