Ken Griffey Jr was elected to baseball’s HOF a couple weekends ago, garnering more votes than any player before him (this in his first year of eligibility, beating Tom Seaver’s previous record). Griffey was a transcendent player, immediately great the moment he stepped into the park, a 19 year-old rookie in Seattle in 1989, playing with his dad, all-star Ken Griffey, who in his heyday played with the Big Red Machine.
A five-tool player in the tradition of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente from two generations past, and Barry Bonds coming in just a few years prior. Griffey could hit, hit with power, throw, run and field – all exceptionally well.
Griffey’s fielding was the thing of legend, making difficult plays look routine, making the most impossible of plays possible. Among the greatest defensive outfielders I ever saw (in my mind… 1. Ichiro 2. Griffey, Jr. 3. Andruw Jones 4. Bonds 5. Tony Gwynn 6. Andre Dawson 7. Dwight Evans 8. Torii Hunter 9. Andy Van Slyke 10. Jim Edmonds).
Griffey possessed the prettiest swing I’d ever seen (my top five being 1. Griffey, Jr 2. Will Clark 3. Keith Hernandez 4. George Brett 5. Barry Bonds), and any time the Mariners were on TV, I’d make it a point to watch their games and especially watch every one of his at bats.
I have a 4-DVD box set of the Seattle Mariners greatest games, one of them being the 1995 American League Division Series Game 5. 1995 seems like yesterday, when Griffey willed his Mariners team to close the season on a 16-5 tear and meet the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. He would hit five home runs in that series, where the Mariners were down two games to none, before storming back to set up a final game 5.
“Ken Griffey Jr is fulfilling his destiny. He was born and raised to take center stage.”
That iconic game featured so many superstars at the beginning of their careers, at the twilight, and some the precursor to the next generation. Griffey was in his prime, a veteran at 25 years old, as well as “The Big Unit” Randy Johnson. The Mariners had at the time arguably the best hitter in baseball in Edgar Martinez. Shortstop Luis Sojo (their hero who won the division for the Mariners against the California Angels) would give way the following season to 20 year old “wunderkind” Alex Rodriguez, before he was A_Rod. For the Yankees, Don Mattingly was entering the end of his career, this series his first and last taste of the postseason. Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neal would welcome the Core Four the following year: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.
Griffey’s mad dash from first base on “The Double” by Martinez with two outs in the bottom of the eleventh was the stuff of legend, and probably the most iconic moment in Mariners history. We may never see the like of him again.
In fact, I think I’m going to watch it right now. Even though I know the ending, it still gets me like it first did the first time live on TV in 1995.
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