Vintage Junior

Healthy again and happy to be playing in September, Ken Griffey Jr. is putting up numbers like it's 1999
September 11, 2005

Having just flown in on a private jet from Orlando, where he had watched his 11-year-old son, Trey, play in a Pop Warner football game, Reds centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. made a booming announcement as he arrived at the visitors' clubhouse at Atlanta's Turner Field last Saturday. "The 2014 Heisman race has officially begun," he bellowed, still charged up from Trey's kickoff return for a touchdown earlier in the day. A doting father of three, Griffey has his eldest son's future planned out. "Trey will play tailback for the University of Miami, and I'll get a two-bedroom condo on South Beach and go to his games," he said, flashing his trademark megawatt smile. "That's how I'll spend my retirement."

These days the 35-year-old Griffey can happily envision life after baseball partly because he's happy once again with his life in baseball. Thirteen months after tearing his right hamstring completely off the bone--the latest in a string of physical setbacks--Griffey is enjoying his finest all-around season since 2000, when he whacked 40 homers in his first year with Cincinnati following a trade from the Mariners. At week's end he was hitting .301 and had a .576 slugging percentage (fourth in the National League). On Sunday, facing Atlanta southpaw Horacio Ramirez, he blasted his 35th homer (tied for third best in the National League) and upped his RBI total to 92 (tied for 10th best). Most notably, the fragile slugger hasn't spent a day on the disabled list and is playing games in September for the first time since 2002. (He did leave Sunday's game in the 12th inning after spraining his right foot while running the bases, but was expected back in the lineup this week.)

A day after having surgery in August 2004 during which the tendon was reattached to the bone with three titanium screws, Griffey began intense rehab. Still moving gingerly, he hit just .244 in April, with one home run. "Things got better after a few weeks," he says. "Now I don't even think about [the injury]."

Says Brewers manager Ned Yost, "[This season] he's getting to pitches he couldn't get to last year, taking the ball out the other way. When you don't have your legs under you, you compensate with your upper body and arms, and that slows your bat down."

Griffey's resurrection has only intensified the persistent speculation that the mid-market, pitching-starved Reds will trade their franchise player. Says Cincinnati general manager Dan O'Brien, "The bottom line is that Griffey is a 10-and-five player [who can veto any trade], so he controls his destiny." That control seems evident in Griffey's relaxed and contented attitude. "[The team] can talk to whoever they want this off-season. I just have to decide whether I want to go or not," he says. "Right now I'm a happy guy."


Look Out Above

Their teams are out of it, but the surging players listed below still have a lot to play for this month: pride, next year's salary--or simply to make life miserable for opponents battling to make the playoffs. (All statistics through Sunday.)

Jorge Cantu, 2B-3B, Devil Rays
Yankees (6 games), Angels (3), Indians (3)

The second-year man has already bedeviled all three contenders: .368, eight RBIs in five games against Los Angeles; seven RBIs in 10 games against New York; .438, four HRs and eight RBIs in seven games against Cleveland

POTENTIAL SPOILER                     
Nomar Garciaparra, SS-3B, Cubs
Astros (7 games)

After hitting .338 in August and totaling five RBIs in three games last weekend against the Pirates, potential free agent Garciaparra (above), who's 3 for 8 in three '05 games against the Astros, will be looking to impress future suitors

POTENTIAL SPOILER                     
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies
Padres (7 games), Braves (3), Mets (4)

After a slow start the career .335 hitter has returned to form, batting .344 since the All-Star break; in 11 games to date against San Diego in '05, he hit .410 with four HRs and 13 RBIs

POTENTIAL SPOILER                    
Carlos Peña, 1B, Tigers
Indians (4 games), Twins (6), Angels (4)

Since his return from Triple A Toledo on Aug. 17, the disappointing slugger has regained his stroke, batting .366, slamming seven homers and driving in 16 runs in his first 12 games; has batted .320 in seven games against Cleveland in '05

PHOTOMATT A. BROWN/ICON SMI (TOP) BACK IN STRIDE The oft-injured Griffey has regained the leg drive that allows him to hit with power. PHOTOPHIL VELASQUEZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/ABACA

Eagle (-2)
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