Beyond Golf — 06 August 2016 by Jim Street
High School exploits led Junior to No. 24

Of all the single- and double-digit uniform numbers the Mariners had available at the time, Ken Griffey Jr. chose the one that meant the most to him.

“It wasn’t planned, but when I signed my rookie contract, one of the things I asked for was to be able to wear No. 24,” Griffey recalled Friday afternoon during a media session at Safeco Field. “I hit 24 home runs in high school and summer ball.”

His wish was granted and from then on, and from this day forward, no one in the Mariners organization has or ever will wear that number again. Not at the Major League level. And not at the Minor League level.

Almost two weeks after becoming the first Mariners player to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Junior takes center stage again Saturday evening as a full house (the house he built) will show its love for the best player in franchise history.

“I got to share my story with 50,000 people (in Cooperstown). I get to do it again tomorrow, it’s just that these 50,000 have seen me play up close for years,” he said. “So it’s a big deal for me. I don’t take it lightly and tomorrow is definitely one of those things that is special. It’s pretty neat that I get to enjoy it with the people who have seen me from a teenager to a 40-year-old.”

Junior is to Seattle what Willie Mays was to San Francisco, what Stan Musial was to St. Louis, what Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio — and so many others — were to New York, and what Ted Williams was to Boston. Junior was The Man in Seattle for 13 years of his Hall of Fame career.

Junior MagazineHe hit 417 of his 630 career home runs, drove in 1,216 of his 1,836 runs, won 10 Gold Gloves, made 13 All-Star appearances and won his only Most Valuable Player Award with No. 24 on the back of his Mariners’ jersey.

Fans all over the country saw that number often as he ran down well-hit baseballs, turning them from almost certain extra-base hits into electrifying outs.

Those moments are etched in memories now, just has his uniform number will forever be a huge part of the franchise’s history. It makes perfect sense that his number if the first one ever retired by the organization.

Griffey paused for several seconds on Friday when I asked him what it meant to have his number retired throughout the entire Mariners organization.

“It’s an unbelievable honor,” he said. “I know there are certain criteria that have to be met. You know, it’s overwhelming and humbling because of the guy my number is going up next to. It is the ultimate sign of respect. I don’t take it lightly that they are doing this.”

The official unveiling of Junior’s number occurs prior to Saturday night’s game against the Angels. It figures to be right next to No. 42 — Jackie Robinson’s number — retired by then-commissioner Bud Selig on April 15, 1997. It was the 50th anniversary of the color barrier being broken.

“It’s overwhelming and humbling because of the guy I’m going next to who basically sacrificed his life for guys to play,” Griffey said. “It’s a weird feeling because what he’s done to allow pretty much everyone to play this game and I’m going to be right next to him.

“If he didn’t do what he did,” Junior said of his fellow Hall of Famer, “maybe none of us would be out here playing. I really don’t have a total grasp of it. Do I think I’m worth it? Nah, just because of what he did and what I’ve done. But I am going to enjoy it.”

What’s in a number? Specifically Griffey’s No. 24:

The only number Junior Gfriffey wore with the M's

The only number Junior Gfriffey wore with the M’s


*
At age 24, he led American League in home runs (40) for first time.
*His first apartment in Seattle was numbered 1124.
*The address of his first house was 24606.
*He was married on Oct. 24.
*He and wife Melissa celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary this year.

Other Mariners who have worn No. 24:
1977 – Frank MacCormack
1979-80 – Rob Dressler
1981 – Dave Edler
1983 – Gene Nelson
1984-85-86– Harold Reynolds
1987-88 – Coach Phil Roof
Source: Kelly Munro, Mariners PR Department

Other famous athletes who wore No. 24
*Willie Mays
*Rickey Henderson
*Bill Bradley
*Kobe Bryant
*Moses Malone
*Jeff Gordon

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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