Baseball is a great game but the current state of the MLB is far from great. Players in this day and age are under constant scrutiny as the league is trying to clean up its image from all the greats who did the game dirty in the past like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. When you look at Major league baseball in this day and age there aren't to many elite all around talents who dominate at the level Ken Griffey Jr did on and off the field. On the field when in his Prime Griffey was talented enough to be an All-star, win MVP, win a gold glove, win a silver slugger award and lead the league in home runs all in the same year. Off the field he served as the guy who elevated the popularity as the spokesman for Nike and Nintendo. The enjoyability of watching him on the field and the marketability of him off the field combined all at the same time make Ken Griffey Jr a once in a life time player. When speaking about the future hall of famer I think the only thing we can say is that there will never be another one.
Lets knock the obvious out of the way, Griffey is a very great and well decorated ballplayer some of his accomplishments listed down below are proof of that. When speaking about his accomplishments this is just scratching the surface with Griffey.
- 13 time all-star
- 1992 all-star game MVP
- 1997 MVP
- 10 gold gloves
- 7 silver slugger awards
- 630 Home runs
It's what he did for baseball in terms of popularity that speaks volumes to his greatness though. Let me ask you this question and I want you to really think about it. Who was the last baseball player who was just as big by himself as the game of baseball? Think about it. Players in Griffeys day like Mark Mcgwire and Barry Bonds were tremendous players and popular in baseball circles but did any of them do anything to transcend baseball popularity and make it appeal to the casual fan? Look at it from this perspective someone who knows nothing about baseball won't know who Mark Mcgwire was (pre steroid era) because his popularity is only within the baseball/sports fan realms. Now lets look at Griffey he had his own sneaker with Nike and a video game with Nintendo. Stuff like that was monumental for the game of baseball's popularity because Griffey is getting exposed to many people who who normally wouldn't watch baseball and then people find out who he is along with baseball which could eventually lead to them becoming a fan of the game. Being someone who grew up in the Nintendo generation I can't tell you how many times I heard kids say “Griffey is the best” or “This guy makes me like baseball, this game is awesome”. Ken Griffey Jr is just the kind of guy who leaves an imprint on your mind but in a positive way.
Beyond all of mass endorsements and commercials Ken Griffey Jr actually lived up to the hype. During my younger days I saw a lot of great players come to Miami to play baseball at Pro Player Stadium like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz but none put on the effortless hitting display I saw Griffey take. It was every thing you saw at the home run derby hat tilted backwards, smile on his face and last but not least that sweet effortless swing that he used to deposit baseballs into those empty orange seats. I remember everyone in the stadium stopped what they where doing just to watch this guy swing a bat. Yeah it was just batting practice but Griffey was a performer.
I once heard someone say the following about Ken Griffey Jr. “He was the type of person kids can love and adults can respect”. I was lucky enough to actually Meet Griffey face to face, I use to go to Pro Player Stadium 5-6 hours before the Marlins play and wait for them and whoever they were playing and try to get autographs from my baseball heroes. I would get the roster for the opposing teams and my Marlins then gather up whatever baseball cards I had on those players the night before the game. There was one day where the Marlins were playing the Reds in the middle of the season and Ken Griffey Jr was sitting on 599 career home runs so I wanted to see him hit 600.
Before I met Griffey I had gotten Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce to sign some baseball cards but then the bus arrived. I didn't care about any other player not even the ones on the Marlins I just wanted a chance to meet Griffey. I saw him and ran straight up to him with my baseball card and sharpie in hand. Most players are stuck up and would have told me no or just walked away Griffey smiled and happily signed my card. He actually took 2-4 minutes and we talked baseball I picked his brain about playing center field because I played it for my little league team at the time and he gave me some tips and then said bye to me.....WOW!
People always say baseball is a kids game but few players actually take the time to help the kids when they are in the major leagues by just simply signing an autograph or just talking to them. They get caught up in the celebrity of being a ball player in the majors and forget where they came from and don't sign autographs for those little kids and ignore them. Griffey didn't do that and he is even greater because of that to me.
So he had all the stats, he helped grow the game like very few players, he is a humble person and most importantly he is the ONLY player in the 90's who didn't take steroids. Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmerio all these guys took steroids but the only one who did it clean was Griffey. The fact that he is part of that whole era but didn't par take in the actual activity of performance enhancing drugs makes his legacy even greater. He did it the right way and had he not been injured in Cincinnati his legacy would have been untouchable. He would have in all honesty broken the home run record set by Babe Ruth, have more gold gloves and everything statistically would be greater. Baseball right now needs another Ken Griffey Jr type star.
I think in terms of talent, personality, marketability when it comes to Ken Griffey Jr I can honestly say there will never be another one.