Four seasons, 444 games and 981 plate appearances. That’s how long it’s been since Ken Griffey Jr. hit at least 30 homeruns in a single season. Many critics across the nation have questioned The Kid’s ability to perform at an elite level. Once hailed as the chosen one to surpass Hank Aaron’s prized record of 755 career homeruns, numerous sportswriters have since doubted Junior’s ability to even stay healthy an entire season.
From being plagued as injury-prone to the criticism of being paid an enormous salary, Griffey has been approached by countless opportunities to hang up his jersey and opt for an analyst position on Baseball Tonight. But he didn’t. Instead he’s silenced everyone. With 35 homeruns, 93 RBI’s and hitting .301 on the season, Griffey is looking more like his old self. Griffey currently ranks in the top ten of all offensive categories in the National League. In fact, despite being expected to miss the remainder of the season due to hamstring surgery, the 10-time Gold Glove winner is now the front runner in the race for comeback player of the year.
What may be more surprising than Griffey’s great comeback is that he’s done it “unpolluted.” In an era where steroids have become a hot commodity in baseball, Griffey has remained clean. Unlike Barry Bonds’ BALCO juiced biceps and Rafael Palmeiro’s infamous congressional testimony, Junior has garnered his splendid statistics the old fashioned way, with hard work and dedication.
There is no doubt Griffey’s athleticism has diminished since being selected number one overall in the 1987 draft. Dynamic leaping catches over the center field wall have been dramatically cut due to emerging cautiousness. The unparalleled speed on the base paths have become a distant memory.
However, it is Griffey’s intangible attributes as a player that make him a threat to any baseball club. Let’s not forget, he still manages to manufacture runs in any circumstance. His homeruns, even through all the injuries, still remain at a very productive level. And while maneuverability in the outfield isn’t “Vintage Junior,” his dominance of the outfield is still present (accumulated six assists with a .99 fielding percentage).
Before you rule out Ken Griffey’s run at the title of being baseball’s best, consider this. Junior is currently tied with Mickey Mantle for 12th on the all-time homerun list. If Griffey, who is only 35, stays healthy and continues to have 30 homerun seasons, he will pass Hank Aaron for the All-Time homerun crown in 8 seasons or less. Dare we even mention defense. Junior is undoubtedly the best ever when it comes to flashing the leather. His dominance of the American League Gold Glove (10 consecutive) leads all active players in baseball.
George Kenneth Griffey Jr. never needed to prove himself as a Hall of Fame candidate. His career validates it. Apart from being injured five consecutive seasons, Griffey’s statistics are nothing short of illustrious. This year his profound play has reminded us why he was named to the All-Century team. Next year, he’ll prove why he’s the greatest.
Contact Morgan L. McDaniel at email@example.com