He had the sweetest swing. He had the backwards cap. He had the video games and Nike cleats. Ken Griffey, Jr. was every kid’s role model, including mine. Today, one of baseball’s finest hung up the spikes after 22 spectacular seasons.
Junior was a gift to the game. He played baseball the right way, the only way. Griffey finished his career with 630 home runs, fifth on the all-time home run list. He was a career .284 hitter and hell 219 hits short of 300. He would have easily hit 800 homers and reached a much higher plateau of hits if he hadn’t ruptured his hamstring three times that ended his 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons.
But let’s not look at the rain cloud of injuries that ruined probably the greatest player I’ve ever seen only behind Albert Pujols. Let’s celebrate a man who climbed the wall like a cat and swung the bat as smooth as silk.
When playing back yard baseball, I would often imitate that upright stance with the unique bat movement. He then loaded up, throwing his hips into the pitch. With his head down, he drove the bat through the ball.
He busted onto the scene in 1989. Drafted with the first overall pick in 1987, Griffey became an every day player in his rookie season of ’89. All throughout the 90’s, Griffey made himself into a house-hold name as a slugger and a gold glover. Griffey was a 13-time All Star, including 11-straight from 1990-2000. He was the American League MVP in 1997 when he led the league in homers (56) and RBIs (147) while batting .304.
Griffey led the league in homers four times and RBIs and runs once. He was a 10-time Gold Glover, a 7-time Silver Slugger, was a 3-time Home Run Derby champion, and was named to the Major League All Century Team, the last being a remarkable honor.
In 2000, Griffey was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. There he had one good season in 2000 and a solid year in 2001 until hamstring problems ended the next three years and basically hampered him for the rest of his career. In 2008, he was traded to the White Sox and played half a season there. In 2009, the Kid returned home to Seattle where he finished his career where he started.
In five years, Griffey will join hundreds of great players in Cooperstown. He and Randy Johnson will go in together as a pair of Mariners that truly changed the game of baseball.
The Kid was clean through an era of steroids. He played the game the way it was meant to be. Every kid turned their hat backwards and ate their Wheaties because of Junior.
Thank you, Ken Griffey, Jr. I flip my hat to you.