It’s been nearly a week since Ken Griffey Jr. retired… And I miss him so much. I don’t usually speak on sports issues here, though I love sports, but I had to make an exception here.
Ken Griffey Jr. has been my favorite baseball player for as long as I can remember. I live in Cincinnati, but I loved him before he ever came here. I have followed his career from the moment I was able to. I had his batting averages, hits, home runs, RBI, slugging percentages, etc. memorized for every year of his career. In 4th and 5th grade I wrote books about him, even sending one to him through his cousin, who happened to live up the street from me. Later that year, he had his cousin give me a copy of his autobiography for my birthday. Its a bit tattered now. I’ve read it over 100 times, and used to even sleep with it under my pillow. I have more than 40 baseball cards of him. I saw him play in Cincinnati about 50 times or so. When he was traded to the White Sox, we made a trip to Chicago specifically to go see him. We recently had a trip planned to see him in Cleveland this year, but that has been called off, for obvious reason.
He was drafted in 1987, on June 2. He made his big league debut on April 3, 1989. I was born in August of 1990. June 3 was the first day of my life that Griffey was not a professional baseball player, but rather a former one. I couldn’t sleep the night of the 2nd. I found myself up until 3 or so watching videos of him in the field, at the plate, with his dad, doing interviews. What a player…
He finished his career with 630 home runs, 1,836 RBI, 2781 hits, and a lifetime batting average of .284. He is pretty much a guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer. But the most remarkable thing about his career? He was never, ever, EVER associated with any steroids or Human Growth Hormones. Despite playing in the Steroid Era, where Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, A-Rod (the other big names of the era) playing on steroids, racking up home runs like never before seen in history… Yet there was Griffey, right there with them. Did you know that he had 56 home runs in ’98, without steroids? And in ’97 too, when he won MVP. Did you know he was on pace to break Maris’ record in ’94 before the strike? Again, no ‘roids. So what makes him so remarkable is the fact that he played with the guys on steroids, without them. It’s like the kid in school who aces every test because he cheats, and then the kid across the room does the same, but did it honestly. The first diminishes the accomplishment of the second in many cases. And this was true for much of Griffey’s career. But here at the end, looking back, we are amazed to see it. And his career now means that much more.
Overall, I think he was the best center-fielder to ever play the game. Yes, better than Joe D, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, etc. I am so grateful to have grown up, admiring him, watching him, mimicking him, and am so appreciative of the work that he put into his game, without cheating.