Here’s to You Kid
Growing up in the 90’s, I’ve been fortunate enough to see many exceptional ball players in action. Starting with future Hall of Famers, 8-time batting champion Tony Gwynn and the Iron Man, Cal Ripken. As well as possibly the last 350+ winner in 18-time Gold Glover, Greg Maddux. The top base stealer ever, Rickey Henderson. A shortstop who literally back-flipped his way to 15 All Star selections. I’ve seen the Bash Brothers, well, bash. I cheered on the Big Hurt, watched a chubby centerfielder bring 2 World Series titles to Minnesota, and experienced Joe Carter’s dramatic World Series home run. But, what easily stands out among all these players and amazing experiences is the man who revolutionized the sport, the man commonly known as Junior.
Ken Griffey Jr., catapulted onto the scene in 1989 as the teenage son of aging all star outfielder, Ken Griffey. Griffey Sr., himself, was no slouch, winning two World Series titles, and was named to three all star teams, but he was no Griffey Jr. Griffey Jr. would go on to hit 630 home runs , knock in 1,836 RBI’s, become a future hall of fame superstar, break numerous records, receive the biggest all star fan votes each season, win a plethora of awards, and go on to retire quietly and forgettably. How could a man of Griffey’s abilities and tenacity leave our brains so abruptly?
Griffey Jr. could do it all. He had the speed, the size, the power, the glove, and the arm. It was highly logical to think he had no weaknesses. During his rookie season, as a teenager, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, behind a forgettable season from closer Gregg Olson. In his sophomore season, he hit .300, knocked 22 homers, was awarded a Gold Glove, and was selected to his first All Star game; all before the age of 21. The Kid would go on to score a Gold Glove and an All Star selection in each season he played with the Mariners from 1990-1999.
In Griffey’s 13 total seasons in Seattle, he went on to hit over 400 homers, amass over 1,200 RBI’s, swipe over 160 bases, and held up a .292 batting average. Not only were his numbers absolutely sick, but he was changing the game. It may not be a parallel comparison that he was to baseball what Michael Jordan was to basketball, but how many baseball players had their own shoe before Griffey came into the league? Joe Jackson didn’t, that’s for sure.
At age 29, Griffey was already destined for Cooperstown. He was a national celebrity, appearing on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as well as the Simpsons. He was expected to break Hank Aaron’s home run record (755), bring a World Series to Seattle, find a cure for Cancer, but then he was traded to Cincinnati.
With the Reds, Griffey was never able to put up the same stats he did in the American League, as injuries plagued his career after turning 30. Unfortunately, Griffey could only muster up 210 home runs, 602 RBI, and a lackluster .270 batting average in 9 seasons in Cincinnati. There were sparse moments of greatness, but nowhere near what he was doing in his first 11 seasons in Seattle. Later, he spent some time with the White Sox and back to Seattle, but he never did what he did in his first stint.
He was one of the greatest I had ever seen and it was shocking to see how quietly he left us last season, barely receiving any media coverage aside from his sleeping stint. Griffey Jr. will be working with Seattle this season as a special consultant, but sadly won’t be on a roster for the first time since I was 7 years old.