Ken Griffey dislocated his shoulder trying to make a catch tonight at the Great American Ball Park. He is not expected to play for the Reds for quite some time.
The centerfielder returned to his hometown as the age of 31 after five seasons of 40 or more home runs. He had made numerous All-Star appearances due in part to his bat and his well-respected glove in center. His highest OPS was 72% better than the park-adjusted league average. He had just hit the last home run ever hit in his previous stadium and was looking for continued success. Alas his career would be filled with injuries from that point on. Even though he would play well when he was injury-free, he would never enjoy his previous success again. He would never top 23 home runs and his batting seasonal average would drop below .300 causing his career average to fall to .295. He would only enjoy one more All-Star game appearance. Nor would he appear in the top-10 MVP vote getters again. However, his career was sufficiently remarkable to earn him a Hall of Fame plaque in 1980.
Oh, you thought I still meant Griffey. No, that was Duke Snider I was discussing, although pretty much everything up to the Hall of Fame plaque applies to Griffey as well. At age 31, both were back in their hometowns: Griffey was traded to Cincinnati a year earlier and the Duke rode into LA with the transplanted Dodgers. Both were riding a 5-year streak of 40 or more home runs. Both had hit the last home run in his former park: Snider in Ebbets Field and Griffey in Kingdome (actually, the Mariners moved into Safeco Field in the middle of his last year). Both had a career high OPS 72% better than the park-adjusted league average. Both got injured in their 31st year and never played a full season again or at least Griffey has yet to do so. Both played in one more All-Star game after switching cities: Snider in 1963 with the Mets and Griffey in 2000, his first year with the Reds. Both had .300+ averages that fell to .295 for their careers (Griffey's was actually .299 when he left the Mariners). It's a bit eerie.
As a matter of fact the batter listed as most similar to Snider is Ken Griffey, Jr. The batter most similar to Griffey is, well, Sammy Sosa, but Snider is right behind him. Bill James ranks both as A- defensive center fielders, and they are ranked sixth (Snider) and seventh (Griffey) among center fielders in James' New Historical Abstract.
One big difference is the number of World Series appearances that Snider's teams made, while Griffey's Mariners never made it out of the AL playoffs. Snider would also make one more World Series appearance in 1959, his only in Los Angeles. Griffey has not appeared in the postseason with the Reds. Oh, and Griffey did have the one 40-homer year in Cincinnati before the spate of injuries.
Here's a comparison through the age of thirty:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR HR/AB RBI SB CS SB% BB K K/BB HBP SH SF BA OBP SLUG OPS
Griffey 1680 6352 1163 1883 342 33 438 0.069 1270 173 64 73.00% 841 1101 1.31 56 6 64 .296 .380 .568 .948
Snider 1425 5317 994 1609 288 66 316 0.059 1003 92 41 69.17% 692 874 1.26 15 43 19 .303 .383 .560 .943
That is pretty close. Griffey has more games due to starting in the majors at 19. Snider started his career at the age of 20 but was not fully established in the majors until 22.
Snider is still remembered as a Hall-of-Fame player, but the memory of his true greatness at his peak is dimmed, and he spent almost his entire career in the two biggest media markets in the country.
Griffey was once considered the game's greatest player and ambassador. Let's hope that his career does not continue to follow Snider's in terms of missed games due to injury. Let's also hope that Griffey's greatness is not lost on future generations even though he has spent his entire career thus far in two of the smaller media markets in the country.