The Fightins'
Jun
03
2010
There Goes The Son
Posted by at 8:23 pm ET 31 Comments

PLEASE NOTE: This post has very little to do with the Phillies, but as it’s an off day, and we all have our memories of this dude who just retired, I thought I’d share some thoughts from the Pacific Northwest.

June 2nd, 2010. Ken Griffey Jr has finally reached the sunset he’s been riding into for the last ten years. And wouldn’t you know it? After a career in which there was always something grabbing just a little more headline than him, his retirement from the game in which he was so loved was second-tier news, after umpire Jim Joyce blew (and later apologized for) a call that cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga his perfect game. Poor Junior.

The last time he passed through Citizens Bank Park, in June 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds, he was sitting on 599 homers. In the four game series against the Phillies, he had one hit, a double, in six at bats. No big milestone for Junior in South Philly — he got #600 the next series out in Florida.

Despite the fact it’s been over a decade since he was at the top of his game — he was at the top of the game — it’s hard to not be just a little nostalgic. Griffey is only 40 — his former teammate Jamie Moyer is seven years his senior and still takes the mound every five days for the Phillies — but his retirement has been long coming. Many fans, not least the popular blog ussmariner.org, were surprised the Mariners brought him back for the 2010 season. His return to Seattle last year was triumphant insofar as it brought fans back to the stadium the Mariners built for him, as the team struggled out of the basement they occupied the year before. He only hit .214, but he did collect 19 homeruns. When his teammates carried him off the field after the final game of the 2009 season, it seemed like the end of an era.

That era dragged into this year as Jack Zduriencik assembled what on paper looked like a drastically improved Mariners team. Big score Chone Figgins? He’s batting .218 with 47 strikeouts in 188 at-bats. Cliff Lee has been as good as expected — he’s 3-2 with a 2.91 ERA and 0.95 WHIP — but he’s only pitched in seven games after an injury, and no one expects him to be with the M’s by the trade deadline, let alone next year. Milton Bradley? Well, he’s definitely Milton Bradley. Ken Griffey Jr, meanwhile, watched his playing time diminish as, after 105 plate appearances, he’d amassed a .184 average with 0 homeruns and 7 RBIs. In the game against the Rays in which Bradley went bonkers after being pulled following a bases loaded strikeout, Griffey followed Bradley’s with his own strikeout, this one ending the inning. And of course there was the alleged clubhouse sleeping incident, which Griffey and manager Don Wakamatsu denied happened.

But with over 100 games left in the season, Mariners fans — baseball fans — can overlook a sour ending to a brilliant, if unfulfilled, career. There is no asterisk to be held next to Griffey’s name or his stats. His name has never been associated with any of the steroid nonsense, while his longtime teammate A-Rod and longtime pal Barry Bonds are the poster children of it. And his body’s conditioning is sort of a testament to that. He never cared enough to bulk up, and that he didn’t keep himself in top shape left him prone to the injuries that plagued the second half of his career.

You have to feel bad for The Kid. In 2000, he passed up big time free agent money to play for his hometown Cincinnati Reds, and in nine seasons there, he only came occasionally close to the bar he’d set for himself in the 90s. All his injuries cost him a bona fide run at Hank Aaron’s mark, and the Reds never came close to making the playoffs. After an unceremonious trade from the Reds, Griffey piggybacked into the White Sox’ 2008 postseason, where they were disposed of by the Rays on their way to the World Series.

He never got to play in any World Series, but for one magical postseason run, he saved baseball in Seattle and painted the portrait that he’ll always be remembered by. After the lockout cut the 1994 season — and his first run at 61 HR — short, fans were slow to warm back up to baseball. Griffey made one of his more spectacular highlight catches in May 1995, but in doing so broke his wrist and shortened his season. He came back in late summer to nail a walk-off HR off of Yankees closer John Wetteland, then finished the Yankees off in Game 5 of the ALDS when he slid across home with the defining moment in Mariners history, the result of Edgar Martinez’ game winning hit — The Double or The Slide, depending on who you’re a bigger fan of.

Needless to say, in spite of the so-called greatest designated hitter of all-time’s clutch hit, more Seattle fans remember The Slide. Junior was a wee more popular than Edgar, and than any other Seattle Mariner ever, and one could say, than anyone who’s ever played baseball. He’s the all time leading All Star vote getter, including 1996′s game at The Vet, where he got over 500,000 more votes than the next player.

His popularity was no accident, either. A thoroughbred right out the gate — he was the #1 overall draft pick in 1987 — Junior had a head start on what to expect thanks to his dad Ken Griffey Sr, a three time all star who made his mark with the Big Red Machine. At the end of his career, he joined his son in Seattle to become the first father-son team to play at the same time, the first to play on the same team, and the first to hit back-to-back homeruns (in 1991, against the California Angels).

630 homeruns. 1,836 RBI. 13 All Star games, 3 Homerun Derby championships (including the one that bounced off the warehouse at Camden Yards, still the only ball ever hit off that building). 10 Gold Gloves. 4 homerun crowns. 1 MVP. Junior’s numbers are by themselves enough to book his ticket to Cooperstown, but it’s his personality that he’ll ride there. On top of his power, speed and acrobatics, he always just seemed to be having fun. He loved baseball, and the fans loved him.

“Nice scrapbook, beelove. Did you make that when you were 13?” “Ummmm. Yes.”

The Nintendo games (he had four). The “Next Generation” poster with his dad. The appearances on The Simpsons and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (and Harry and the Hendersons). The Nike Air Griffey Max. The chocolate bar. The rap song with Seattle’s Kid Sensation (who was down with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s posse on Broadway). The covers of Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. The Upper Deck rookie card.

Like a lot of people my age, to me Ken Griffey Jr was the bridge between the innocence of childhood and unpleasantries of the real world after it. Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since this exciting 19 year old burst into the Majors. Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since I was a 12 year old throwing heat for our Little League Fucking Champions team in Tyrone, PA. I might have worked on developing a curve or a slider as I moved into junior high levels of baseball — if I hadn’t become so infatuated with playing centerfield thanks to some masher kid playing up in the corner of the country.

Thanks for the memories, Junior.

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  • Cole Handsome

    If I’m not mistaken, Junior nearly hit 600 in his last at bat of that series, but it was caught on the track.

  • http://www.thefightins.com meech.one

    STANDING OVATION.

    Long live The Kid.

  • Hermanater

    Well put beelove.

  • http://www.thefightins.com meech.one

    Here’s an incredible shot of Junior & Johnny Marz that beelove found over at Seattle PI:

  • Watrick

    And Jay Buhner, which reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld.

    The strike in ’94 was when I was in middle school. I started to reject basically everything my dad was into, but I kind of snuck in that ’95 series versus because I was such a Griffey fan. It took me until a friend convinced me that I should go to the Home Opener in 2000 that I got back into baseball. I always kind of kept an eye on baseball, but I was so upset to find out all that I missed with Griffey was his injuries and whatnot. Gammons today said that without the injuries, he could have imagined the Kid hitting 750-800 homers. I’ll think of him as one of the best power hitters ever, and I’m glad that I got to see him at least once, even if it wasn’t in his prime.

  • Jayson’s 5 o’clock shadow

    One of the few players I actually root for outside of Philly.

  • Jayson’s 5 o’clock shadow

    also, i believe Jr. had a walkoff as his last hit.

  • Morandini Turned 3

    Cole, you’re right about that. And what was so cool was how classy the Phillies fans were to Jr that day. He got a long ovation – lots of love and appreciation from a crowd that knew he would probably not be passing through Philly again.

  • http://www.philliespheverblog.blogspot.com Phillies Phever (a blog)

    Only opponent that was cheered on a consistent basis in Philly

  • http://www.twitter.com/underthebridge1 Walklett

    Sweetest swing in baseball, like poetry in motion.

  • Steve E.

    I went to a few Mariners games last year and when Ichiro was at bat the crowd was just all up and cheering loudly. Then when Griffey stepped up for the first time, the roar of the crowd was unbelievable! They really love the guy out here. If not for Griffey the Mariners would have moved to Tampa Bay in the 1990′s.

  • HereWeGoAgain

    Beelove, this was an awesome post! Hopefully he’ll stay involved, an attitude and love for the game like his is important to keep around! He can still be a great role model.

  • D. Whitmore

    love it

  • James Fayleez

    Didn’t Bananarama do a song about Ken Griffey Jr.?

  • Rich Dubee

    Sweet scrapbooks beelove (might be the only time i ever say that genuinely).

    And speaking of being genuine, that is what Griffey was. He was a genuine guy who loved baseball. It’s a damn shame Bonds has the numbers; a man who is the complete antithesis of a guy Ken Griffey, Jr.

  • John Matrix

    I was at one of those games in 08. Pat burrell hit a homer to score the only 2 runs of the game. Griff got a big ovation when he was up to bat.

  • http://www.inphillywetrust.blogspot.com joe wade (IPWT)

    my favorite baseball player ever… really sad to see him go.

    … on a related note, Ken Griffey Major League Baseball was the greatest basball game i’ve ever played

  • ThinkRed

    I’m not old enough to have seen Mays, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better CF than The Kid. All apologies to Sil Campusano.

  • steve

    Instead of hitting career #600 in front a sold out crowd at CBP; he did it the next day in Florida for an “announced” crowd of 16,000. Cue “The Price is Right” WOMP WOMP song.

  • Jason R.

    Speaking simply as a fan that has not yet lived a quarter of a century, the sweetest swing ever. Maybe old video doesn’t do anyone justice, but I can’t think of anyone ever that has a swing that sweet. That swing gets me hard every time.

  • Jason R.

    My favorite thing about him is that his career was cut short because he played TOO HARD!! Had he played the game at 80% he would have set records, but he played at 100% and his body couldn’t keep up with his heart. He’s the one (non-phillies) player I’ll tell my kids I was lucky enough to grow up watching.

  • http://www.twitter.com/swift5648 Swift

    He’s one of my all-time favorite ball players. I remember watching highlights of the sweetest swing in baseball as a young kid, and was just in complete and total awe of it. I had always hoped he’d get a ring, and have voted for him for the All-Star game every single year. I’m gonna miss the Kid, and always be glad I got to see him play in the ’96 All-Star game live at the Vet.

    First ballot, Hall of Fame. No doubt.

  • http://mauleofamerica.com beelove

    thanks guys. he really did have the sweetest swing in the game at his peak. (up yours, will clark.)

    by the way, that scrapbook is the real deal. i really did start making it when i was 13, and made it a point to collect every different baseball card from 1989 to 1992, when baseball cards jumped the shark (for me anyway). there are articles and clippings in there from all sorts of magazines, and when i went to college in fall of 94, the first two things i did there were teach myself email and the library’s microfilm system so i could find other griffey articles.

    wow. i think this is the first time i’ve ever admitted this in a public forum. i also like girls and beer.

  • http://mauleofamerica.com beelove

    btw, that pic of junior and johnny marz meech posted is a keeper. marz spent three seasons with the m’s in the late 90s and became good friends with junior and raul ibañez. there were some quotes from those guys and a-rod when he died a couple years ago, and raul cited him and jamie moyer as influences in his coming to philly: john finger, csnphilly.com

  • http://twitter.com/h_cliff_slocumb Heathcliff Slocumb

    @Swift – you can sure as hell bet I’ll be there with thousands of others when he’s inducted

  • Watrick

    I’ve only been to the HoF once, in the summer of 95, or maybe it was 96. I think I would appreciate it a lot more now, though. Anyway, the Phils and Mariners were playing the HoF game, and I had missed it by just a week or so. It is still something I so wish I could have seen-my favorite team, and two of my favorite players-The Kid and Edgar. Anyway, now that I started teaching, and will have time to get up to the HoF inductions, I think I might try to get up there for Griffey. That sounds like an awesome idea.

  • http://twitter.com/h_cliff_slocumb Heathcliff Slocumb

    I went for Ripken’s induction & it was awesome. I’ve been there three times and it never gets old.

    There’s a really good campground up there that’s a pretty cheap stay, and it’s close to one of the shuttle lots from where they bus people into the town on induction day. The name is Meadow Vale Camground. Dunno if camping is your thing, but I really enjoyed it there.

  • Watrick

    I’m going camping for the first time ever this weekend. I guess I’ll find out soon.

  • http://twitter.com/h_cliff_slocumb Heathcliff Slocumb

    Haha. Good luck with that. Watch out for bears and snakes and stuff.

  • Watrick

    It’s actually at a Jewish summer camp area. Friends of mine are getting married where they met. So, in a way, it will kind of be cheating, but shouldn’t be too much cheating. I thought I was going to be going for Friday night, too, but thankfully I get to relax a little before crazyness ensues Saturday into Sunday.

  • http://twitter.com/soulonice6 Kenny

    Great post, brother.

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