In the wake of the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr this week, you'll read numerous articles on the matters of his career numbers, from his 630 HRs to his 10 Gold Gloves, maybe even him being #2 all time in CF assists (maybe the most underrated stat he carries).
You'll read how a kid born in the same hometown as HOFer Stan Musial, who's All-Star Dad played for arguably the greatest lineup in National League history and once hit 8 HRs in 8 ABs in the Ohio HS playoffs was destined to become what he did and this should be remembered and talked about for years to come.
What I would like elonorate on is what George Kenneth Griffey Jr did or didn't do directly or indirectly to me.
I grew up in the late 80's early 90's, incase you were living under a rock at that time, you'll have to know that baseball was still king, albeit losing ground to the NFL. It had been 25 plus years since a player had won a triple crown, the Pirates were still relavant and field turf was a futuristic fantasy. Not to take anything away from the players of the late 80's but baseball had been somewhat converted from the power stroking, homerun hitting game it was to more of a hit and run Japanese style of ball. It wasn't uncommon to lead the league with 35 HRs.
Then in 1989, the Seattle Mariners made Cincinnati Arch Bishop Moeller grad and son of one of "The Big Red Machine's" best players, thei number 1 pick in the amatuer draft. The excitement caused by this kid was like nothing I had ever seen. Ad many of you recall, we did everything we could, cut grass, wash cars, sell your bike to buy as many Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck rookies as possible. They were the best thing since sliced bread and on the front a 19 yr old kid, wearing a gold chain, a hat 2 sizes too big and a sincere smile. On the back...NO professional stats. Even with his pedigree and skill set, how did we know he was going to be this good?
As his career progressed and we saw what he could do, he became kind of a folk hero, even in opponents cities. I recall being overcome with excitement when I found out my Dad was taking us to a Cleveland Indians game to see him. I didn't really care for the Indians...or the Mariners for that matter, but I sure did care a out Griffey. He didn't hit a HR that day...instead he awed me with 2 doubles and OF play gave him the appearance he was cheating. I recall my Dad talking the whole drive home about his first step. How it was always right on.
I noticed more his swing. The Swing. Before I saw Griffey, I had always thought Will Clark 1B for San Fran had the sweetest swing ever...that was before my trip to Cleveland.
Upon return, all I wanted was a pair of "Griffeys". I'm not sure the real name of these shoes, but Nike put his face on em...and that's what I wanted.
My associated partner (the other Fat guy) mentioned he had Griffey's "Next Generation" poster...as did I...and 3 out of 4 of my buddies on my block. None of us were Mariners fans. Griff took this stage gracefully. Never a harsh word toward an ump, a fan or the media. I'm going to make a comparison (hold off on the "how many rings he got?" comments), but Griff was to baseball as Michael Jordan was to the NBA. Everybody in my age group who gave one iota about baseball followed him. Everybody.
Through my High School years, I watched Griffey go from the Kid...to The Man. His numbers and level of play were out of control during that generation of baseball. I mean 48+ HRs, 130+ RBIs, and .290 avg 5 out of 6 years(the 6th was injury plagued) Who does that? Mantle came close, DiMaggio not even close, Hammerin Hank? Nope. Only Babe Ruth can claim those numbers...and we all know who the better fielder was.
...and as I've blogged about before...my team,the Cincinnati Reds went out and traded for this Ruthian figure, in a High School seniors body for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko and some others. This...just may have been the most excitement I've experianced in my life up to that point. The chance to watch this guy play for MY team? To break Aaron's record wearing a Reds uniform?
Well people, I'm not going to dwell on what couldve happened. We all know what did. The greatest player of my generation kept getting hurt. It affected his cards values, it affected his shoe contracts and poster deals, but it didn't affect how I felt about him. He was the best, CF I've ever seen play. Even in Cincy, often injured I saw him do wonderous things. If you're bored one day, look at Griffs Cincinnati stats and put them in a 162 game a season context...the man didn't really miss a beat.
So with this Ken Griffey Jr, a superstar that at times was standoffish and invredibly senstitive to media criticism; to a man who during the "steroid era" never had his name linked to performance enhancing drugs, which was a rarity among his contemporaries such as Barry, Sammy and Big Mac; to a man who while warming up in the batters circle would shoot a smile to kid wearing his jersey without a second thought; I want to say thank you. Thank you for playing the way you did, thank you for carrying yourself the way you did, thank you for that 1995 ALCS, thank you for playing baseball...but most of all...thank you for that 1989 Upper Deck.