Last night, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 564th home run of his career to move into 10th place on the all-time list. Reading about his accomplishment, I was surprised he was so far up on the list, given the number of injuries he's had since coming into the league in 1989. That got me wondering about what might have been had Griffey stayed healthy throughout his career...if he would have lived up to the promise of his youth when he was predicted to become one of the game's all-time greats.
Looking at his stats, I assumed a full season to be 155 games and extrapolated what his home run total would have been for each season after his rookie year in which he played under 155 games. Given that methodology, Griffey would have hit about 687 home runs up to this point. In two of those seasons, 1995 and 2002, his adjusted home run numbers were far below the usual because of injuries limiting his at-bats and effectiveness at the plate. Further adjusting those numbers brings the total up to 717 home runs, good for 3rd place on the all-time list and a race to the top with Barry Bonds.
Of course, if you're going to play what-if, Babe Ruth had a couple of seasons in which he missed a lot of games and also played in the era of the 154-game season. Willie Mays played a big chunk of his career in the 154-game season era as well. Ted Williams, while known more for hitting for average, missed a lot of games for WWII & the Korean War (almost 5 full seasons) and played in the 154-game season era...and still hit 521 home runs.
One of the pre-conference events was a talk at Fenway Park followed by a tour of the ballpark. Janet Marie Smith, VP of planning and development for the Sox, kicked things off with how the team (especially the new management) works really hard to preserve the essential character of Fenway while at the same time trying to upgrade the park (and keep it from getting torn down). She talked about the advertisements added to the Green Monster, which was actually not a purely commercial move but a throwback to a time when the Monster was actually covered with ads.
Lots of talk and awareness of experience design...the Red Sox folks in particular kept referring to the "experience" of the park. One of the speakers (can't recall who, might have been Jim Dow) talked about how other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games and what that does to the team's fan base. With Fenway, they're trying to maintain a variety of ticket prices to keep the diversity level high...greater diversity makes for a better crowd and a better fan base and is quite appropriate for Boston (and New England in general), which has always been an area with vibrant blue collar and blue blood classes.
Janet also referred to the "accidental" design of the park. Like many other urban ballparks built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the placement of the streets constrained the design of Fenway and made it rather an odd shape....these days larger plots are selected where those types of restraints are removed. And over time, the game has changed, the needs of the fans have changed, and the fire codes have changed and the park has changed with the times. In the dead ball era, the walls of the stadium weren't for hitting home runs over; their sole function was to keep people on the street for catching the game for free, so the Fenway outfield ran over 500 feet in right field -- practically all the way to the street -- where there's now 30 rows of seats. Jim Holt observed that American butts have gotten bigger so bigger seats are called for. Fire codes helped that change along as well...wooden seats, bleachers, and overcrowding are no longer a large part of the Fenway experience (save for the wooden seats under the canopy).
The design talk continued on the tour of the park. Our guide detailed how ballparks are built around specific ballplayers. Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built but it was also seemingly (but not literally) built for him with a short trip for his home run balls to the right field wall. Boston added a bullpen to make the right field shorter for Ted Williams. Barry Bonds does very well at PacBell/SBC/WhateverItsCalledTheseDays Park. And more than that, the design of Fenway also dictated for a long time the type of team that they could field, which had some bearing on how they did generally. Players who played well in Fenway (i.e. could hit fly balls off of the Monster in left) often didn't do so well in other parks and the team's away record suffered accordingly.