Simply put, Ken Griffey Jr. showed us how baseball should be played
History doesn't do the small stuff. Very quickly, it will not matter that
Years from now many people will sit on their porches, and when some hot shot rookie comes up or some center fielder glides into the spotlight, they will say with a wry smile, "Yeah, but I saw Griffey play."
The details of his leaving will be discarded as insignificant against the breadth and volume of his career. Griffey, after all, left baseball exactly 75 years to the day that
The prime of Griffey is what lasts, and in his era there was absolutely nobody like him. With Griffey, unlike
The images are as indelible as that long-striding elegant stroke of DiMaggio. Griffey gave us the statuesque pose after clubbing a home run, as if stopping in his tracks to admire the beauty of the ball in flight. The cap worn backward. The pell-mell leaps and jumps across turf, tracks and walls in pursuit of any fly ball, no matter the danger it may bring. And maybe above all else, with neither bat nor glove in hand, the textbook cutting of the bases on his 270-foot dash to home plate with the winning run of the 1995 Division Series to defeat the New York Yankees and save baseball in Seattle. That someone with such power could run so swiftly was a wonder to behold.
No one could measure up to the young Griffey. Sadly, that included the aging Griffey. The second half of Griffey's career largely was a scrubland of injuries and not-what-he-used-to-bes. Griffey had his last 100 RBI season at age 30. He hit .296 in his career through that season, but .260 after that in almost 1,000 games. He hit 438 homers through age 30 -- early on, he was supposed to be the heir to
And of course, the one constant, from the blissful 19-year-old kid who wouldn't know if that day's opposing starter was left-handed or right-handed, to the 40-year-old, heavy-legged bench player who ran out of time with the Mariners, was that every year the World Series was played without him. Griffey had three cracks at the postseason, two with Seattle and once upon hitching a late-season ride with the Chicago White Sox. And yet though he played with such greats as
History, too, will raise Griffey a little higher because so many of his contemporaries were lowered by their decision to use performance-enhancing drugs. That decision, too, set him apart. Unfortunately, Griffey also was one of many transcendent stars who gave no dissenting voice to The Steroid Era, one of many in the coalition of the willing. It rankled him, those close to him used to say, that one-dimensional players would pass him in the public consciousness as major stars, only because of the boost of the juice. But never was he comfortable with answering questions on the topic, as were players such as
In the end, what mattered was Griffey gave us as sublime a picture of how baseball should be played as anybody in his lifetime: well, hard and, as we want to believe, clean. And in that manner, in that window of history, he stands alone.