Mr. Every­thing

Mariners’ Ken Grif­fey Jr. was the bright­est light in Seat­tle, and base­ball

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - RYAN DIVISH

How do you de­fine Ken Grif­fey Jr.? Maybe it’s a ques­tion with­out a spe­cific an­swer. Ask­ing him gets an awk­ward pause and a look of ex­as­per­a­tion. “Re­ally?” he said.

Ask­ing oth­ers, it prompts mem­o­ries, num­bers, anec­dotes and rev­er­ence with­out a de­fin­i­tive sum­mary.

“Well, there’s a lot more to him than that,” Edgar Martinez said.

Still, as Grif­fey pre­pares for this week­end’s en­shrine­ment in the Base­ball Hall of Fame, it’s a ques­tion that lingers more for him than for some other in­ductees be­cause of his in­flu­ence on the game and its fans.

So many words have been writ­ten about his great­ness and ex­ploits on and off the field. But there re­ally is no way to en­cap­su­late it all — what he meant to the game, to a city and to a gen­er­a­tion of fans.

How do you take his mas­sive ac­com­plish­ments over 22 years and wedge them into a de­scrip­tion that the at­ten­tion-span-chal­lenged youth of to­day might un­der­stand?

THE TANGIBLES

You can try to quan­tify it with num­bers and ac­co­lades. And there are so many num­bers and awards. Mind-blow­ing, his­tor­i­cal, video-game stats that may never be equalled:

He amassed 2,781 ca­reer hits, in­clud­ing 524 dou­bles, 38 triples, 630 homers and 1,779 RBIs with a .282 bat­ting av­er­age and .907 on-base slug­ging per­cent­age.

He hit home runs in eight con­sec­u­tive games from July 20-28, 1993, ty­ing the MLB record.

He had three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons with 140 or more RBIs, some­thing only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig also ac­com­plished.

He had nine sea­sons of 30 homers or more and seven with 40-plus.

THE AWARDS:

Unan­i­mous Amer­i­can League MVP in 1997.

Thir­teen selections to the All-Star Game start­ing lineup, in­clud­ing 11 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons from 1990-2000.

Ten con­sec­u­tive Gold Gloves (1990-1999) and seven Sil­ver Slug­ger Awards.

At age 29, he was voted to the All-Cen­tury Team in 1999. Yes, just 11 years into his ca­reer he was al­ready one of the 100 best play­ers of the pre­vi­ous 100 years.

THE PLAYS

You can try to quan­tify it by watch­ing the mag­i­cal plays — plays he made look ef­fort­less, plays that still leave peo­ple and play­ers gasp­ing even though they’ve seen them hun­dreds of times. Pick your favourite: His favourite was the homer-steal­ing grab of Luis Gon­za­lez at Tiger Sta­dium in Detroit. “But my best play? That hap­pened at the 415-foot mark, just be­low the Tiger Sta­dium over­hang. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the ball rolling back into my palm,” he wrote for The Play­ers’ Tri­bune.

How about the 470-foot homer he hit in Detroit? “It was my best poke, and Rob Deer hit one 479 (op­po­site field) later in that game,” he said.

You could choose the home run off the ware­house in Bal­ti­more dur­ing the 1993 Home Run Derby. “I just started laugh­ing af­ter I hit it,” he said. “The crowd started jump­ing up and down and I hear the an­nouncer say, ‘Did he just hit the build­ing?’ And some­body else yells, ‘Yes!’ and that’s when I started laugh­ing.”

And, of course, the show­case of speed and ath­leti­cism when he scored from first base on Edgar Martinez’s dou­ble to left against the Yan­kees to win the 1995 AL Divi­sion Se­ries.

JUST BE­ING HIM­SELF

Ask him again what all that means, and he still can’t (and won’t) an­swer.

To him, it was about play­ing the game the only way he knew, the way he had been taught in club­houses and by his fa­ther and idol — Ken Grif­fey Sr., who played 19 ma­jor league sea­sons and was a three-time All-Star — and his fa­ther’s friends, who were ev­ery­one else’s idols. When you’re a teenager and Hall of Famer Wil­lie Stargell is in your house telling you how great you can be and that you need to fo­cus more on base­ball, per­haps you are des­tined to be spe­cial.

“The only per­son that didn’t see how good of a player I could be was me,” he said. “I just wanted to be a kid do­ing teenage stuff. I was a re­bel­lious teenager. I didn’t un­der­stand un­til I was 19 or 20 what they un­der­stood when I was 15.”

But did they un­der­stand he would change the game, not just thrive in it? He was the player for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion. It’s why adults walk up to him ex­cit­edly and gush, “You were my hero.”

“Yes, it’s weird,” he said when asked about such en­coun­ters. “But you know, those peo­ple — whether male or fe­male — they were base­ball fans, and they are go­ing to have their kids play base­ball. In or­der for us to grow the sport, that’s what we need.”

A TRUE ROLE MODEL

Grif­fey gave base­ball a sta­tus and pop­u­lar­ity in places that it had never reached be­fore.

“When you say that name, it def­i­nitely puts a smile on my face,” Cubs All-Star out­fielder Dex­ter Fowler said. “That’s why I wear No. 24, be­cause of Grif­fey. He was my guy grow­ing up. I tried to model my game af­ter Ju­nior.”

Even the youngest of stars of to­day who saw him in the twi­light of his ca­reer un­der­stand what he meant.

“The Kid! The Kid!” Red Sox out­fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. ex­claimed. “What an ex­cit­ing player to watch. As a kid, ev­ery­one wanted to be Ken Grif­fey Jr. You wanted to have that sweet, smooth swing and play the out­field like him. You wanted to bring that charis­matic per­son­al­ity to the field like him. He’s a once-in-a-life­time type of player.”

STEVE NESIUS, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Seat­tle Mariners’ Ken Grif­fey Jr. con­nects for his 40th home run ofthe sea­son on July 21, 1998.

AL BEHRMAN, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

As a Cincin­nati Red, Grif­fey Jr. tracks one dow­natthe fence against Tampa Bay.

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