It’s the end of an era. George Kenneth “Ken” Griffey Jr. – better known as Ken Griffey Jr. – The Kid, The Natural, The Swing – has officially retired from the MLB.
Griffey leaves the MLB with a legacy as being one of the most prolific homerun hitters, and best defensive outfielders, in baseball history. Over a 22-year career, Griff sits 5th on the all-time homerun list with 630, 14th on the all-time list in career RBIs, 219 hits short of 3,000, 13 All-Star Games, 10 Gold Gloves and an MVP award, not to mention being tied for the record of most consecutive games with a home run.
Griffey is considered to be one of the few elite players of The Steroid Era to be free of steroid-use suspicion, which makes his accomplishments even better. Unfortunately for Griffey, though, his career was slowed after he became plagued with injuries. Had it not been for these injuries, Griffey was easily on pace to beat Hank Aaron’s homerun record and would have become the MLB’s homerun king.
In 1990 and 1991, Griffey and his father became the first son and father to play on the same team at the same time. On September 14, the pair hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the first off California Angels pitcher Kirk McCaskill, becoming the first father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs. The duo played a total of 51 games together before Griffey, Sr., retired in June 1991.
Junior also released a pair of video games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – both of which I continue to play on a regular basis, revering in its 32-bit glory.
On June 2, 2010, Griffey released a statement through the Seattle Mariners organization announcing his retirement from Major League Baseball effective immediately.
I’ve come to a decision today to retire from Major League Baseball as an active player. This has been on my mind recently, but it’s not an easy decision to come by. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have played Major League Baseball for so long and thankful for all of the friendships I have made, while also being proud of my accomplishments.
I’d like to thank my family for all of the sacrifices they have made all of these years for me. I’d like to thank the Seattle Mariners organization for allowing me to finish my playing career where it started. I look forward to a continued, meaningful relationship with them for many years to come.
While I feel I am still able to make a contribution on the field, and nobody in the Mariners front office has asked me to retire, I told the Mariners when I met with them prior to the 2009 season and was invited back, that I will never allow myself to become a distraction. I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharper coming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be an unfair distraction to my teammates, and their success as team is what the ultimate goal should be.
My hope is that my teammates can focus on baseball and win a championship for themselves and for the great fans of Seattle, who so very much deserve one. Thanks to all of you for welcoming me back, and thanks again to everyone over the years who has played a part in the success of my career.
Sadly, Griffey’s retirement was the right thing to do. He’d had one at-bat in nine days, it lowering his batting average to .184. He’d hit 19 home runs last season and none in 108 plate appearances this season. He had a glove, but being forced to DH because of his dropoff in speed and jump, would never need it to play the field. He wore the familiar uniform and number, but his game had passed, even if the swing remained nostalgic. Most importantly, he leaves the game with a sparkling name when just about everyone else from his era has been tarnished during The Steroid Era.
He made the right choice. As he fades into retirement, he leaves behind his legacy as the best of his generation. He won’t have the numbers to prove it, or the trophies, or even a single World Series appearance. But put him on a baseball field, level it, and play baseball – The Kid stands above them all.