When Ken Griffey Jr. made it to the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners at the age of 19, he was affectionately called “The Kid.” It seems he never outgrew that moniker, even when he turned 40 last November.
In what is regarded as a brilliant and first-ballot Hall of Fame career, Griffey called it quits recently after batting .184 with no home runs and seven runs batted in for his original team. These numbers are merely a reflection of an aging player, which happens to everyone if they hang around long enough.
Griffey said he didn’t want to be a distraction, and that playing infrequently made it nearly impossible for him to be productive.
Though Griffey played in the Steroid Era, he has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, nor is he likely.
This makes his career numbers: 630 home runs, 1,836 RBIs, .284 batting average, even that much more impressive, and any comparision to Willie Mays, arguably the best center fielder of all-time, seem valid.
Griffey was voted Player of the 1990s, and has few equals, past or present. Twice he surpassed 50 homers, with a best of 56 twice, and five times clouted 40 or more, while from 1991 through 1993, drove in 100 or more runs, and from 1996 through 2000, achieving the same trick.
Griffey signed a free agent contract with Cincinnati after the 1999 season, and hoped to bring good times and a World Series title to the Reds, but it wasn’t to be.
That opportunity was more likely to happen with the Mariners, who also had shortstop Alex Rodriguez, right fielder Jay Buhner, designated hitter Edgar Martinez, and pitcher Randy Johnson.
With that group and Manager Lou Piniella working his magic, the Mariners defeated the New York Yankees in a classic five-game American League Divisional Series in 1995, only to lose to the Cleveland Indians in the AL Championship Series.
Two years later, the Mariners lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the opening round, as Griffey batted a paltry .133 with two RBIs.
In that first round against the Yanks, Griffey put on a one-man show, socking five home runs, with seven RBIs, and nine runs scored. Griffey’s mad dash home with the game-winning run in Game 5 at the Kingdome will live forever.
Griffey played defense without giving much thought to his body. It was routine for him to crash into walls, even though padded, can still cause injury. Excluding this season, Grifffey, a 10-time Gold Glover, failed to play in 100 games five times.
Griffey was a 13-time All-Star, a seven-time Silver Slugger award winner, and could do anything and everything on a baseball diamond.
Forget the raw power in his bat, or the terrific throwing arm, he ran the bases with Lou Brock’s speed, and Jackie Robinson’s daring. Griffey was a gazelle in cleats, swiping 184 bases, with a best of 24 in 1999, but could turn a single into a double at the drop of a hat.
In a 22-year career, he finished with 524 doubles, including a personal-high 42 in his third full season in 1991.
How should we remember Griffey? When I think of him, I’ll say that he was honest with the fans and himself, and that he gave everything he had. Now what’s better than that?
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.