Ken Griffey, Jr………
As I’m going down the list of power hitters I grew up watching, I stopped at Griffey’s name. I looked back at each of their four careers and noticed a theme: they all hit a ton of home runs – a combined 2,584 to be exact. But there is one thing that separated Griffey from the rest of them and that’s the fact he never did steroids. Though he was never accused of doing steroids or proven to have been clean, there is no doubt in my mind he never juiced.
Griffey was more than just a power hitter. There were three aspects to Junior’s game that people related him with. The first was the symbolic way he played defense. With each time he dove or climbed the fence, his defensive prowess became one of the most iconic parts of his game. The second was the backwards cap. Kids, including myself, would turn their caps backwards like Griffey in hopes it would automatically make them a better hitter. But the third thing people thought of most importantly when his name was brought up was that sweet swing.
And boy was it a thing of beauty.
The upright stance, the smooth follow-through and the top-hand release, a technique I used when playing baseball, has led to many moonshots by Junior. He’d connect, drop the bat and then sprint around the bases. He was a kid out there playing a boy’s game, the way baseball was meant to be played and he did it during one of the darkest ages in baseball history.
630 homers is good for fifth all time and second on the list of players mentioned. He hit at least 30 homers in a season nine times from 1993 to 2007 and the only years he didn’t in that span were shortened due to injury or in seasons with less than 109 games played.
He slugged a career .538 and had a career OPS of .907. And though those numbers were slightly less than McGwire and Bonds, he did it while being one of the most athletic players in his era.
In 22 seasons, Griffey was elected to 13 All-Star games, won nine Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards and was the American League MVP in 1997. He was on the box of Wheaties, a regular feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated and even had his own video game in 1999 titled “Ken Griffey Jr’s Slugfest” for N64.
Griffey was on pace to shatter the great Henry Aaron’s home run record, a record now wrongfully held by Bonds. Bonds has been accused of juicing and with evidence, since he was signed by the Giants in 1993, the same season Griffey had his first +40-homer season. It wasn’t until Griffey made the move to the NL and had three straight seasons with knee ending injuries did his record-breaking pace halt.
He retired in Seattle, the place he started. After the 1999 season, Griffey took his talents to Cincinnati to be closer to family and raise his kids there. But the decline started as the injury big bit him hard. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox during the 2008 season after the Reds were looking to change their team’s complexion. Chicago declined his option and Griffey was a free agent. He then returned home in 2009 and supplied a solid bat for the Mariners.
But in the beginning of June of last season, when his role diminished from the designated hitter to a dusty bat at the end of the bench, Griffey retired from the game of baseball. The following day, I joined many fans, I’m sure, that turned their Mariners hat backwards and wore their Griffey t-shirt to tribute the greatest player in the last 25 years.
Behind him he left a legacy that will never be met. Never will we remember Griffey for playing in an era tainted by the likes of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. Instead, he will forever be remembered for his defensive magic, his backwards cap and sweet swing. Never again will the number 24 be worn in Seattle and never again will we see a greater player wear the same number.
So when I go through the list and get to Griffey’s name, the box under “cheater” will be left empty.