I’m a baseball fan who’s mostly favored the pitching side of things. But, if I had to pick a favorite player, I’d probably be an Edgar or a Bone man.
But, favorites have nothing to do with this. Because we’re talking about the Greatest Mariner of All Time (and yeah, one of my favorite players too), Ken Griffey Jr.
There’s not a lot of ways to go with this story that hasn’t already been done. Greatest Mariner, Most Popular Seattle Athlete (possibly even Best Seattle Athlete, but I might be reserving that one for Walter Jones), Best Baseball Player of the 1990s, Greatest Swing of All Time … and a seemingly infinite list of “One of’s”. As in: One of the Best Baseball Players of All Time, One of the Best Centerfielders of All Time, One of the Greatest Home Run Hitters of All Time.
That’s all great, and you can read about it HERE among other places, but there’s one thing no one else in Major League Baseball can take from him. He’s the Greatest Player in the Steroids Era.
Where others had to cheat to get an edge, Griffey was a natural. One might argue that Bonds was a natural too, but he just (definitely allegedly) cheated because he’s an egomaniac. As a fan, that’s something we’ll always hold as a badge of honor: we got to root for a player with integrity. He may have fallen short in Home Runs, total hits, and RBI, but I’d rather root for the 5th Best Home Run Hitter who was honest than the Best Home Run Hitter who juiced (knowingly or unknowingly, it’s still cheating; admit it you scumbag!).
And you know, while I’m at it, I know a lot of old timers like to say those All Time Greats like Ruth and Aaron and Mays had it tougher because they played in fewer games and in bigger stadia … but I would argue that the players of today (and especially in the era of Griffey’s prime, when testes were shrivelled and bacne was rampant) are facing a quality of pitcher that’s MUCH better than those of the 20s, 50s, and 70s. I mean, say what you will about expansion, but today’s athletes are unquestionably more athletic than those of yester-century.
Here, take a quick look at the All Time Stats of an All Time Great:
630 Home Runs
1312 Walks (vs. 1779 Strike Outs)
.284 Batting Average (in 9801 At Bats)
.370 On-Base Percentage
.538 Slugging Percentage
.908 On-Base + Slugging Percentage
2671 Games (over 22 Seasons)
The one major regret of any champion is that he was never ACTUALLY a champion. He deserved better. 1996 will go down as one of the all time Lost Seasons of any major league baseball team (well, except for 1994’s strike-shortened season when the Mariners were rolling). ’96, if you’ll recall, was a few months removed from one of the best Mariners seasons of all time. The Season That Saved Baseball In Seattle. Refuse To Lose and all that, with the Yankees series won in unbelievably exciting fashion in 5 games (also known as The Double). The Mariners were on a roll, even though they lost out in the ALCS to Cleveland, 1996 was the year we were going to step out into the forefront as contenders. Then, our ace, Randy Johnson, had his back go out on him and we lost him for the majority of the year. Players like Bob Wells came in and filled in admirably, but that team couldn’t crack the playoffs, and we never really came all that close to the World Series again. Yeah, we hit the playoffs in 1997, but we lost in the ALDS to the fucking Orioles and that was it for Kid Griffey, the Mariners, and the Post Season.
To think of all that offense we had in the mid to late 90s, and we couldn’t put together a decent fucking pitching staff to make ONE World Series run? We couldn’t have just drop-kicked the farm to put a bullpen in place that might not entirely melt down in the face of no pressure?
It’s sickening, but it’s certainly not Griffey’s fault. He did absolutely everything he could; and if he REALLY wanted to, he could’ve attached himself to a more natural contender. But, that wasn’t Griffey’s style. Besides, he hated the fucking Yankees, which might be the most endearing quality about him, even more loveable than that million dollar smile. He played a bunch of years for the team that drafted him and he played a bunch of years for the hometown team he grew up rooting for.
To Griffey, the joy of baseball was in the experience. It wasn’t necessarily the records or the pennants. It was the experience, the lifestyle, the camaraderie, the fans, and the fun.
To Mariner fans, the joy of baseball was Kid Griffey. We’re all better for having witnessed the greatest baseball player of the last quarter century.