As you probably know by now, George Kenneth Griffey Jr. will soon take his rightful, forever enshrined place in Cooperstown. As a transcendent figure throughout his career, anyone who has ever seen him play knew he would eventually make his way to stand among the historical greats, becoming a household name along with Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and more. Ken Griffey Jr. is now solidified as part of the incredible history that makes up baseball. UPDATE: He goes into the HOF with the all time voting percentage record: 99.3%. He surpasses Tom Seaver at 98.8%.
I’m not here to list his accomplishments repeatedly, no matter how impressive they will always remain. Accolades so impressive even the most casual of baseball fans can remember his 2781 hits, 630 HRs and 1836 RBI. I’m not here to talk about how there will never be a player that will come close to Ken Griffey Jr.’s ability to charm a whole sport and its entire constituency… as if we didn’t already know that. He played the game with such ease that anyone watching was reminded that baseball is just that: a game. As Michael Baumann wrote a few months back, you wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. because he made being him look so dang fun. Junior, you are the absolute best and I’d be pressed to find someone that disagreed with that fact. It was a pleasure to watch you compete, whether on my team or another.
As mentioned (and critiqued) before, I am on the younger side of the Mariners’ faithful spectrum. I did not experience the earliest years of the franchise that saw all attendees of a game sitting behind home plate because there were that few of them and I never went through the growing pains that this city went through in order to finally become a “baseball town.” Ken Griffey Jr. had played nearly 600 games in a Mariners uniform before I was born. I barely have any memories of him playing with my favorite team for the first time… the time that will be forever live in Mariners history. He was that good of a player that many fans younger than me can recount his greatest feats, even if they never got the chance to see them live. Because of his legacy, he will remain the favorite player of many generations.
I remember when Junior went to play for the Reds, because for whatever reason he did not want to be in Seattle any longer. I also remember the city forgiving him for wanting to leave. They forgave him because no one could hate him for the way he made it exciting to watch baseball in the Northwest again. I remember being in attendance for the first series in which Griffey returned to Safeco in 2007 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. It was a Sunday in late June, he hit two home runs that game (one to left-center one to RF) off Miguel Batista. I remember tearing up because that’s what you’re supposed to do when one of the greats does great things. I was so appreciative of the fact I was watching pieces of history being created right in front of me.
Then I of course remember when he returned back to the Mariners. In 2009 he came back to a city that had lost it’s way and expected him to come back and save them… Again. Except not this time, he was not the answer to the problems we are still trying to solve. Griffey did that once already, and in doing so he fostered an incredible energy that a whole team benefited from. He couldn’t do that again, and that was okay. Junior hit his final 19 homeruns that season. It was another glaring reminder (among the many we’ve had over the years) that we could not depend on the pillars of our past to help us bridge the gap to the future. I think most of us faithful knew that, but it was exciting having him back in the city that holds Junior on an eternal pedestal. Griffey exited the last game that season, along with Ichiro, on the shoulders of his teammates smiling that famous smile as they were carried around the field. Of course Seattle still loved him even after he left, once again, driving away in the middle of the night in the 2010 season.
I have loved baseball my entire life. Save for my family and my livelihood I do not love anything more than I love the sport of baseball, and the Seattle Mariners. Ken Griffey Jr. created an ideal in which his team, his fans and the nation could begin to believe that Seattle was in fact a baseball town. What I mainly attribute to Junior is the way he undeniably jump started a culture of believers. A culture that I eventually made my way into, when I began to understand how important it was for me to be a fan and an advocate of the Seattle Mariners. When he smiled and swung his way onto the majors almost three decades ago, he unknowingly kept an entire fan base thriving. He most certainly did not do everything by himself, but I’m convinced that if Ken Griffey Jr. did not come to Seattle… There would be no Seattle Mariners, or if there was, I would certainly not cater to the team the same way I do now.
I’ve been reminded time and time again that George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was responsible for saving the sport of baseball in the Northwest and for being the force that built a brand new stadium. That he saved the Seattle Mariners from being bought off and moved to city that would “appreciate” baseball more. It’s a generational thing, but I will never understand what the true impact of having a star like ’95-’99 Ken Griffey Jr. on the Mariners was like in the moment. I can imagine how people felt from stories, pictures and videos, but I will only ever know Griffey’s early days from the people who got to experience it first hand. The people that fiercely believed that baseball always belonged in Seattle.
The Kid helped create the culture of the Seattle Mariners baseball fans who I would eventually look to as my peers, educators and confidants. I know he did not come to Seattle with the intention of saving a franchise, but who he was and what he created played a major role in doing just that. You taught Seattle how to love baseball, and for that I cannot thank you enough. Enjoy the hall, Junior. You deserve it.