Question of the day: Knowing what you know now, which player would you rather have as a mid-career player: Bonds, A-Rod, Aaron or Griffey? [Updated]
Reporters from around the Tribune Co. weigh in on the topic concerning four members of the 600 home run club: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. Check back throughout the day for more responses and feel free to leave a comment of your own.
[Updated at 12:10 p.m.:
Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
The abject phony (Alex Rodriguez) and fellow drug cheat (Barry Bonds) are out. That leaves Hank Aaron, the home run king, and a court of one, a jester named Ken Griffey Jr. who was known as much for his hoaxes as his homers.
I’ll happily take a player who delighted his teammates as much as he frightened opponents. It was Griffey who prompted Safeco Field technicians to play an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” last season when third baseman Adrian Beltre came to the plate for the first time since suffering a bruised right testicle from a bad-hop grounder.
Griffey continued to wear his cap backward for batting practice from the time he was a rookie 21 years ago until his recent retirement, a gesture that signaled a carefree and easygoing demeanor. He was the clown of clout, the slugger I would take above all the other home-run greats.
Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune
Gotta admit, my knee-jerk response is to say gimme A-Rod, the positive steroid test in 2003 notwithstanding. There’s no more important position than shortstop, and that’s where I start if I’m building a team.
But my final answer here is Henry Aaron, and without a lot of internal debate. The Hammer played in the National League when pitchers dominated, yet you could rarely tell it by his at-bats. He was an absolute hitting machine, in every way. Barry Bonds broke his home run record but didn’t come close in RBIs and total bases. Aaron could probably run better than you remember too, while playing right field well enough to win Gold Gloves.
One other thing: If you needed him to play the middle infield, he was a good enough athlete he could fill in there (43 career games at second base). Wouldn’t Scott Boras have loved to represent him?]
Juan C. Rodriguez, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Scratch Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. No question, two phenomenal talents who would have been Hall of Fame bound even without the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but the baggage is too heavy.
The midpoint of Griffey’s career was 1999, his 11th season. He led the league with 48 homers and hit 40 more in 2000, but he couldn’t stay on the field thereafter. From 2001-04, Griffey played in just 317 of a possible 648 games. It’s tough to lead from the disabled list.
In 1964, Aaron at age 30 played the 11th of 23 major league seasons. He averaged 37 homers and 101 RBIs through 1973 and was an All-Star every year. That’s the kind of consistency you want from a mid-career player.
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun
Well, before I choose, I'd like to ask a question about the question. Where's Willie Mays in this conversation? There's a case to be made that he was better than any of them, but if I have to choose among these four players in their respective primes, I'm going to go with Griffey, because he combined highlight-film talent and tremendous production -- like Mays -- and did it without being tainted by the steroid era.
Certainly, no disrespect is intended toward Hank Aaron, who will be remembered by purists as baseball's home run king no matter how many homers A-Rod eventually hits and how many times Barry denies he knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. But Aaron was a model of consistency and durability. He was never the best all-around player in the game. On this list, only A-Rod and Griffey can make that claim, and only Griffey can make it without the whiff of scandal.
That's good enough for me.
Upper photo: Hank Aaron in 2004. Credit: James Nielsen / EPA
Lower photo: Ken Griffey Jr. in 1995. Credit: Rod Mar / MCT