The Kid, The Son, The Natural, The Legend: Ken Griffey Jr. Retires

“They’re gonna wave him in! They throw to the plate will be….. LATE! The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship!”

The day Ken Griffey Jr. cried for the first time his legacy was cemented and not simply because he was in the land of the living. He and Hall of Fame baseball legend Stan Musial were born in the same city (Donora, PA), the same day (11/21), 50 years apart. That their names are synonymous transcends eras of fans, athletes and a soul for the game transferred from his Father’s love for his profession to the baseball diamonds in a young Griffey’s eyes.

That was just the beginning. 630 home runs and infinite smiles later, Junior retires from baseball the same day he was the number one pick in the draft 23 years earlier. For the game, it’s definitely apropos he retired as a member of the Seattle Mariners for he saved baseball in the city and because of his popularity, Junior had a lot to do with the building of Safeco Field.

Life was so different in 1989. It was a tense year for change. There was Tienanmen Square, the introduction of Sega Genesis and the Exxon Valdez oil spill (irony). Rain Man won the Oscar for best picture. David Dinkins became the first Black mayor of New York City and Douglas Wilder the nation’s first Black governor.  Public Enemy dropped Fight the Power. To put the year in further perspective, 1989 was the year current pro athletes Michael Beasley and Freddy Adu were born and also the year boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, Black Panther Huey P. Newton and actress Lucille Ball all left us.

We needed a smile…

At 19, Ken Griffey Jr. stepped into a major league batter’s box with the highest of expectations and hit a double in Oakland off ace Dave Stewart. He followed with a home run his first at bat in the Kingdome and Seattle fans were sold on his youthful expressions, talent and passion sui generis. The world got a supreme look at baseball’s future and before the injuries he was as good as any athlete in any sport we have ever seen.

It began with his Pop.

Ken Griffey Sr. was an outfielder for those great Big Red Machine teams of the 70’s and Junior was in the club house when the Reds won the World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Their relationship was special and it was never more evident than when they both played with the Mariners in 1990 and 1991. The Griffeys became the first Father and son to become teammates and also the first to hit back to back home runs in Angels Stadium on September 14, 1990.

Earlier in the initial game as teammates, Junior stated his best moment was when his Pop threw out Bo Jackson at second from left field…Harold Reynolds applied the one hop tag and the lightening quick Jackson was out by four steps and left shocked.

He hit his 500th round tripper on Father’s Day and with the landmark homer he tied his Pop in hits with 2,143.

What a Father’s Day gift that was…

His 600th was smashed with his Dad and family in the stands. The Griffeys are a soul model example of a family story every kid should know regardless of race.

Because we are so close in age, his performance resonated personally in a way other superstar athletes could not. I was coaching at the 13-15 level in baseball and most of my kids…even if they batted right…would turn their hats around and try to hit from the left side in emulation of The Kid. They had the stance down…the confidence…the look to left field before the windup…the bat movement high behind their collective helmets. It gave me a chance to teach and my teams were some of the best all around in the state. They played with vigor and had a zest for the game leaving some coaches intimidated.

I let them play with fun in their soul and just like with Griffey some thought it was an exercise in disrespect. Nothing could be further from the truth for Junior, like a buddy of mine says, was the first baseball superstar of the Hip Hop generation and played with a natural flair arguably never before seen.

The game was so easy to Ken Griffey Jr.

Think about it. The day Junior retires, there was a near perfect game pitched by Armando Galarraga. During, there was a catch in the ninth reminiscent of famous robberies by Willie Mays and Griffey. On where the ball seemingly fell from the heavens and into Austin Jackson’s glove. I wonder if Jackson had any idea his amazing catch would be lock step with history…

Unfortunately, we live in a cynical world and pundits will associate Junior’s career with an air of underachievement for whatever reason to suit their definition of journalism. They’ll scream he didn’t play in or win a World Series, and also criticize Griffey Jr. for not working on his body as much as they thought he should.

Remember something, his body is his and his injuries were not a byproduct of partying too hard or running the streets. Ken Griffey Jr. is a great family man who relished every moment with his kids just as his Pop did with him. His injuries were a result of freak plays. Rounding third, there’s a chance anyone’s knee could pop or running after a ball he had to have, there’s a chance of suffering a wrist injury hitting the wall.

He came back and while he was never the same player, he was great enough to keep smiling and finish what he started ala Chris Webber and Grant Hill.

He played hard, won hard, lost hard and smiled hard.

His is also a story of perseverance, and labeling his career as nothing but top level is diminishing a chance to place his career in proper perspective with our youth in mind.

There will forever be comparisons to Barry Bonds, just as Willie Mays is compared to every nuance of Hank Aaron, and that is fine as long as the right connections are made.

Bobby Bonds and Ken Griffey Sr. had as much a hand in history as their more famous offspring.

Before Barry’s power explosion, Griffey was the player we all thought would smash Hank Aaron’s mark. It was great to see Junior battle Mark McGwire in 1997 when he hit 56 and again the next year when he rocked the same power number. We thought at least he would catch Willie’s 660 but Bonds got there first and ultimately eclipsed Hammerin’ Hank.

The specter of steroids will shadow the legacy of Barry Bonds but not so with Ken Griffey Jr.

It’s no coincidence Bonds and Griffey Jr. became the game’s best. It’s a testament to the success, failure, wisdom, resolve and commitment each Dad shared with his prodigal son.

Each played for his Dad’s former team where it appears the game latched onto sons on a collision course with the pinnacle of baseball history.

Junior was so close to his Dad, so why not take a chance to play in Cincinnati where his mind and soul were burned with definitive baseball glory?

The fans of Cincy deserved an opportunity to see his talent come to fruition. They watched him grow from a child into a once in a generation talent and despite 3 maybe 4 lean years in terms of production, the city will cherish Ken Griffey Jr. nevertheless.

The fans of Seattle wanted one more shot of cheer, so for 24, it was back to the great northwest…

Many players do not get the opportunity to go home again and as the video shows, Griffey is beloved in Seattle. He blazed memories to generations of fans because he’s one of the greatest on and off the field.

Remember the smile and subsequent step out of the batter’s box when he hit the warehouse during home run derby in Camden Yards?

Remember the crowd’s response?

It wasn’t merely his offense that made us look. He was an athlete revolutionizing an athletic position, is one of the best center fielders of all time (thanks Matthew Whitener of Cheap.Seats.Please) and will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Junior won 10 Gold Gloves…one for each year of the ’90’s. He had an above average arm and a Seattle glove Gary Payton could envy. He simply made the spectacular look routine.

One of the greats is gone and the pages of time are advanced once again.

Slow down your thoughts…as if you were in his cleats…chasing down a ball…like only he could…and remember his love of the game simply for what it was…

Just a great time with Dad.

1989 Sea 127 455 61 120 23 0 16 61 44 83 16 7 .264 .329 .420 .749
1990 Sea 155 597 91 179 28 7 22 80 63 81 16 11 .300 .366 .481 .847
1991 Sea 154 548 76 179 42 1 22 100 71 82 18 6 .327 .399 .527 .926
1992 Sea 142 565 83 174 39 4 27 103 44 67 10 5 .308 .361 .535 .896
1993 Sea 156 582 113 180 38 3 45 109 96 91 17 9 .309 .408 .617 1.025
1994 Sea 111 433 94 140 24 4 40 90 56 73 11 3 .323 .402 .674 1.076
1995 Sea 72 260 52 67 7 0 17 42 52 53 4 2 .258 .379 .481 .860
1996 Sea 140 545 125 165 26 2 49 140 78 104 16 1 .303 .392 .628 1.020
1997 Sea 157 608 125 185 34 3 56 147 76 121 15 4 .304 .382 .646 1.028
1998 Sea 161 633 120 180 33 3 56 146 76 121 20 5 .284 .365 .611 .976
1999 Sea 160 606 123 173 26 3 48 134 91 108 24 7 .285 .384 .576 .960
2000 Cin 145 520 100 141 22 3 40 118 94 117 6 4 .271 .387 .556 .943
2001 Cin 111 364 57 104 20 2 22 65 44 72 2 0 .286 .365 .533 .898
2002 Cin 70 197 17 52 8 0 8 23 28 39 1 2 .264 .358 .426 .784
2003 Cin 53 166 34 41 12 1 13 26 27 44 1 0 .247 .370 .566 .936
2004 Cin 83 300 49 76 18 0 20 60 44 67 1 0 .253 .351 .513 .864
2005 Cin 128 491 85 148 30 0 35 92 54 93 0 1 .301 .369 .576 .945
2006 Cin 109 428 62 108 19 0 27 72 39 78 0 0 .252 .316 .486 .802
2007 Cin 144 528 78 146 24 1 30 93 85 99 6 1 .277 .372 .496 .868
2008 CWS 41 131 16 34 10 0 3 18 17 25 0 0 .260 .347 .405 .752
2008 Cin 102 359 51 88 20 1 15 53 61 64 0 1 .245 .355 .432 .787
2008 143 490 67 122 30 1 18 71 78 89 0 1 .249 .353 .424 .777
2009 Sea 117 387 44 83 19 0 19 57 63 80 0 0 .214 .324 .411 .735
2010 Sea 33 98 6 18 2 0 0 7 9 17 0 0 .184 .250 .204 .454
Total 2671 9801 1662 2781 524 38 630 1836 1312 1779 184 69 .284 .370 .538 .908

He’s even got a tribute song…

14 Responses to “The Kid, The Son, The Natural, The Legend: Ken Griffey Jr. Retires”

  1. TalentedInk says:

    Wow…impressive article.

  2. AXG says:

    Ken Griffey Jr. is and always will be one of the BEST to ever play the game. What he was able to do transcended the sport…he is a living legend.

  3. Big Man says:

    Man, this was very well written. Just wanted to give you props on that.

  4. Mizzo says:

    Thanks fam. It’s my responsibility to do Junior a solid.

  5. I’m glad we got the chance to have him in Chicago if only for a small period of time. Great article.

  6. michelle says:

    Nice piece Miz. Griffey had a great career. He and his smile will be missed.

  7. Temple3 says:

    The number of posts on this thread says a lot. When has a guy with this degree of career success retired to so little fan fare. It would have been unbelievable to me back in 1995 that his career would have ended as it has. I can’t recall a better start out of the gate for anyone in any sport. Tremendous all-around player.

    And, his father was an excellent all-around player as well. While I remember Griffey, Sr. as a member of the Big Red Machine, I always appreciated the class and professionalism he brought to the Yankees as they began their resurrection from the Public Urination Haze of Don Mattingly and others.

    Griffey, Sr. was no slouch and he raised a diamond for the diamond.

  8. […] Ken Griffey Jr. got a hit in his first at bat. […]

  9. Jeff says:

    Excellent post. Griffey was the greatest player of our generation, including today’s stars. I commend your article for focusing on the amazing talent that Junior had and the fact that he laid it all on line. Not many star players would crash into the wall like Griffey did when he broke his wrist.

    I consider it a travesty that some people focus on the negative and do not give this man his rightful due. Jr. is a link to the past purity of baseball. The ultimate baseball player and the best 5-tool player I have ever seen. Thanks Kid for being true to the game, a classy player and gentleman.

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  12. Michelle says:

    Still a great read!!