Junior’s Circuit, No More

The other day, upon hearing that Ken Griffey Jr. had announced his retirement from Major League Baseball, I wanted to take a moment here to reflect on one of my favorite baseball players of all-time:

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Though I grew up a Minnesota Twins fan in the mid 1990s, those Twins teams didn’t exactly have the type of superstars that can captivate the imagination of a youngster (sorry Ron Coomer, Terry Steinbach, and Butch Huskey).  Thus, I naturally gravitated towards the best (with respect to Barry Bonds, a phrase I never thought I would write) player in baseball at the time: Ken Griffey Jr.

Junior could do it all: Hit for decent average (career .284 hitter), tremendous power (630 career dingers, back-to-back seasons of 56 jacks), steal some bases (particularly early in his career; 184 career), and track down balls in center field like Torii Hunter would later do for my favorite club.

In fact, when the big power/steroid boom of the late 1990s occurred, it was the Griffey/McGwire show before Sosa juiced up and changed everything in ’98.  Fortunately, Griffey has never seen the smear of performance-enhancing drugs touch his name.  He also has none of the tell-tale signs (huge musculature, sudden growth, etc.).

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Sadly, the career of KGJ took a down-turn after he signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2000.  Though he was the darling of Seattle with the Mariners, I couldn’t blame him for wanting to play for his hometown Reds.  However, the Reds never challenged for any sort of title during the “Griffey Years”, and Griffey himself endured so many injuries it would have made Mickey Mantle flinch.  At one point, he was projected to “easily” surpass Hank Aaron’s home run record, and may very well of done it had not the injury bug bitten hard.

After a brief stint with the Chicago White Sox (that, despite good performance, never quite seemed right)…

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…it was nice to see Junior in an M’s uniform once again in the end:

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Perhaps the fondest memory I will take away from Ken Griffey Jr. the baseball player, though, is how as a child I sent him a letter asking for an autograph.  Some time later, I received a glossy 8X10 of Junior that had me nearly bouncing off the walls in excitement.  A first-ballot Hall of Famer in every sense of the word:

 

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