Ken Griffey Jr. is going to be a Hall of Famer. But that can’t be true…it just can’t.
As a now 29-year-old married man, with a house and a dog, I just can’t get my head around the fact that he is going into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is for old people. Tom Seaver is a Hall of Famer. Rollie Fingers is a Hall of Famer. Yastrzemski, Stargell and Killebrew are Hall of Famers. Not my Griffey.
Griffey is the guy I started to idolize in the first grade. The kid with the perfect swing, long strides and a body that was just meant to wear a baseball uniform.But Griffey will become a Hall of Famer on Sunday.
The best player I ever saw, will become a Hall of Famer on Sunday.
Ken Griffey Jr. dazzled with his play. He hawked down baseballs that were home runs if any other human was in the outfield. Hitters became dejected when they saw number 24 glide to the fence, leap, stick one foot into the wall with his right arm extended, take back the home run and jog back towards the field with a smile and some luggage. That luggage was a baseball and almost always a teammate jumping on his back, in near disbelief as to what he had just witnessed.
He also had a swing that went seemingly went unaltered after its collision with the ball. That effortless swing blasted baseballs over the light blue, right-field fence at the King Dome on what seemed like a nightly basis. That swing gave us 630 home runs, clean home runs.
And then there was that smile, that beaming smile under the backwards hat with the northwest green brim that was on full display during a Home Run Derby for the ages in Baltimore. Griffey famously bounced a ball off of the warehouse that stands in right field on Eutaw Street that night, shocking the “Kid” himself. Griffey didn’t win that day, Juan Gonzalez did, but all I can remember from the summer night in 1993 is a young man that went by “Junior” owning the night.
Even though Griffey ended up with the highest percentage of votes to ever be elected to the Hall of Fame, has left many feeling a bit cheated. Not because he cheated, but because it was cut a bit short.
In his last ten professional seasons, Griffey only played in 130 games or more twice. Those were during his age 37 and age 38 seasons, when he was a much different player and not even a full-time starter. Before the injuries it had seemed to be a foregone conclusion that HE would be the one to break Aaaron’s record, not an overinflated Barry Bonds. But don’t feel cheated, he gave us some of the best baseball we ever saw.
From 1993-2000 (aside from an injury shortened season in 1995), Griffey dominated the game. He averaged over 47 home runs per year, was an all-star in each season and won six gold gloves. He made baseball, a leisurely game, the most exciting sport to watch for many. Young and old. Black and white.
He also gave young kids hope, that a normal looking human being, not one with 40″ biceps, could play baseball at the highest level. We walked around with our hats on backwards and often swung for the fences. If we ever got a hold of one, we would try to copy Griffey’s patented skip and stare as we watched the ball fly over a chain-linked fence, pond or sidewalk.
In the Summer of ’98 Griffey hung tough with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they falsely attacked the single-season home run record and Maris’ “61”. The newspapers always kept Griffey on the top of the sports page, like they knew his pursuit was pure, as he fell behind the two imposters. Griffey fatigued as the year went on while the bionic bastards tore up the record book. Looking back, we all kind of feel cheated about that too.
But when reflecting on Griffey’s career, there is no reason to think about what could have been. What was on the field was nothing short of beautiful. Griffey played our National Pastime in a manner in which only a few others ever have. Griffey was exciting, extraordinarily talented, and on Sunday, he will be a Hall of Famer, enshrined in front of tens of thousands of people in a small New York town.
I guess the Hall of Fame isn’t just for old people anymore.