Well, I was wondering if this might happen at some point during this season, and indeed it has today. The Mariners released a press release today announcing the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. after 22 seasons in the Major Leagues.
Griffey was drafted by the Mariners with the #1 overall pick of the 1987 draft, and was able to make his professional debut in the same season. He was only 17 that season, but still hit .313 with 14 HR in 54 games for Short-Season Bellingham. He then went to the California League (Single A) in 1988, hitting .338 with 11 HR in only 58 games before getting moved up to AA Vermont and hitting .279 with 2 HR in 17 games.
He came into Spring training in 1989, and essentially forced the Mariners to put him onto the Major League team with his play. He played in 127 games in 1989, at the young age of 19, and hit .264 with 16 HR, 61 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 16 SB. Clearly he was rapidly going to be a dominant force in the American League for years to come.
Some of the more ridiculous things that stand out from his seasonal numbers:
- He won a Gold Glove in CF every season from 1990-1999.
- He hit 45 or more homeruns in a season 5 times (1993, 1994, 1996-1999)
- Hit hit 40 or more homeruns in a season 7 times (1993-1994, 1996-2000)
- He drove in 100+ runs batted in a season 8 times (1991-1993, 1996-2000)
- He scored 100+ runs in a season 6 times (1993, 1996-2000)
- He posted an OPS over 1.000 in a season 4 times (1993-1994, 1996-1997)
- He posted an OPS+ over 150 in a season 6 times (1991, 1993-1994, 1996-1998)
- He hit .300 or better in a season 8 times (1991-1994, 1996-1997, 2005)
- He led the league in homeruns 4 times, runs 1 time, RBI 1 time, slugging percentage 1 time, and total bases twice
- He won the 1997 MVP award, and received votes 10 times.
- He was a 13-time All-Star, including 11 times in a row (1990- 2000).
Looking at some of the advanced statistics he had just makes it all the more ridiculous:
- He posted a positive WAR in all but 5 of his seasons
- He posted a WAR of 5 or greater in 8 seasons
- He posted a WAR of greater than 8 (considered MVP-level) 3 different times.
- He posted a career WAR of 78.4, which was good for 59th all time. Of the 58 players ahead of him on that list, 8 are not Hall of Famers, and 7 of them are pretty much locks to get in when they are eligible to be inducted.
The Rest of the Story
To me, Griffey always looked like he was out having more fun playing the game than anyone else. And he enjoyed both sides of the game. Some of the other storylines I remember around Griffey:
- He was able to play in the same outfield with his father with the Mariners in 1990, and both of them actually homered back to back in a game on September 14th, 1990.
- The playoff run in 1995, led by Griffey, pretty much helped to save baseball in Seattle, and helped to spawn the construction of Safeco Field.
- He hit .391/.444/1.043 with 5 HR and 7 RBI in the 5 game ALDS series in 1995.
- He made an extremely ridiculous catch here in which he broke his wrist on the play. It really seemed to illustrate how he played the game at that point, the flash and skill of it all.
- He was named to the All-Century baseball team in 1999, in spite of only playing in his 11th season at the time.
- At the end of the 1999 season (age 29), he had 398 home runs, a .299/.380/.569 split line, 1063 runs scored, 1152 runs batted in, and 167 stolen bases.
- Griffey requested a trade after the 1999 season to be closer to home in Cincinnati. You can read at the link how I thought that had turned out for all parties involved.
- He returned to Seattle as a free agent signee after the 2008 season, knowing that he was at best going to be a platoon player, but understanding that he wanted to be in a place where he was well liked and could be comfortable.
I know for me, my first reaction when I heard this news was sadness, as it was always a joy to watch him play the game when he was doing it well. The swing was picture perfect, the speed amazing, and the plays breathtaking. Simply put, he was the best player in baseball for that time, and no one was more feared at the plate or in the field than him. You knew that if there was even a remote shot of him getting to a ball, he would. I look forward to seeing him in Cooperstown in about 6 years from now, as I can’t possibly imagine how he’s not going to go in on the first ballot.