On this exact day in 1987, Ken Griffey Jr. was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners and I still remember the night he made his major league debut in Oakland two years later. I was watching the game on the tele and up stepped this skinny looking kid getting ready to face the menacing Dave Stewart in his first at bat. But one pitch and one smooth swing later, this 18 year old prodigy was standing at second base with his first major league hit. That was my first memory of Junior.
He was the reason why I stuck with the Mariners despite all those years of losing.
He was the reason why baseball is alive and well in Seattle.
But he was never my favorite Mariner.
There was a disconnect somewhere and I didn’t embrace Griffey the way I did with Edgar Martinez. (In Canuck terms, it’s like preferring Linden over Bure.)
I was even angry when Junior forced the trade that sent him to Cincinnati in 1999. At the time I lost all respect for him.
Then came the string of injuries which robbed him of the chance to chase the likes of Maris and Aaron.
Then came revelations of steroid use from McGwire and Bonds, who broke the home run records Junior was destined to break.
Suddenly, Griffey was human again and he stood out as a beacon of light in a sport littered with many frauds.
I was glad Junior came back to Seattle in 2009. It turned out to be a fun season for everyone involved despite the team not winning anything. I thought the picture of him being carried off by his team mates will be my last memory of him.
Sadly, Junior hung on just a bit too long and it was a sad and abrupt way to end a career. But what a career it was: 22 seasons. 2781 hits. 630 home runs. 1836 Runs Batted In. There is no doubt in my mind he will be a first ballot hall-of-famer 5 years from now.
George Kenneth Griffey, Jr. Thank you for all the memories!
The Mariners won tonight.
But there’s no joy in Marinerville – mighty Junior has retired.