Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Congrats to Ken Griffey

Ken Griffey Jr. just hit his 600th home run, a truly monumental achievement. Here's my take on Junior from the last edition of my book, The Book of Baseball Literacy:

Griffey joined the American League with much fanfare in 1989: a 19-year-old kid with loads of talent, called the second coming of Willie Mays and other hyperbole. For his first four seasons, “Junior” dazzled fans with spectacular catches, deep home runs, and youthful exuberance. But his stats—25 home runs per year and a .515 slugging percentage—didn’t seem to show his true potential. Then, in 1993, he notched a 45-home run campaign that quieted any skeptics. In strike-shortened 1994, he cemented his reputation as one of the today’s greats by smacking 40 home runs in just 433 at bats—and he followed that up with even better years, including a couple of 56-homer campaigns.

In 2000, the year before he was to become a free agent, he forced the Seattle Mariners to trade him to Cincinnati for basically a few journeyman ballplayers, a trade that threatened to go down as the most lopsided in history. Yet when the Mariners went on to win 116 games in 2001 while Griffey struggled through several injury-plagued seasons, it was the Mariners who had the last laugh.

Griffey is unquestionably headed for the Hall of Fame, and until the injuries, he was even on a pace to break the career home run record (now owned by Barry Bonds, of course). Unless Griffey has a Bonds-ian resurgence in his late 30s, he has no chance at that record anymore. But by the time he’s finished, he will rank among the top 10 center fielders of all time, probably just behind Mays, Cobb, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Speaker.

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