Wow. You know time is really passing quickly when “the Kid” retires.
Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement after 22 magnificent seasons in the big leagues. I was privileged to be with him for three of those years when I broadcast for the Seattle Mariners in the early 90s.
Back then the only reason anyone bothered to follow the Mariners was to thrill to the exploits of Ken Griffey Jr. How bad were we when we routinely lost 90+ games WITH Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime?
His nickname was “the Kid” but we just called him Junior. I’d go up to him in batting practice and say I was working on a new home run call so could he please hit two that night? I wanted to hear how it sounded. Damned if he didn’t a couple a nights. That’s the kind of accommodating guy he is.
He finishes with 630 homers -- fifth on the all-time list -- and 1,836 RBIs. And those totals would have been far greater were it not for numerous injuries – injuries sustained because he played so hard. Junior would routinely crash into walls chasing down fly balls. If he played the outfield like Manny Ramirez he’d probably have 800 home runs by now.
More than anything else, he loved playing the game, had FUN playing the game and that enthusiasm and spirit was infectious. He’s very genuine. When you saw him clowning around with his teammates or talking to kids in the stands there was nothing remotely calculated about it. That was him. He had a great smile (HAS a great smile – I don’t want to make it seem like he’s dead) and the kind of positive attitude you wish rubbed off on everybody.
He gave shitty hot foots though. He once set my shoe on fire. That’s not how you do it! But there was that electric smile as I frantically tried to put it out before my leg was engulfed in flames.
My son Matt was just 10 when I started working for the M’s and needles to say, Junior was his favorite player. A couple of years ago when Junior was with the White Sox Matt bumped into him in the clubhouse. (Matt does stringer work for one of the sports networks). Junior recognized him, even though it had been years. And they sat for about fifteen minutes.
When my broadcast partner, Dave Niehaus got word that he had been selected for the Hall of Fame one of the first calls of congratulation came from Junior. Hell, Junior called before me.
You’ll notice you never heard his name associated with any scandals, any steroid use, any incidents involving strippers in Toronto. Junior truly is a devoted family man. The main reason he wanted to be traded from Seattle to Cincinnati was because that’s where he grew up and he felt it was an ideal place to raise his kids. Getting a World Series ring is nice, bringing up your children right is nicer.
I wish him the very best in whatever he now does. Here’s looking at you, Kid.