Ken Griffey Jr. is all set to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this evening, unanimously or not, after a career spanning four calendar decades and three different franchises.
Well, in reality, besides a brief second-half stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2008, Griffey played for two teams, and had a profound impact on both.
“The real question is how there will possibly be enough room on Griffey’s bronze plaque in Cooperstown to list all of his accomplishments,” wrote ESPN senior writer Jim Caple in his column this morning about Griffey’s 24 greatest accomplishments.
Drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1987, Griffey made his MLB debut at 19-years-old in April of 1989, with fans dubbing him “The Kid.” This kid was no ordinary kid; he homered in his first at-bat in Seattle, one of his 630 career four-baggers, good for 6th all-time. He also wasn’t too shabby with the mitt, winning 10 Gold Gloves in his career, second only to Willie Mays among center-fielders.
“He had the sweetest swing, the biggest smile and the hat-on-backward thing,” said former teammate Jay Buhner. “His energy was infectious and contagious.”
It’s also worth noting that the younger Griffey played with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., in Seattle for a total of 51 games, becoming the first father-son duo to hit back-to-back homers in MLB history.
“And I don’t think it will ever happen again,” added Buhner, comparing this feat to the seemingly unbreakable record of 511 wins set by Cy Young.
Griffey left the Mariners in the winter of 2000, to return to his hometown of Cincinnati to play for the Reds. If Griffey hadn’t sustained three season-ending injuries in 2002, 2003 and 2004, this article could have been about the all-time home-run leader’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
Griffey fought through these injuries, however, and won Comeback Player of the Year in 2005. Although production declined in his tenure for the Reds, he kept climbing up the home-run charts, and after retiring as a Mariner in 2011, he sat in 6th place on the list.
Despite all of these incredible statistics, Griffey’s greatest legacy might be what he didn’t do. In an era marred by steroid accusations among some of the greatest home-run hitters, Griffey has never been accused of cheating.
For fans of a “clean” game, Griffey is a saint. After multiple season-ending injuries, the reasoning behind using performance-enhancing drugs could have had some merit for Griffey. Instead, he stayed clean, and worked harder than ever to return to form.
Most players accused of steroid use vehemently deny the allegations. Think of former MLB slugger Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.” Recently, star NFL quarterback Peyton Manning took a similar stance against HGH allegations.
Despite these vehement denials, any allegations of wrongdoing tend to lead to permanent reputation damage. Griffey has never been connected to steroids. For that reason, the backward-cap-wearing, always-smiling kid is this generation’s greatest home-run hitter.