“It was kinda cool – a career highlight. I don’t care if it is an exhibition game. To be able to run around the bases with USA across my chest and have ( Ken Griffey ) Junior and Brian Schneider waiting at home plate to slap high-fives. That was special.”
Larry Wayne Jones, Jr
On Wednesday afternoon Ken Griffey, Jr a/k/a The Kid, a/k/a Junior. Griffey b/k/a The Natural decided to hang up his spikes and wait for his call to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. That wait won’t be a long once his five-year grace period after retirement has passed.
I’m barely 31 years old and Junior had the best swing I’ve ever laid eyes. That same swing that would allow him to hit 630 home runs over the span of his 22 year career. The son of a longtime major league out fielder Ken Griffey Sr, the younger Griffey was bred to be a baseball player. At six-foot three and 220 odd pounds Griffey’s genetics and talent gave him a leg up on everyone else. He was baseball’s version of Kobe Bryant but with a personality to match his talent. As a young player the Mariners center fielder was criticized for not playing 100 % all of the time but as former teammate Harold Reynolds would say in his defense, “He’s so misunderstood…”
He was known for wearing his hat to the back way before TLC and Tony Romo, and even this slight gesture irked the old men who still to this day want baseball to remain the game of their youth and not of today’s youth. What many of those critical of Griffey failed to realize was the Griffey didn’t have to play hard, he was just better than everybody else on the field making his actions look easy. He was a five tool player. He was a staple on ESPN’s SportsCenter because of his hitting and his ability with the glove. Before he reached the age of 30 George Kenneth Griffey Jr was named one of the top baseball players of last century.
As he reached the age of 30 injuries would begin to plague Griffey, but when he was on the field he remained a threat. If he had remained healthy Barry Bond’s would have been chasing Junior instead of Hank Aaron. Ironically Griffey’s skills begin to erode like the players of yesteryear. As he got older his talent would begin to leave him in a natural manner. You see athletes don’t gain talent in their 30’s, they lose it. In an era of filled with false baseball gods Ken Griffey Jr. may be the last of the “clean” players in an era of nothing but dirt. Every baseball player from Canseco to Clemons left the game with a tarnished reputation and record book. In a world were the names of many baseball’s greats like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro became synonymous with steroid use, Ken Griffey Jr’s name was never uttered once. The irony of this is that his nagging injuries became the savior of his reputation. He was just a man and not a superman like Bonds and McGwire. Where they completed superhuman feats in their late 30’s, Griffey was forced to switch positions because he just couldn’t get it done anymore.
So after a few months of seeing the field as a back-up designated hitter with his original team, the Seattle Mariners, one of baseball’s last good guys called it quits after simply not being able to bat his own weight. Quitting while your ahead is not the same as just quitting. Sadly, Ken Griffey, Jr may have been baseball’s last great, black superstar. (Not named Jeter of course.) A young kid with his athletic skill set would not consider baseball his first sport in this day in age. It would be his third. baseball,l seeming to white at times, too expensive at others, and too rigid the rest baseball should take a look at itself and begin to make corrections to save it’s own future. The good white athletes don’t bother with the sport anymore either, they are off playing football and basketball too. (This is another blog for another time.)
Hopefully the Albert Pujols of the world won’t let Ken Griffey, Jr get stuck with being the Major League Baseball’s last good guy.