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Happy Ken Griffey Jr. Day

Adam Shay

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30 years ago today, at the age of 19 years 133 days and in his major league debut, a legend waltzed to the plate and ripped a double for his first career hit. 27 years later, after an illustrious career filled with highlights and historical accomplishments, George Kenneth “The Kid” Griffey Jr. honorably took the microphone and gave his Hall of Fame speech at Cooperstown, New York. The centerfielder received 99.3% of votes, making his acceptance rate the highest in MLB history until Mariano Rivera passed him unanimously in January 2019. But today, baseball remembers “The Kid’s” legacy:

  • 1997 MVP (56 home runs, 147 RBI’s, .304 batting average, 393 total bases)
  • Ten Gold Gloves
  • 13 All-Star game appearances
  • Seven time Silver Slugger
  • 83.8 career WAR (Wins Above Replacement), 2781 hits, .284 lifetime average, 1662 runs scored, 630 home runs, and 1836 RBI’s
  • Three time Home Run Derby winner
  • Eight straight games with a home run in 1993 (Three-way tie for most in MLB history) 

Griffey was the quintessential five-tool player: hitting for power, average, fielding, arm strength, and speed. Whether it was hitting moonshots, running bases, or making remarkable home run robberies, Griffey’s athleticism was second to none. Well, maybe Barry Bonds in the 90s’. During the 90s’, Griffey compiled 382 home runs, second to Mark Mcgwire with 405. His 1,091 RBI’s were the most of the decade, along with his ten consecutive Gold Gloves in the American League, also tied for most in the MLB with Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. 

His dominance began to diminish as injuries stole nearly four seasons away from Griffey. Starting with his 2001 campaign at age 31, his second year on the Cincinnati Reds, he finished with 65 RBI’s in 111 games, his lowest total over a 100 game season since 1994.  Between 2002-04, the broken Griffey played in 203 of 486 games, hitting 41 home runs and 109 RBI’s combined. What seemed to be the end of a remarkable career, perseverance led Griffey to another solid three years from 2005-07, ending in his final All-Star game. During those three years in 381 games, he compiled 92 home runs, 257 RBI’s, and a yearly average of .278. To round out his career, Griffey was traded to the Chicago White Sox in a 41 game stint at the end of 2008. Over the next two and final seasons, Griffey returned home to Seattle, greeted by fans as an old friend. 

If it wasn’t for injuries sustained from 2001-04, who knows the numbers Griffey could have finished with. Common hypothetical questions: could Griffey have eclipsed 800 home runs? Could Griffey have ended up the all-time RBI leader? Could Griffey have finished as the GOAT? Those questions seem outlandish, but statistically speaking, why not? Griffey was injured in the prime of his career and after those three injured years, still hit 30 home runs in two seasons. He would have given the record books a run for their money. 

Nevertheless, Griffey left behind a legacy not only defined by statistics, but by personality and his nickname, “The Kid.” The legend played with enthusiasm, heart, raw talent, and regarded as having the “sweetest swing” of all-time. Most importantly, as he ran through the outfield, he performed like a kid living out his dream. Taking all aspects of baseball into consideration (looking at five-tool players), the greatest baseball players of all time: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ken Griffey Jr. This is a debate no doubt, but where there is no doubt, Griffey is 99.3% legend. 

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Adam Shay is a graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, During his four years at EIU, he wrote for the Daily Eastern News for two and a half years, covering multiple sports, news events, and writing feature stories. He was also on the rugby club team for two years, a member of the Society of Collegiate Journalists, and finished third in applying for his commencement speech. Currently, he runs a public relations system for a bar in Palatine, Illinois, and in his free time, he is always learning about music, sports history, and American history.

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