It was Opening Day 1989 when Ken Griffey Jr., then 19, entered baseball, making his Major League Debut with the Seattle Mariners wearing Jersey No. 24
A little over 20 years later, that’s exactly how he left it.
Griffey Jr. announced earlier today that, after 20 seasons, he was hanging up his cleats and calling it quits.
This announcement comes after weeks of speculation that Griffey Jr. was sleeping in the clubhouse during games instead of pinch hitting . “I know that the gist of the article was that he wasn’t available to pinch hit,” Wakamatsu said. “He was available to pinch-hit and I chose not to.” Griffey himself when confronted by reporters, confirmed that he was “always available to play.”
While it’s sad to see him go, it was smart to leave now; the numbers speak for themselves. While he has not been the star he once was for years, so far in 2010 Griffey Jr. had no home runs, a mere seven runs batted in and a .184 batting average in 33 games with a team not even playing .500 ball.
Griffey Jr.’s return to Seattle in 2009 seemed the set-up for a storybook ending to his not-so-smooth fairytale. While a Mariner, Griffey was a 10-time American League Gold Glove winner, the 1992 All-Star Game MVP, 1997 AL MVP and named to the All-Century Team in 1999.
However, after captivating fans and dominating the sport in the 1990s, the last 10 years have seen his career marred by injuries which cost him more than 600 games and perhaps, even the coveted spot at the top of the all-time home run hitters list. (He finished fifth, with 630; 132 shy of Bonds’ 762).
It’s easy for fans, especially younger fans, to forget what Ken Griffey Jr. did, and meant, for baseball. In an era full of superstars who have now come clean about using steroids, Griffey Jr. remains a golden boy, one who has openly spoken out against steroid use, telling The New York Times in 2003 “You either have a short-term reward or a long-term reward.”
It also worthwhile to note that baseball is a sport that, unlike football or basketball, does not have a large quantity of African-American superstars. That is currently a topic of controversy within the Major League community, with players like star Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabitha actively promoting baseball within minority communities to get children interested and involved at a young age. In a sport with the odds stacked against him, Griffey Jr. came out swinging.
So, while he may not have made it to the top of the home-run list, and may leave with the inevitable “what-ifs”, he has openly said he has no regrets–nor should he. While his superstar light may have dimmed, he left an indelible mark on baseball and inspired a generation.