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Updated: Wednesday June 9, 2004 11:59PM
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Head2Head
Who will have the greater legacy?
Read both sides, then see what you had to say.
Barry the Basher
Barry Bonds is rewriting the record book.
Robert Beck/SI

By Jacob Luft

Wow, Ken Griffey Jr. stays off an operating table for half a season and suddenly we're comparing him to the greatest player of this era, Barry Bonds.

Is this the same Griffey whose baseball card comes free with a copy of Gray's Anatomy? The same "Kid" who has more surgical scars than Joan Rivers?

Look, Griffey is a nice piece of the Reds' offense. Bonds is an offense. How else can a team stay above water with the likes of Neifi Perez and J.T. Snow in the lineup if not for Bonds? The slow-starting Giants are still in the NL West race, 1 1/2 games out of first after Tuesday's games.

Bonds' six MVP awards (he should have eight) are twice as many as anybody else has won, and he's the only member of the 500 home run club with 500 stolen bases (or 400, for that matter.) Mix in eight Gold Gloves and it's obvious he's the best player any of us have ever seen.

There is only one real issue here: How much will Bonds' suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs damage his legacy?

At this point, Bonds' unrelenting dominance at the plate has forced me to give him a pass on the steroids thing. I'm as cynical as the next guy, but if there is anything anybody can take that will make them hit a baseball like that -- that will decleat outfielders 400 feet away when they catch his line drives -- then sign me up for two crates of it. Writing about baseball is fun, but playing it for millions of dollars a year sounds like a pretty good gig, too.

And please spare me the defensive comparisons. Griffey had his share of Web Gems in his youth, but at this point he's got the range of a banana slug in center field. Griffey, the American League and the early retirement known as the DH spot beckons you. Heed the call.

Graceful Griffey
Don't underestimate Ken Griffey Jr.'s appeal.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

By Andrew Perloff

You can argue about Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds' numbers all you want. The career batting averages -- Bonds at .298, Griffey at .293 -- are a wash. At 39, Bonds has hit 674 home runs and is closing in on Hank Aaron's record, but the 34-year-old Griffey is already at 498 and will have every chance to catch Bonds' total.

But debating numbers is a waste of time when discussing a player's legacy. Despite the sabermetrics trend, baseball isn't all about the statistics. More than any major sport, it's defined by myth and lore. And when it comes to the intangible qualities that transcend the raw numbers of the game, Bonds isn't in Griffey's league.

Griffey's ability to capture the fans' imagination is something Bonds never could dream of. There was a reason he led the majors in All-Star voting six times. The smiling kid with his hat on backwards, climbing the walls like they were a jungle gym to retrieve opponents' home runs. The effortless swing and tape-measure home runs -- how much fun was it to watch Griffey in all those home run derbies?

Joe DiMaggio didn't dominate baseball statistically, but to many people his graceful style made him the greatest player of an era. Although Yankee fans will cry blasphemy, the same can be said for Griffey.

It was Griffey's brilliance that saved baseball after the devastating strike of 1994. Griffey's series-winning run against the Yankees in the 1995 AL Divisional Series marked the beginning of baseball's healing process.

Then Bonds' 73 home run season of 2001 marked the beginning of another sad era for the sport. Though nothing's been proven, steroid allegations have brought a dark cloud back to baseball. Hopefully Griffey will be able to save it again.

Baseball and modern science will produce more Bonds-like numbers in years to come. But it will never produce another Ken Griffey Jr.


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