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Sports Then and Now

Ken Griffey, Jr.: Baseball’s Player of the 1990s

Posted on July 11, 2010 by Carl Desberg

The sweetest swing.

Ken Griffey Jr. called it quits earlier this season. A sad end to a stellar career.

Rather than focus on the last decade of Junior’s tenure, lets rewind to the 90s when Griff was the cleanest star in the game.

Griffey burst onto the scene as a 19 year old in 1989 after being drafted #1 in the 1987 entry player draft out of high school. He immediately made an impact with the Mariners. The proclaimed “Kid” with his backwards hat and ear to ear smile would change baseball we knew it.

His “have fun” mentality worked for him. He enjoyed what he did. That made him better.

The numbers speak for themselves. In his first eleven Major League seasons (89-99) with the M’s Giff batted .297 with 398 HRs, 1152 RBIs, 1752 hits, and 167 stolen bases.

Junior also saw his trophy case fill up with ten Gold Gloves awards (1990-99), seven Silver Slugger awards (1991,1993-1994,1996-1999), a 1997 AL MVP award, a 1993 All Star Game MVP award (at 23 years old), and a three time HR Derby champion (1994, 1998, 1999).

His defense was spectacular. The Kid had a knack for making highlight reel catches whether it was diving in or jumping against the wall to rob a homer. He was the best fielder in the game.

His lefty stroke at the plate was perfect. He waddled the bat back and forth in the batters box as he stood up straight, he swung and finished his swing in the smoothest of manners, and he admired his Goliath shots all in one motion. In fact, Nike deemed his swing so good looking that they modeled his shoe line “Swingman” with a logo dawning his follow through on a swing.

Griffey began to define pop culture for baseball players. In addition to his own shoe line with Nike, he has his own Nintendo game “Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest” amongst other videogames. Junior also made an appearance on popular TV shows The Simpson’s and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as movies “Little Big League” and “Summer Catch.”

The most memorable on-field moment for Junior was the 1995 ALDS decisive game five. In the 11th inning of a tie ballgame versus the Yankees, Griffey slid into home as he went from first to home on an Edgar Martinez double. He was promptly met by his jovial teammates as the M’s moved onto the ALCS for the only time in Griff’s Mariners tenure.

Griff awlays did it with a smile. Here he's pictured with teammates after scoring the winning and decisive run of the 1995 ALDS.

Three of his best statistical seasons include the strike shortened 1994 season when he had already hit 40 dingers in just 111 games before the season ended. It was widely believed the Junior would have challenged Roger Maris’s 61 home run record that season. The closest Griffey would get after that would be back to back 56 home run season in 1997 and 1998. In 98, Griffey would come up short of the ever popular home run chase with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, though each have been linked to performance enhancing drugs.

Entering the final year of his contract in the 1999-2000 off-season, Ken Griffey Jr. decided to write his ticket out of Seattle. Citing family reasons, Junior requested a trade to Cincinnati where much of his family resided. Little did he know the start to the second half of his career would dwarf his record breaking first half.

Griffey was the chosen one. He was well on his way to eclipse Hank Aaron’s 755 home run plateau until injuries derailed his career.

However, lets not forget what Griffey did for the game. In a steroid tinted era, Griffey did it right; with class and a smile.

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