On June 2, 2010, after 21 seasons of being an MLB player, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement from the game of baseball. For the young fans of the game that may not seem like much. But to anyone who has been watching since the early ’90s, they know it is the end of an era.
Throughout the 1990s, Ken Griffey Jr.’s face graced the presence of untold numbers of cereal boxes, and he even had his own video game series on Nintendo gaming consoles titled “Ken Griffey Jr.’s Major League Baseball”. If you ask many people my age about a player that’s synonymous with the game of baseball in the 1990’s, many will answer, “Ken Griffey Jr”. There may not be a player in MLB history who had a smoother swing and more grace in the batting box.
Recently, we’ve seen signs that the 40 year old outfielder might be leaning towards retirement, but three stick out above the rest. Sign #1 was Griffey’s rather atrocious showing at the plate with a .184 BA and a career low SLG% of .204. Sign #2 was the recent news of Ken Griffey Jr. falling asleep in the dugout and missing a pinch hit at-bat. This was perhaps the first time anyone had ever seen such an act from such a superstar.
Finally, sign #3 was returning to the Seattle Mariners. In 1989, Ken Griffey Jr. started his career in Seattle, and had the very unique opportunity to play with his father, Ken Griffey Sr. Although he didn’t win Rookie of the Year in ’89, spectators of the game knew they were in for a treat. What they didn’t know, was exactly how big of a treat that was.
When Griffey Jr. came into the majors, he was only 19 and finished 3rd in ROY voting, finishing behind Baltimore’s Gregg Olson and Kansas City’s Tom Gordon. It was in the 1990’s though when we really started to see him shine.
For 11 straight years (1990-2000), Ken Griffey Jr. found himself on an All-Star team, with 13 All-Star appearances throughout his career. What most people often over look though, was his consistently steady fielding ability; he was the Gold Glove award every year for the entire 1990’s decade.
Griffey Jr. won All-Star honors again in 2000, but it was the last time he would receive the recognition until 2004. In 2001, Griffey only played 111 games, but it was in the 2002, 2003, and 2004 that Griffey suffered season-ending injuries, playing only a total of 206 games over those three seasons. Some claim that Griffey’s injury woes, especially those to his knees, can be attributed to playing on the Seattle Kingdom’s stiff turf throughout his early playing career.
In 2005, Griffey saw a relatively injury free season (although he still only appeared in 128 games), and earned the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award playing for the Cincinnati Reds. Even though this award was widely seen as a resurgence in a once promising career, he was never able to get up to the stats he enjoyed early on in his career.
Had Ken Griffey Jr.’s career not been derailed by injuries, it’s hard to say where he would be right now. It is very likely we could be seeing the retirement of the all-time home run leader in MLB history. Instead, we’re all left with the question of, “What if…?”
Griffey’s career accolades include 13 All-Star appearances, the 1997 AL MVP, 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, and a current standing of 6th on the all-time home run list with 630 HR. His career stats are as follows: .284 BA, 630 HR, 1836 RBI, 184 SB, and 2781 hits.