Ken Griffey Jr. will go down as one of the all-time greats to ever step on the baseball diamond. Having hit 630 home runs throughout his career, which was good for fifth all-time, Griffey always handled himself as well on the field as well as he did when he was out of the spotlight. Griffey handled himself with class and dignity, and he also managed to play at an elite level without ever cheating the fans or the game.
Although he played in the steroids era, Griffey’s name was never even mentioned to any performance enhancing drug use, let alone linked to anything illegal. His 630 homers were all natural, and had it not been for his injury problems as his career progressed, I have no doubt in my mind that it would be Griffey – not Barry Bonds or one day Alex Rodriguez or any other cheater of the game – who would sit at the top of the record books for most career home runs.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be for one of the greatest centerfielders to ever roam the outfield.
But Griffey brought so much more than home runs and defense to the game of baseball. He brought class and innovation. Along with perhaps the sweetest swing ever.
Last night, prior to Game 4 of the 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, Griffey received the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, which recognizes achievements and contributions of historical significance. This was not just for his play on the field, but for a few of his ideas and suggestions he offered to help improve the game he loved.
No man honored the game during a rough time than Griffey.
It was Griffey who suggested to commissioner Bud Selig that on-field personnel across the Major Leagues should wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day in homage to baseball’s greatest pioneer. It is one of baseball’s most noted traditions now. Griffey called Selig on a Sunday night back in 2007 with the idea.
When Griffey was asked why he suggested to Selig that players across the league sport the No. 42 in honor of Robinson, he said it was easy.
“If he [Robinson] didn’t play, you never know how long it’s going to take for another African-American to play, and would my dad have played, and would I have the love for the game if my dad didn’t play? So [Robinson] was the start of it all, for not just African-Americans, but everybody else to play. It was my way of respecting him for what he did, for him wearing that uniform allowed me to wear my uniform, and you have to give thanks in a certain way, and it was my way of saying thank you.”
In his illustrious career, Griffey made 13 All-Star teams, earned 10 Gold Gloves for his excellence in the outfield and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1997. He was named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, just one month shy of his 30th birthday.
Griffey is the first recipient of the Commissioner’s Award since Robinson’s widow, Rachel, was honored in 2007 for sustaining her husband’s legacy and for her service to Major League Baseball. He is the 12th person to earn the award, which was created in 1998.
Now retired, Griffey spends much of his free time coaching youth football and spending time with his wife and kids. Having had the opportunity to once meet Griffey, which I maintain was one of the biggest honors of my life, especially when it comes to the world of sports, I can honestly tell you that he is the epitome of a class act.