JULY 26, 2010 9:03PM

In Baseball's History of Oddities This One Tops Them All

Rate: 21 Flag

Baseball's long and storied past is filled with odd and quirky statistics and stories but none of them are stranger than this one.

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On June 3, 2010, Seattle Mariner and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. called it quits.  Griffey had a career that virtually guarantees a first ballot selection to Cooperstown:  Twenty-two seasons, 13 All-Star games, 10 Gold Glove awards, 1 MVP award, and most of all 630 home runs (5th all time) and 1,836 RBI's (14th all time). 


Ken Griffey Jr. is on the way to Cooperstown.

An argument can be made that Ken Griffey Jr. was the best left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder (not named Babe Ruth) in the history of baseball.  However that same argument can also be made for St. Louis Cardinal and Hall of Fame member Stan "The Man" Musial.


Stan "The Man" Musial.  Was he better than Griffey?

Musial played 21 seasons but was in 24 All-Star games (from 1959-1962 two games per season were played), was a 3 time MVP, and won 3 World Series rings.

Both players were icons.  Both had immediately recognizable nicknames:  "Junior" and "Stan the Man."  Both players hit a lot of home runs (Griffey had more) and knocked in a lot of runs (Musial had more).

On a recent warm summer evening at Safeco Field, watching the Mariners lose to Kansas City, my friend Al and I had a spirited debate (assisted by iPhone's Google app) as to which of these two greats was actually the greatest.  As a lifelong Mariner and Griffey fan I sadly had to choose Musial.  Al is (or was) firmly in the Griffey camp.

The truth is that if you extrapolate each man's statistics as if they each played 162 game seasons, the numbers are very close.  

Musial had a better career batting average, averaged more extra base hits per season than Griffey, struck out far less, and walked more often.

Griffey averaged more home runs and RBI's per season and was very close to Musial in runs scored.

It's an extremely close call as to which player was better.  Al and I agreed that we could almost toss a coin to determine the winner.  As we both looked at our respective iPhone data we decided that, in the end, it came down to the only statistic that clearly separated the two men's careers:

Stan Musial had three World Series rings to Ken Griffey's zero.  The greatest players win championships.   

Al said, "Okay I give up.  Musial wins."  Al studied Griffey's bio for a moment.  "I'll just say that Ken Griffey Jr. was the best left-handed outfielder that was born on November 21st in Donora Pennsylvania."

Looking at Musial's bio on my iPhone, I was confused.  "Do you mean Stan Musial was the best left-handed player born on November 21st in Donora, Pennsylvania?"

"No, Griffey."  Al handed me his iPhone.  I looked, then handed him mine.

"Sorry Al but Ken Griffey's only the second best left-handed outfielder that was born on November 21st in Donora, Pennsylvania.  Stan Musial was the best."

Stanley Frank Musial, born Nov. 21, 1920, Donora, PA.

George Kenneth "Ken" Griffey Jr., born Nov. 21, 1969, Donora, PA.

"How strange is that," Al muttered?

"Very strange," I replied.  "Very strange indeed." 

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Now if only Stan was his father akin to Jim Carrey Being the father of black triplets in Me, Myself, and Irene...
Let's just say they are both are hall of famers , great hitters that didn't need any 'juice'. I love old school baseball players and not the types we've seen lately. Best sign at a ball park I ever saw was: 'Barry, what was wrong about just being great!'
Let's just say they are both are hall of famers , great hitters that didn't need any 'juice'. I love old school baseball players and not the types we've seen lately. Best sign at a ball park I ever saw was: 'Barry, what was wrong about just being great!'
Good job fishing this one out. R.
both were talented players beloved by fans and teammates.
What a weird and amazing coincidence. re the comparison, there's a couple of other factors. The great bulk of Musial's career was played before the colour ban was completely broken. That included three WW2 years where the ML level of competition was diminshed. I'd probably trust to whatever the Sabrematician have to say. But Musial's numbers need a fair bit of discounting. Also, with fewer teams in Musial's day, it was easier to win the WS.
I only wonder what Junior's numbers would have been like if he hadn't spent so much time on the DL? Growing up in Alberta, Canada, the Mariners were the adopted team (reluctantly I cheered for the Jays).
Thanks all!

I do agree that Musial's era was less challenging. I would love to know how Sandy Koufax would have fared as a modern day player (pretty well I suspect)

Thanks again !
I grew up a Cardinals fan and Stan was my idol (got to see him play live the last few years of his storied career) and later saw Griffey play in Seattle a few times. I knew about the irony of their birthplace... but no idea they shared the same birthday until reading this. Thanks for posting this.
Bizzaro sports facts... good stuff Roger.
That's an amazing coincidence. Even as a Cards fan, I'm not sure how you could rank The Man anywhere close to Griffey as a defensive player or however you're determining "throwing outfielder." Stan was a good fielder, but never known for his arm. Griffey won Gold Gloves and had a superior arm (not in Mays' class, but you'd be pretty foolish to challenge him).

With due respect to great players who lead their teams to World Series titles, you could've added Babe Ruth to Ernie Banks' 1958-59 Cub teams (the years Banks won the MVP) and those teams still wouldn't have won the pennant. Might have broken .500. Maybe.

Looking Baseball-Reference.com, I'm surprised to see that Griffey never lead the league in OPS, and only led in Slg% once. With his monster HR years, I was expecting otherwise. Musial led the NL in OPS seven times and led Slg% six times. "The Man" was aptly nicknamed. And I'd pick him over Griffey, too. Great post.

Sorry, Roger. I can talk baseball (and bore people) for hours.
Strange but true. In fact, when the younger Griffey first broke into the majors the pundits would write about how he hailed from the same hometown as Stan the Man.

And you do realize that, if your conclusion is based solely on championships, that you are inadvertently validating Lebron James' decision to flee Cleveland for South Beach?
Totally awesome coincidence. I never saw Musial play, so I really can't say who was better. I do know if I saw Griffey play in person, I'd time my bathroom breaks to avoid missing him hit.
Baseball lore is such great fun!
That is an amazing coincidence.

I only got to see Musial in the last couple years of his career. The one point I'd make in Griffey's favor is that Musial played part of his career in the segregated era, meaning the competition was watered down.
Gotta love baseball stats! Great piece [R]
Excellent bit of history. I also wish I could rate Gwool's comment.
Wow, that is an odd coincidence. It would be interesting to know if they had anything else besides baseball and birth dates in common.
Great bit of info.
Interesting piece, but I call it a draw. By the 'ring' argument, we detract from greats like Ernie Banks, etc. Also keep in mind, Griffey could have played for the Yankees, but refused as he had bad memories of his treatment as a player's son -- another rare occurrence -- so he went to a bad Cincinnati team (out of loyalty for positive memories as a player's son)...