Griffey goes home (again)

February 23, 2009

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They called him “The Kid” and “The Natural”. I was coming of age as a sports fan in the late 1980s, at a time when Ken Griffey Jr. was breaking into the major leagues and establishing himself as an elite performer.

Griffey broke into the major leagues at the tender age of 19 and had a strong rookie season, hitting .264 with 16 homers in 127 games. During his eleven season with the Mariners, he became one of the most feared hitters in the game, recording six seasons of more than 40 home runs (including two seasons of 56). Griffey also compiled a .300+ batting average in seven of those seasons. He won ten Gold Gloves awards for his spectacular defensive play. He was also a durable player, having at least 500 at bats eight times between 1990 and 1999. He was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1997 (.304 with 56 homers and 147 RBI).

After the 1999 season, at the age of 30, Griffey signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds. This was not simply a case of selling himself to the highest bidder. Griffey had grown up in Cincinnati, and he wanted to play in his home town. With 398 career homers at such a young age, Griffey seemed like the heir apparent to Hank Aaron.

Griffey’s homecoming started out with 40 homers and 118 RBI in his first season with the Reds. Unfortunately, this is where the injuries began to mount. After 520 at bats in 1990, he had a total of 1027 at bats in the next four years. The fact that he was able to hit 63 homers is so few at bats, while recovering from injuries, is actually fairly impressive.

Griffey bounced back with 35 homers in 2005, 27 in 2006, and 30 in 2007 as he continued to fight through injuries. in 2008, he struggled through a season in which he hit .249 with 18 homers for the Reds and White Sox.

The man who hit .300 seven times in eleven seasons in Seattle managed to do this just once in the next nine seasons (.301 in 2005). The man who won ten consecutive gold gloves in Seattle has never won another.

Injuries and the approach of father time have robbed Griffey of his once elite skills. With 611 homers, he will not catch Barry Bonds. With 2680 hits, he may not even reach 3000.

At the end of the 2008 season, Ken Griffey Jr. became a free agent. His decision came down to a choice between Atlanta and Seattle. Atlanta would seem to have a stronger core of players for 2009. However, Ken Griffey Jr. once again decided to go home – this time to Seattle, to once again play in front of the legions of fans who adore him.

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