In case you missed it, amid all the talk of ruined perfect games, one of baseballs greats retired yesterday. While his timing ended up being poor, Ken Griffey, Jr’s. numbers do not lie. 630 home runs, 1836 rbi’s, 1662 runs, .907 career OBPS, 13 all-star appearances, 9 gold glove awards and one league MVP. Griffey clearly put up hall of fame numbers in an era where many around him were resorting to performance enhancing drugs to get the job done, and Griffey was never accused of achieving his numbers any way but naturally. One can debate where he ranks among Mays, Cobb, Mantle and DiMaggio,but Griffey has clearly placed himself among the greats to ever roam center field. He made the game look as easy ans any player I have ever witnessed with his fluid athleticism and graceful, explosive swing. As great as his career was, I will always have that thought int he back of my head of how good could the numbers have been had he not gotten injured so often in the second half of his career.
The 1990’s clearly belonged to Griffey, Jr. Sure Barry Bonds did some impressive things, but when asked to name the best player of the decade, the answer is easily Griffey. From ’89 to ’99 Griffery, Jr. hit 398 home runs and he still had not turned 30 yet. Griffey, Jr. was then traded to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2000 season. He cited a desire to return home to play baseball and perhaps it was time to move on from Seattle. Griffey, Jr. hit 40 more home runs for the Reds and was again named to the all-star team. It appeared Junior would hit another 300 home runs and shatter Hank Aaron’s all-time record, but in 2001 Griffeywould spend an extended time on the disabled list. From ’01 through ’06 Junior would play in only 554 games out of a possible 972.
With the ever mounting injuries came disappointment from fans that Griffey was not the cog needed to get the Big Red Machine rolling again. With disappointment came ever intensifying media scrutiny. The media began to insinuate that Griffey did not care enough about the game of baseball and stories about him not taking good enough care of his body were commonplace. Junior fought back and alienated himself from many members of the media. The Kid had become the grumpy middle aged ball player. Suddenly the playful hat wearing backwards superstar was not serious enough or hard working enough to stay on top. Perhaps some of the criticisms were valid. Maybe you can fault Griffey, Jr. for not putting int he time to care for his body needed to stay healthy. Andhe certainly did not turn the Reds back around, but that had as much to do with the talent that surround Junior as anything else.
Griffey, Jr. hit only 232 home runs during the 2nd half of his career. Certainly an admirable total, but not as much as well all expected. Griffey could have made an assault on 800 home runs. What could have been is one thing that could stick with Griffey from now until we stop talking about baseball. Griffey, Jr. was also not on very many winning teams. Aside from some very good Mariner teams in the late ’90’s was never surrounded by talent that came anywhere near his. A fact that makes his own numbers more impressive, but also diminishes his career achievements in some ways. Griffey, Jr. will be a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Where do you rank him amount the all-time great center fielders?