As many expected, Ken Griffey, Jr. joined baseball’s Hall of Fame this week with the most amount of votes any player has ever seen. 437 out of 440 votes. That’s a high-water mark of all time–99.3% of the votes. For all of his accomplishments, you’ve gotta admire how much he achieved while under the pressure of such high expectations.
As with so many great stories, this one starts in the beginning.
Heading into their 10th season of existence, the Seattle Mariners found themselves naturally in the position of having baseball’s number one draft pick in the 1987 draft. They grabbed Ken Griffey, Jr.–the son of Big Red Machine legend Ken Griffey, Sr.–two days before he was to graduate from high school. A week later, he was taking batting practice with the Mariners and the following week, it was off to Bellingham to play for their single-A farm club. On June 16th, he played his first minor league game for the Baby M’s and batted 0-4.
However, the next night, I joined thousands of people up at Everett’s Memorial Stadium to get a first look at “the Kid” when Bellingham traveled to Everett to play the San Francisco farm club, the Giants. In his first at-bat, he knocked it out of the park.
That’s one of the two stories that pop up into my mind when I think of Ken Griffey, Jr.. The other is the fact that I used him often in talking with my kids about trying your best. They may have blocked it out after all these years, but I remember telling them, “How do you think Ken Griffey, Jr. makes those amazing catches? Great things will never happen unless you try your best.”
And Junior gave us his absolute best. The prime of his career was right here in little old Seattle. He’ll be the first player to go into baseball’s Hall of Fame wearing a Mariners cap. We got to see him play in the outfield with his dad. That was cool. Griffey was also the center of Seattle’s greatest season of baseball ever. It didn’t end up with a World Series ring, but anyone who was in town in 1995 will never forget that incredible playoff run.
Baseball seasons come and go. Spring rolls around and everybody’s team plans to make this “THE season.” That’s part of the heritage and history of the game. As a kid in Los Angeles, where it seemed like the Dodgers were in the World Series ever other year, I grew up at a time when teachers brought TV’s into the classroom so that we could watch the World Series and when an entire city found itself buzzing about baseball. While it seems like a million years ago, the magical 1995 season was among the best rides in sports I ever experienced. Thanks, Mr. Griffey, Jr., for making that happen.
And welcome to Cooperstown!
P.S. For those who’d like to relive that 1995 run