Baseball Greats: Griffey vs Robinson

Ken Griffey vs Frank RobinsonThe great thing about baseball, unlike other sports, is that you can compare players across eras. Just buy baseball cards and review the statistics. While the sport has evolved, the game itself has changed very little. A ball hit over the fence is still a homerun, and a great catch still makes fans stand up and applaud.

Once you start to buy baseball cards, it’s easy to make the comparisons. Baseball’s detailed history provides fans with fodder for debating which players were better:

For these comparisons, you can’t measure value by cost when you buy baseball cards. The older cards are almost always going to win that argument. Instead, to rate Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr., let’s turn to their baseball accomplishments.

Ken Griffey Jr – Frank Robinson Overview

Griffey Jr. played in 22 seasons, from 1989 to 2010, smack dab in the Long Ball Era. Balls flew out of ballparks at a record pace, and Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record. Even in this era, Griffey stood out, hitting for average and power while playing the best center field anyone could remember.

Robinson played for 21 seasons, from 1956 to 1976. It was the Expansion Era, although Robinson first appeared just nine years after Jackie Robinson (no relation) integrated baseball. Yet, in his sixth season with the Cincinnati Reds, he won his first MVP. Five years later, in Baltimore, he won his second, the only player in baseball history ever to win the award in both leagues.

Starting Their Careers

If you buy baseball cards, you’ll find Robinson’s are more in demand. He made the bigger initial splash, too. He set the rookie record for homeruns with 38 — later broken by Mark McGwire. For much of his career, he was a consistent 30-homer threat, averaging more than 34 homeruns over his first seven seasons. Except for his third year, he consistently hit .290 or better, reaching .342 in his seventh year.

Griffey started slower. Although he hit 45 homeruns in his fifth season, he averaged only 27 over his first seven seasons. Except for his rookie year and his seventh season, though, he was a consistent .300 hitter. Then, in his eighth season, while just 26 years old, he became the Ken Griffey, Jr. you think of today.

Their Best Years

From 1996 to 2000, Griffey was arguably the best in baseball. He hit .290 with 249 homers and 593 RBIs in those five years. He also stole 81 bases. Griffey won his MVP in 1997, when he hit .304 with 56 homers and 147 RBIs. As good as Robinson was, his best five-year span occurred between 1958 and 1962. He hit .309 with 174 homers and 533 RBIs. He also stole 81 bases. Robinson won his first MVP in 1961, when he hit .323 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs.

Robinson’s last great year came in 1973, when he was 37. He hit 30 homers and drove in 97 runs while hitting a decent .266. He walked 82 times, leading to a .372 on-base percentage. As it happens, Griffey’s last great year came in 2007, when he was 37. He hit 30 homers and drove in 93 runs, while hitting a decent .277. His 85 walks contributed to that on-base percentage of .372, the same as Robinson’s.

The Final Analysis

Based on batting statistics alone, the tip of the cap has to go to Robinson. While Griffey hit more career homers (630 to 586), Robinson accomplished his feat when 39 homers in a season could still win a homerun title. During Griffey’s career, 50 sometimes wasn’t enough. Still, even in the homer-happy 1990s, Griffey won four homerun titles. Robinson only won one. Robinson won one Gold Glove Award, while Griffey earned 10.

When you buy baseball cards, Frank Robinson’s rookie card, 1957 Topps #35, sells for as much as $42,500. Because Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie card, 1989 Upper Deck #1, appeared during the baseball card production glut, it’s less valuable, but it still sold for $425. Whenever you buy baseball cards today, remember that the era of the cards matter more than the era of baseball. Go for cards made before 1980, even if Griffey Jr. is your favorite player.