Consider these two major league ballplayers:
The first played for 11 seasons, 10 of them as an All-Star. He led the league in home runs four times, belting 56 homers twice. He won a Most Valuable Player Award as well as 10 Gold Gloves in the outfield. In all, he amassed 398 home runs and batted .299.
The second player also played 11 seasons, but earned only three All-Star selections. He never led the league in any category or earned any major awards. He hit only 232 home runs and batted .262.
Those two players are the same man, Ken Griffey Jr., who was a superstar in Seattle and little more than a journeyman from then on.
Hall of Fame voters will get a chance to assess his divided career this year, as Griffey is the highest-profile new name on the ballot released last week.
There are several intriguing questions on the ballot, including how to evaluate the value of the reliever Trevor Hoffman; whether Mike Piazza can get the last 5 percent he needs to be elected; and how the thinning of some older writers from the voting ranks will affect the balloting.
But the headlines are likely to go to Griffey, whose power and personality make him one of the most popular candidates in years.
Age, of course, has a lot to do with Griffey’s decline. His seasons with Seattle took him from 19 to 29, around the time that most players peak. Injuries took their toll as well; Griffey managed to play only 140 games in a season three times in his later years and never 150.
But Griffey’s production fell off even more precipitously than that of most aging sluggers. The decline began when Seattle agreed to trade him to his hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds, who signed him to a nine-year, $116.5 million contract. The trade was hailed as a steal for the Reds at the time.
Griffey hit 40 home runs in 2000, but then fell off to 22 and then eight as injuries limited his playing time. He never hit 40 again.
His home run percentage, on-base average and slugging percentage all began to steadily drop. He never won another Gold Glove and received a total of five votes for MVP post-Seattle.
Young Griffey stole 167 bases. Old Griffey stole 17.
Griffey, whose annual wins above replacement totals ranged from 3.2 to 9.7 in Seattle, put up a 5.5 in his first year with the Reds and a 3.7 in a rejuvenated 2005, but otherwise never exceeded 1.9. Brief late-career stops with the Chicago White Sox and a return to the Mariners at age 39 let him pad his career totals a little more but were otherwise fruitless.
The consensus is that Griffey will sail into the Hall of Fame; overall in WAR he ranks third on the ballot behind Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose links to steroids have kept them out.
When he is elected, we might as well consider the young Ken Griffey Jr. as the enshrinee, and try to forget the post-Mariners years.
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