This spring training the Cincinnati Reds announced that they would be moving Ken Griffey Jr., a ten time winner of the Gold Glove in centerfield, to left field. Instead Ryan Freel will be taking over centerfield because he is much quicker than the now 37 year old Ken Griffey Jr. Many sports channels made a big deal out of it saying that it was the end of an era but Ken Griffey Jr. insisted it was no big deal. The truth is it is a big deal, because it is the end of an era, the end of an era that has been overshadowed and forgotten.
Don’t get me wrong Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t done yet. Even though he has had injury problems Ken Griffey Jr. is still a guy who can play until he is forty, which is three more seasons. The move to leftfield is a sign that Griffey is coming to the end of his career though. I think a lot of people have forgotten but the end of Ken Griffey Jr.’s career could be the end of the career of the best player of his generation.
Many people have forgotten just how great Ken Griffey Jr. was. When Griffey came into the league he was one of the brightest, youngest, and fastest rising stars baseball has ever seen. Everybody loved Griffey, whether it was him taking batting practice with his hat on backwards or him and his father joking around in the dugout.
Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene at the ripe age of 19 and in 127 games in 1989 he hit 16 home runs and 61 RBI. The following season Griffey increased that total to 22 home runs and 80 RBI while batting .300. Then at just the age of 21 years old Griffey was a 20 home run, 100 RBI, and .327 hitter. But as the case with most players is, he’d get even better as he got older. People forget that back in the 90’s Griffey hit 40+ and 50+ home runs often. From 1993 to 2000 Griffey’s home run totals were 45, 40, 17 (injured that season), 49, 56, 56, 48, and 40. Three times Griffey hit over 140 RBI and Griffey batted over .300 eight times.
That wasn’t all though. Griffey was as good an all around player as it got. From 1989 to 1999 Ken Griffey Jr. stole at least 15 bases in every season that he was healthy. As I said before he was also a ten time Gold Glove winner, the best centerfielder in baseball. If Griffey was still in his prime not even Torii Hunter would win Gold Gloves from him. At the 2000 ESPY Awards Ken Griffey Jr. was named the Baseball Player of the Decade over Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Greg Maddux.
Now it seems Ken Griffey Jr. is somewhat forgotten. Part of it is due to the fact that he has had injury problems during his tenure in Cincinnati. The other part is it that while Griffey was injured he was being passed up by other hitters. Still Griffey gets little attention these days despite being tenth all time in home runs but he lost a lot of that attention when he got passed on the all time list by Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Let me repeat those names: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro. What do all these names have in common? All of these players have had their name pop up in the performance enhancing drug fiasco the past couple of seasons. I don’t know how much of the performance enhancing drug rumors to believe unless there is proof but I do think it says something about Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro that their names have come up. It says even more about Ken Griffey Jr. that his name hasn’t come up.
Scientists will tell you that performance enhancing drugs like steroids or HGH don’t really make a big impact on how hard you can hit a baseball. It will maybe make a difference of a few feet and that is all. What performance enhancing drugs do help you do is to avoid injuries. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro have allegedly prolonged their careers by taking advantage of these drugs. Griffey has not. Griffey’s body hasn’t tripled in size, nobody has brought Griffey’s name up in a book and nobody has revealed Griffey’s name in an inspection. If performance enhancing drugs make you come back from injuries quicker and help to avoid injuries then who could possibly need it more than Griffey? Griffey missed 27 games in 2000, 51 games in 2001, 92 games in 2002, 109 games in 2003, 81 games in 2004, 34 games in 2005 and 52 games in 2006. Griffey could’ve easily taken performance enhancing drugs to rectify these problems and continue to be in the limelight, but he didn’t.
The truth is while Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro cheated, Ken Griffey Jr. stayed clean, even if it meant falling behind them in his spot in baseball history. Despite those four allegedly using performance enhancing drugs and despite Ken Griffey Jr. missing 446 games due to injuries Griffey could still easily pass Palmeiro, McGwire, and Sosa in career home runs. Griffey needs just 7 home runs to pass Palmeiro, 21 to pass McGwire and 26 to pass Sosa. As quiet as Griffey has been lately he could end up the number two active home run hitter in baseball, behind Bonds, by the end of this season. Even though people have forgotten Griffey by the end of this season he could be fifth all time in home runs right behind baseball royalty, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
Ken Griffey Jr. might be coming to the end of his career but he does have a few more years left. Let’s not forget Ken Griffey Jr., a player who actually loves baseball, who wants to win and wants to do it the legitimate way, the clean way. Let’s not forget that Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best baseball players we have ever gotten a chance to see. And when that day comes that Ken Griffey finally does retire let’s not forget that the end of his career will mark the end of the best career we’ve seen since Hank Aaron and the best career we will see until Alex Rodriguez retires.