Ken Griffey Jr. recently announced his retirement, ending one of the greatest careers in the history of baseball. No matter how much I may try, words will never do justice to the greatness of his MLB career.
When I think of Griffey, I think of him as the face of Major League Baseball, just as Michael Jordan was the face of the NBA and Wayne Gretzky of the NHL. Armed with the sweetest swing in baseball and the innocent smile of a kid, Griffey was a great ambassador to the game. You couldn’t help but be captivated by Griffey’s personality and his play on the field.
How good was Griffey? Well, he retired with 630 career home runs (5th in MLB history). It is widely believed by many – myself included – that Griffey would be the all-time home run king if injuries had not caused him to miss so many games in the second half of his career.
162-game average (1989-2000)
From 1989 to 2000, Griffey averaged 140 games played per season while hitting 438 home runs! In addition to being the game’s most feared power hitter, Griffey won the Gold Glove ten times (1990-1999). Griffey’s peak years were between 1996 and 2000, as he averaged 152 games played, hit .290 and averaged a mind-boggling 49 home runs and 137 RBIs per season! Many experts agree that if not for a season-ending strike in 1994, Griffey might have become the first player to break the single season home run record (then 61 home runs by Roger Maris). Griffey hit 40 home runs in 111 games that season; the projection over 162 games would amount to 58 home runs. He was certainly on pace to approach the record that season.
162-game average (2001-2010)
As evidenced by the above numbers, Griffey still had power in the second stage of his career; unfortunately, his average was much lower and injuries often limited his productivity. Between 1989 and 2000, Griffey played 140 or more games nine times; from 2001 to 2010, Griffey managed to play 140 or more games two times (2007-2008). From 2001 to 2006, Griffey only averaged 92 games played per season. After the 2008 season, Griffey never again reached 120 games.
162-game average (career)
Griffey’s 162-game averages for his career are all the more incredible when you factor in all the missed games and limited productivity in the later stages of his career. It’s hard to believe Griffey only won the MVP once in his career (.304 AVG, 56 HR and 147 RBI in 1997).
Looking back at Griffey’s career, I find it to be a tragedy that he never appeared in a World Series. Griffey had been to the postseason only three times, appearing twice with the Mariners (1995, 1997) and once with the Chicago White Sox (2008).
Griffey’s career should not be tainted by the lack of a World Series title. I consider Griffey and Frank Thomas to be the greatest hitters of their time in the MLB. Although not as patient/disciplined at the plate as Thomas was, Griffey was every bit as dangerous to change the game with one swing and was a far more superb athlete and overall player than Thomas was. Griffey was the best player of his era and was the face of Major League Baseball; perhaps more importantly, he set these astonishing numbers in the controversial steroid era of baseball’s history and has never been linked to steroids or performance-enhancing drugs!
Griffey will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time, the best player during the steroid era and have the reputation of “doing it the right way” during the steroid era.