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Junior achievement

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Despite a remarkable career, Ken Griffey Jr. has never played in a World Series.
Sox fans hope that will change this October. (AP photo)


BY MIKE CLARK

A lot of people, myself included, who aren't crazy about Barry Bonds being the all-time home run king like to take solace in the fact that A-Rod should eventually claim the record for himself. But whenever I hear someone go on about the inevitability of this, I have to shake my head and think of the guy who is coming to the Cell.
Step into the time machine and dial it back to late 2000. Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" tops the charts and no one in America knows what a chad is -- hanging, dimpled or otherwise. Ken Griffey Jr., who will turn 31 in a few weeks, has 438 career home runs. Barry Bonds is more than five years older at 36 and just 56 homers ahead of Junior.

Obviously, Griffey is on his way to overtaking Bonds and eventually passing Hank Aaron for No. 1 all-time, right?

Well, no.

Bonds goes out and belts 73 dingers in 2001 while Griff begins a run of injury-plagued years, hitting just 22 in 111 games. Bonds goes on to deposit dozens more baseballs in McCovey Cove, break the record and eventually head into an unplanned retirement (Position Wanted: DH. Will supply own body armor, prescriptions).

Junior, meanwhile, just keeps plugging away when he's healthy. Earlier this season he passed the 600-homer mark and his next long ball will tie him with another guy whose stats are, shall we say, a bit suspect.

The morale of this story is there are no guarantees in life for Griffey, A-Rod or anyone else.

But baseball is a funny game. Though this is his 20th big league season, Griffey still is just 38. In the five years after he turned 38, Bonds hit 149 homers; if Griffey can manage to stay healthy, be equally productive and wants to play that long, he could catch Bonds after all. It's admittedly a long shot, but the odds don't seem much longer than they were on Griffey enduring one injury after another once the new millennium rolled around. But the remote prospect that he might make that kind of history isn't the only reason to roll out the welcome mat for Junior. His stats are all-natural, honestly achieved in an era of whispers and doubts, and he always has played the game in the moment -- crashing into outfield walls to make a catch in a 6-0 game in September rather than dialing it back a bit to make sure he doesn't get hurt.

The Sox have brought in a few future Hall of Famers late in their careers; sometimes it works out well (Tom Seaver won his 300th game in a Sox uniform) and sometimes it doesn't (Steve Carlton was so-so).

But this deal has tremendous upside potential written all over it. Griffey is a class act, a considerable upgrade in center field and a still-dangerous hitter. Someday he'll be in Cooperstown. But for now, he looks pretty good on the South Side.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on July 31, 2008 11:12 AM.

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