(Editor’s note: This article was first published by MLB.com in 2010.)
SEATTLE – There isn’t a statue of him near any of the gates leading into Safeco Field, but anyone that knows anything about the Mariners understands that a bronze figure of Ken Griffey Jr. would be a worthy tribute.
From the day in 1987 that Griffey wrote his name on a professional baseball contract for the first time, he has been synonymous with the Mariners franchise. Not even a 10-year hiatus in Cincinnati and Chicago took away what “The Kid” meant to Seattle baseball.
His second stint with the organization that selected him first overall in the First-year Player Draft, ended in June 2010 when Griffey announced his retirement, nearly two months into his 22nd Major League season.
Now, almost most six years later, Junior is on the verge of being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The only question is how many votes he’ll receive from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) electorate.
The voting process that started in mid-November ends on Dec. 24 and Junior is a first-ballot shoo-in, undoubtedly garnering at least 90 percent of the votes and perhaps challenge Tom Seaver’s record of 98.84 percent (425 of 430 votes) in 1992.
Other candidates on the ballot for the HOF Class of 2016 are: Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker and Randy Winn.
Voters can select as many as 10 candidates and the results will be announced on Jan. 6, 2016. Three Golferswest.com scribes who collectively covered MLB for more than 90 years before their respective retirements are among the 500-plus eligible voters.
And all three covered both of Griffey’s stints with the Mariners. Junior will become the first inductee to have a Mariners cap on his head – but probably not turned backwards. It was quite a journey for the now 46-year-old who was born on the same date and place – Nov. 21 in Donora, PA. — as Hall of Famer Stan Musial.
Griffey needed fewer than two full seasons in the Minor Leagues to reach The Show, arriving with a huge smile, smooth swing and a Gold Glove on his right hand.
During his first stint with the Mariners, from 1989 through ’99, he was regarded by many as the best all-around player in the Majors. He was truly a five-tool player.
In his first 11 seasons with the organization, Griffey accumulated 1,752 hits, hit 398 home runs, drove in 1,152 runs, stole 167 bases, led the American League in home runs four times and was selected as the leagues’ Most Valuable Player in ’97 after hitting 56 home runs, with 147 RBIs and a .304 batting average.
One of the most memorable moments of Griffey’s first stint with the Mariners came during the 1995 AL Division Series against the Yankees.
After losing the first two games of the best-of-five series, the Mariners were on the verge of elimination, but came back to win the next two games, setting up a decisive fifth game. In the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 5, Griffey stood on first base representing the tying run when Edgar Martinez laced a double into left field.
Griffey sped around the Kingdome bases and slid across the plate with the series-ending run. It was the signature moment in franchise history.
That series, more than anything, paved the way for an outdoor stadium with a retractable roof to be built and midway through the 1999 season, Safeco Field “The House that Griffey Built” made its debut.
Griffey played the remainder of that season in Seattle, but with his wife and two children living in Orlando, Junior decided he wanted to be closer to them and orchestrated a trade that sent him to the Reds, the team he grew up with via his father, Ken Griffey Sr., one of the stars of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s.
Injuries were infrequent when the young Junior was with the Mariners. He punched a wall at a Chicago hotel room and broke a finger during his rookie season, shattered his right wrist making a sensational catch against the wall in right-center at the Kingdome in 1995, and missed 23 days of the ’96 season with a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
His medical fortunes turned for the worst in a big way after the trade.
Griffey went on the disabled list eight times between 2001 and ’06, costing him 714 games – ironically, the number of home runs Babe Ruth hit in his career.
There’s no telling how many more home runs Griffey might have had if not for missing so many games, so many at-bats.
He ended his career with 630 home runs, the fifth-highest total in MLB history, trailing only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Ruth and Willie Mays (660).
Griffey leaves the Mariners ranked in the top five of virtually every offensive category, a 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner and the most famous smile in Northwest sports history.
Among other career highlights on and off the field:
*In 1990, he and his father became the first son and father to play on the same team at the same time and, in ’91, the first father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs, against the Angels in Anaheim off Kirk McCaskill.
*Is the only MLB player to hit the warehouse beyond the right field wall at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on the fly.
*Starred in four Nintendo video games: 1994’s Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and 1996’s Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Winning Run for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as the Nintendo 64 games Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr. in ‘98, and Ken Griffey, Jr.’s Slugfest in ‘99.
*Appeared on the Game Boy in ‘97 (a portable version of his ‘94 game, with authentic rosters as they were on Opening Day 1997) and 1999’s Slugfest, a portable version of the Nintendo 64 game. Nintendo (through Baseball Club of Seattle, LP which in turn is represented by Howard Lincoln) has owned the Mariners since ‘92, making these games possible.
*In 1996, Nike promoted a “Ken Griffey, Jr. for President” ad campaign, releasing “Griffey in ’96” buttons and a TV commercial featuring Penny Hardaway. Griffey would later select his Cabinet, but he actually was a little too young to run for this country’s highest office.
*Had a guest role on The Simpsons, in episode 52, during the third season episode, “Homer at the Bat”, along with José Canseco, Wade Boggs, Darryl Strawberry, Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, and Mike Scioscia. In the episode, Griffey overdoses on a nerve tonic given to him by Mr. Burns, causing him to suffer from gigantism.
* In 1994, was featured in the major motion picture Little Big League. In the 2001 baseball movie, Summer Catch, Griffey made a brief cameo appearance at the end of the movie, showcasing him hitting a home run at the now defunct Cinergy Field/Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
*The first player to ask then-Commissioner Bud Selig to wear the number 42 in celebration of Jackie Robinson Day. Not only did Selig grant Junior’s request he encouraged players across the league to do the same. Robinson’s number is permanently retired throughout the Major Leagues.
*Was on the cover of the breakfast cereal “Wheaties” and has been with Nike longer than any professional athlete.
*Selected to the Major League All-Century team in 1998, the youngest player on the team.
The past five-plus years have been spent as a doting husband and father of three children. Two of them, son Trey and daughter Taryn — are student-athletes at the University of Arizona. Trey is a wide receiver with the Wildcats’ bowl-bound football while Taryn is in her first season with the much-improved women’s basketball team.
The entire family and a boatload of friends are looking forward to July 24 when Junior joins the most elite club in the sport.