Cooperstown adds two

This past weekend two storied players of my youth were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, as many have noted, began their careers at opposite ends of the spectrum—Griffey was the first overall pick in the 1987 amateur draft and Piazza was the 1,390th pick in 1988—and ended their careers together in Cooperstown. That pretty much sums up right there why you don’t bet on baseball.

With apologies to Piazza, perhaps the greatest catcher of all time, this post will be about Ken Griffey Jr., the greatest player I ever saw.

Yup. No question about it. Of anyone who’s put on a major league uniform from 1989 to the present day, Ken Griffey Jr. was the best. He played his first 11 seasons on a team I hated, and he broke my heart in 1995, but sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap. Oh, that I could have seen the man in pinstripes. After all, there is only one thing more beautiful than a lefthanded hitter hitting an upper deck home run to right field in Yankee Stadium… Ken Griffey Jr. hitting an upper deck home run to right field in Yankee Stadium.

Nicknamed “The Natural,” “The Kid,” or simply “Junior,” it’s amazing to think that after 13 All-Star Game selections and 630 home runs (among a million other stats) you still think to yourself what could have been. When Griffey came up you were sure he’d hit a thousand home runs and win 20 Gold Gloves. Well, that didn’t happen, as like Mantle before him injuries limited his lifetime stats. Still, though, 630 home runs? And pretty much the only power hitter (if you need to call him that) of the Steriod Era not tinged by any steroid claims. (As far as I know the only drug Griffey ever used was that mysterious brain tonic provided to him by Mr. Burns on a classic episode of The Simpsons in which Griffey plays a ringer on the old man’s company softball team.)

Ken Griffey Jr. made his major league debut on April 3, 1989. Coincidentally that was the exact date I became a fan of this thing called sports. (The two events were unrelated; Griffey’s debut came the same day as the 1989 NCAA Tournament’s final game, the one that hooked me for life as a sports fan.) One might say Griffey and I grew up together. That day in ’89 Griffey was only 19 and could have been my older brother. Now at 46 he’s barely older than I am. How did that happen?

It’s said that those who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s idolizing Mickey Mantle would tell their dads he was the best there ever was. Nope, Dad would say, you never saw DiMaggio, you never saw the best. That’s how I’m going to feel someday when Franklin tells me about up-and-comer I’ve never heard of. I’ll smile a Dad-like smile and say mm-hmm, yup, but sorry, kid. You never saw the best. You never saw Griffey.

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About moc

My name is Mike O'Connell. I am 41 years old and live in Northern Virginia. I am a teacher, a musician, and an enthusiast of all things American.

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