Ken Griffey Jr - The Appreciation PostThe Kid. Who is the first baseball player you think of after hearing that? That depends on when you grew up. Some may think you are referencing the late, former Expos and Mets Hall-of-Fame catcher, Gary Carter. Others may think you are referring to “Say Hey Kid.” That of course is another Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays. I guess people better start calling you “The Kid” if you want to end up in Cooperstown. If you grew up as a kid in the 90s there’s only one person who was known as “The Kid.” He had another nickname that people referred to him by. Junior. The sweetest swing in the history of the game. The swagger. The backwards hat. Yeah, that guy. Ken Griffey, Jr. is the son of former Reds outfielder Ken Griffey. Senior was a member of the great “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s. The elder Griffey played in the majors for 19 seasons, was a 3-time All-Star, has two World Series, and had over 2,000 hits over his career. That’s pretty solid. It’s safe to say that Junior had some good genes and grew up around one of the better teams in the history of the sport. Junior Griffey was a true five-tool baseball player at Moeller High School. The Seattle Mariners selected him as the #1 Overall Pick of the 1987 Amateur Baseball Draft. The M’s had never had a winning season, let alone make the playoffs, before Griffey came to the Emerald City. The Mariners invited Griffey to Spring Training with the big club in 1989. They wanted to get him experience performing against big leaguers but didn’t expect him to make the team as a 19-year-old. Junior had other ideas and hit .359, including a 15-game hitting streak during Cactus League play. “The Kid” arrived in the majors on Opening Day in 1989 and never looked back. He became one of baseball’s most popular players by the end of that season. He was an All-Star in his second season. The Mariners posted their first ever winning season in his third season. Junior was the MVP of the All-Star Game in his fourth season. In 1993, he surpassed 40 home runs in a season for the first time. He was chasing Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record in 1994 before the strike ended the season prematurely. Griffey’s star shined even brighter in 1995. That was despite missing half of the season after breaking his wrist while making a highlight catch in May of that season. Luckily for the Mariners, Griffey returned in mid-August to help the Mariners make a playoff push. Seattle was 13 games back in the American League West Division Standings in August. Somehow and someway, Seattle managed to end the 1995 season tied with the California Angels which forced a one-game playoff. The Mariners then beat the Angels to give Seattle its first AL West title and first playoff appearance in franchise history. Then it got even more exciting. The Mariners’ opponent in the American League Divisional Series was the New York Yankees, the winningest team in the history of baseball. Ken Griffey Sr. played for the Yankees in the early 80s and didn’t have the best experience playing in New York. Junior basically grew up hating the Yankees, so this series meant a little more to him. All he did was hit FIVE homeruns (an ALDS record) and drove in nine runs over the five-game series. In the deciding Game 5, Griffey scored the winning run from all the way from first base on Edgar Martinez’s double down the left-field line. In 1996, Griffey posted career highs with 49 home runs and 140 RBIs. He won the AL MVP in 1997 after posting new career highs with 56 home runs and 147 RBIs, leading the Mariners to their second ever AL West title. Junior pretty much duplicated his previous season’s production in 1998. The Mariners’ superstar center fielder was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team in 1999. In addition, he turned in another monster year with 48 home runs and 134 RBIs. There wasn’t a baseball player who was more talented and popular than Ken Griffey, Jr. in the 1990s. He was a young, up-and-coming superstar and the face of Major League Baseball. Junior was an All-Star each season during the 90s. He led the AL in home runs four times (1994, 1997, 1998, 1999). Griffey also won a record three home-run derbies (1994, 1997, 1998) and finished 2nd in two other seasons. Dude was a beast! Who didn’t want his baseball card, or better yet – his autograph? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk2KnkDbI0c
This guy WAS the Michael Jordan of baseball both on and off the field. Posters of Ken Griffey, Jr. were on practically every kid’s wall. Junior had his own video games with Nintendo. He was on magazine covers and had other endorsements. Griffey was also the first baseball player to have his own signature shoe (with Nike). He made appearances in multiple TV shows, cartoons, and commercials. He was a baseball superstar who helped bring the sport back to life after the strike. Junior was also a Seattle cult hero. Many people, including me, believe that Ken Griffey, Jr. saved baseball in Seattle. The Mariners were the MLB’s doormat since entering the league in 1977. Their most wins in a season pre- Griffey was 77 (out of 162). Seattle had some solid ballplayers and an All-Star here and there, but not any superstars. Low attendance was a problem but so was their multi-purpose stadium, The Kingdome. That stadium, home to both the Mariners and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks from 1977 until 1999, was owned by King County. It was an arena that could host any sport but was not ideal for any sport. The Kingdome didn’t have luxury boxes nor a good playing surface. There was a right field wall implemented for an out-of-town scoreboard. It was nicknamed “The Walla-Walla” after Walla Walla, Washington. The roof of the Kingdome was only 250 feet high which meant the ceiling and steel wiring were in play. By the mid-90s slabs of concrete started to fall from The Kingdome’s ceiling. Something had to be done. The team’s owners could not renovate nor make any significant improvements to the building that could improve the team’s financial state. The Mariners needed a new stadium – or they would need to move. Getting a new baseball stadium in Seattle was no small task. The team’s owners could not fund a new ballpark on their own. They needed taxpayers to help fund a new ballpark. These were the same taxpayers who were still paying off the Kingdome. The timing was even worse because the issue was going to a vote in 1995, a year after the Players’ Strike. People weren’t over the ’94 strike. And now they wanted taxpayers to help fund a new stadium? The stadium tax vote didn’t pass either. The owners threatened to move the team if they could not get a new stadium funded. What was the point? The Mariners weren’t even any good. They never won anything. Until 1995, that is. Winning cures everything, right? The Mariners front office knew that they had to do everything they could to put a winning team on the field to see how the city would respond. It was their only chance to save baseball in Seattle. They traded for pitchers Andy Benes and Tim Belcher. They added veterans in outfielder Vince Coleman and reliver Norm Charlton. Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, and Randy Johnson were All-Stars. Oh, and they had this Ken Griffey, Jr. guy too. The city of Seattle got behind the “Refuse to Lose” Mariners. Fans turned The Kingdome into a madhouse. Griffey led the Seattle Mariners to an improbable comeback in the standings to win their first division title. His performance in the ’95 playoffs saved baseball in Seattle and saved the Seattle Mariners franchise. The city and state politicians eventually figured out a way to help fund a new ballpark. In July of 1999, the Mariners opened Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park). The ballpark is also known as “The house that Griffey built.” Junior ended up leaving the ballclub after the 1999 season. He forced a trade to his hometown Cincinnati Reds to be closer to his family. His dad was the Reds’ new bench coach. Griffey had a good first season in Cincinnati, but the injury bug hit him hard starting in 2001. Junior suffered season-ending injuries in 2002, 2003, and 2004. He was in decline as a star and as a baseball player. He was finally healthy enough in 2005 when he was named NL Comeback Player of the year after finishing with 35 homers and 92 RBIs. In June 2007, “The Kid” returned to Seattle for the first time as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Griffey was worried about how would be received, but quickly found both the Mariners fans and organization welcomed him back with open arms. They knew that “The House That Griffey Built” nor the Mariners would have survived in Seattle without him. The Mariners honored him in pre-game ceremony and Junior did not disappoint on the field, including a 2-homer game during that series. Griffey was traded to the Chicago White Sox in late 2008 where he had one last taste of playoff baseball. Then, in 2009 he decided to return to Seattle and signed with the Mariners to end his career. He was brought in to be a part-time DH, mentor to the younger players, and to be a good clubhouse guy. He gave the fans in Seattle a few more thrills before deciding to retire early in the 2010 season. Speaking of those thrills, here are my favorite Ken Griffey, Jr. moments: #10: The Trendsetter - The Backwards Cap & wearing Jackie Robinson’s #42: When MLB decided to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier during the 1997 season, “The Kid” took it one step further. He wore Robinson’s #42 on Jackie Robinson day (April 15th). Soon after, other players did the same in following seasons. Now all players wear Robinson’s #42 on every Jackie Robinson day. Junior also made wearing a baseball cap backwards cool. How did that start? As a kid, Junior would wear Senior’s cap but it was too big. He would turn it around so it would fit and never stopped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J_KJiS8rfc #9: Ken Griffey, Jr. Certified Prankster: “The Kid” was also one helluva prankster. His teammates always had to be on high alert. Junior once convinced Alex Rodriguez that the Mariners stars were going to auction off their sperm to the highest bidder, a la thoroughbred horses. A-Rod was ready to participate but luckily Junior put a stop to the prank before it got too far. Griffey would pay off debts to his teammates – in pennies. His most legendary prank targeted manager Lou Piniella. The Mariners skipper won a steak dinner bet with Junior. How did Griffey pay off his bet? Take a look… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgGPCLKgaEY #8: King of the Kingdome: The Mariners were set to move into Safeco Field in July of 1999. Junior gave The Kingdome one final send off. Griffey hit a home run in hit final at-bat in The Kingdome. He also hit a home run in his first ever at-bat in The Kingdome ten years earlier. Junior's first and final swings at the old barn were home runs! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Bo2kDM7d4o https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU7oIqUQ56c #7: Junior hits the warehouse: Ken Griffey, Jr. won a record three Home Run Derbies during MLB’s All-Star festivities and was the runner-up in two other seasons. He didn’t win it in 1993 but managed to do something that no other player had done at the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uePJdB9Chow #6: The Griffey Commercials: There are many great Griffey commercials, but these are my favorite. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F_w8WTFlwk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0TY9E5xGwI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUxTntgDZVo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re9h8_qKE8I #5: Eight consecutive games with a home run! Junior tied a Major League record with home runs in EIGHT consecutive games from July 20-28, 1993. He become only the third player in MLB history to accomplish this feat! Griffey nearly broke the record the following game, but a long fly ball hit the center field wall and stayed in the park for a double. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z97H-EvCwOk #4: “The Arrival” – Griffey Jr. robs Jesse Barfield Junior stunned Yankees star Jesse Barfield after robbing a home run at Yankee Stadium in 1990. “The Kid” had arrived. Barfield was one of many victims of sensational home run saving catch by Ken Griffey, Jr. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn5ZcmFN1ds #3: #500 on Father’s Day: With Ken Griffey, Sr. in attendance in St. Louis, Junior belts career home run #500 – on Father’s Day! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug4gEWeaKLw&t=102s #2: Father and Son go back-to-back: The Mariners decided to acquire Ken Griffey, Sr. in late 1990. Senior and Junior then became the first father and son to play in the same outfield. Days later against the California Angels they become the first father and son to hit back-to-back home runs! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCk1UY5Afus #1: “The Winning Run” and the 1995 ALDS versus the Yankees: I’ve already talked about this at length. The 1995 ALDS may have been Junior’s pièce de résistance. I love that he hated the Yankees. I loved it even more that he crushed them in this series with those ALDS record five homers and this winning run. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cf4QYds5lFI Over a 22-year Major League Baseball career Junior accomplished the following: - 630 home runs (7th all-time) - 1,836 RBIs (16th all-time) - 13-time MLB All-Star - 10-time Gold Glove Winner - 7-time Silver Slugger - 1992 All-Star Game MVP - 1997 American League MVP - 4-time AL Home Run Leader - 3-time Home Run Derby Champ (record) - 2005 NL Comeback Player of the Year - Named to MLB’s All-Century Team in 1999 - One of 29 players in MLB history to appear in an ML game in four different decades - Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame - Saved baseball in Seattle Ken Griffey, Jr. is an all-time great and well deserving of his place in Cooperstown. There's no question about it. He is my favorite all-time player and THE reason why I ever became interested in baseball as a kid. The Seattle Mariners were the first team outside of Chicago that I ever rooted for. It was awesome for me to see Griffey don a White Sox uniform, even though it was towards the end of his career and years past his prime. Junior unfortunately never made it to a World Series but accomplished everything else in the game and more. At the same time, he’s also one of the greatest “what if” stories in baseball history. What if he never left the Mariners? How many homers would he have hit if he would have stayed healthy in the early 2000s? Would he had played on a championship team if he stayed healthy? We will never know. What we do know is that Ken Griffey, Jr. was a human highlight reel and one of the best to ever do it. Thank goodness for YouTube! Talk about endless entertainment! Most importantly… Thank you, Junior.
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