Farewell, Junior Griffey
Ken Griffey Jr. retires as a Seattle Mariner and for most baseball fans, he will always be a Seattle Mariner. For me, he will always be a Cincinnati Red. If there is any trait I have gained from my father above all else (well, except for my “butt-chin”), then it is my love for the Cincinnati Reds. During my lifetime I have been able to see them win a World Series, but that’s not the highlight of my experience. That would be February 10, 2000-the day the greatest baseball player of my lifetime officially became a Red.
My excitement at the time seems a little silly now, but this was a huge deal. Think about the excitement Lebron James will bring to a fan base this summer (please be NY), and you have the idea. There was no question who the greatest player alive was at the time. None. It’s easy to forget this, but consider Griffey’s stats during the 90’s: 10 straight Gold Gloves, 382 home runs, 10 straight All-star appearances, and the 1997 American League MVP. He finished in the top 5 in MVP voting four other times. He was named to Major League Baseball’s All Century Team before he was 30 years old. He was 113 home runs ahead of Hank Aaron’s home run pace (and this was with only 72 games played in 1995). Griffey was going to shatter every important record. All of them. Or so we thought.
Griffey’s career began to take a tragic turn once he came to the Reds. Much of his time with Cincinnati was lost to injury. From 2000-2007, Junior only played more than 140 games twice (2000 & 2007). He would only make three All-Star teams as a Red and his 2007 appearance was more ceremonial than anything else. It quickly became apparent that injuries were going to derail what should have been the greatest baseball career of all time.
As I’ve grown older, I become less and less invested in professional athletes. The “steroid era” of baseball all but ruined that sport for me, but I still have a soft spot for Junior. It may be naive, but I would STILL bet a large amount of money that Junior never cheated. My hatred of Barry Bonds is only intensified because he get much of the spotlight that Griffey deserved. McGwire and Sosa were frauds. If anyone was going to break those records it should have been Junior. It’s sad to think that Griffey Jr. now has to retire with so little fanfare and with many younger fans knowing him only as the old guy who slept in the locker room. But at least to me, Ken Griffey Jr. will always be the greatest baseball player I ever had the joy to watch. Grand-kids be ready for the stories.
[Stats via Baseball Reference]