Picture it: a farm North of Lloydminster, 1995. October 1995 to be exact. A young, fat, Tyler Campbell is glued to his TV watching the MLB playoffs for the first time in 2 years thanks to the 94 strike. With the Jays out of it pretty much all season, I had fallen in love with a team down the stretch that season. I had always liked them a lot, but the run they went on was amazing. And they had a guy who was quickly becoming my favourite player. Of course that team was the Seattle Mariners, and that player was “the kid”, Ken Griffey Jr.
As a 12 year old, I don’t know how anyone could be more appealing. The Mariners were the cool team in general, with Jay Buhner who was rocking what is now known as the Stone Cold Steve Austin look, Randy Johnson throwing 100 MPH and dominating batters, and one of the best offences in baseball (notice I’m now going with Canadian spelling? Rocky IV taught me that I can change…).
But Griffey was just on another planet. He was a lot like Michael Jordan and really was MLB’s Michael Jordan. When MJ dunked, he just was so much smoother than anyone else you had ever seen. And MJ was just naturally cool. He wasn’t trying to be cool, he just was. That was how Griffey was too. He was so smooth and fluent. The way he ran, the way he threw, the way he swung the bat. We haven’t seen anyone with that fluent of a swing since.
1st overall pick of the 1987 draft, and not even 2 years later he was the starting CF for the Mariners. He played with his dad for 51 games! He played in 4 different decades. You have to start at a pretty damn young age to play in 4 different decades.
People forget, Griffey went down with a broken wrist early in that amazing 95 season. It looked like that would be it for the Mariners. But they got hot in August of that season. They got Griffey back after missing 73 games and made up a 13 game…yes 13 game deficit on the then California Angels to force a 1 game playoff, which was tight until the bottom of the 6th inning when the Mariners blew it open, winning 9-1.
So they went to New York to take on the Yankees and this to me is still the best series I’ve ever seen. But I’m going to try to not talk about the series, just the man who dominated it.
As Brent Musburger just told you, that was his 5th home run of the series. Reggie Jackson had his 5 in 6 games, this was done in 5. And with the 3 homers you just watched, the common theme is they were trailing every time he hit those bombs. Not in garbage time when they had the game in hand or the game was out of hand. It was to lead a comeback.
Of course then in extra innings of that game 5, the man is pretty well remembered for this too:
I never get sick of seeing clips from that series, now over 20 years later.
In 1997 for a large majority of the season, it was Griffey who was chasing Roger Maris’ home run record. Mark McGwire caught up and eventually bested Griffey’s total by the end of the season (58-56), but as we now know McGwire was just a tad “enhanced”.
In 97 he won his only MVP award. Tough to believe when you look at the guys track record. 13 time all-star, won a gold glove every single year of the 90’s, 7 time silver slugger, 4 time AL home run champion, and in 1999 he was named to the MLB all century team.
The back half of his career was really derailed by injuries. It robbed us of seeing him reach 3,000 hits, for sure would have reached 700 home runs, and might have eclipsed 755. The trade to Cincinnati turned out to be a major disappointment, and is likely why Griffey hasn’t been as fondly remembered as he should be.
Everyone seems to agree that Griffey should have become the first unanimous hall of famer in MLB history. But make no mistake, he is very much so worthy of getting the highest percentage of votes in the history of the hall of fame. Nobody ever doubted that he was clean his entire career, mainly because he was the exact same guy as that scrawny 19 year old in the video at the top as he was when he was crushing 56 home runs in 1997. And the biggest thing PED’s do is help you recover from injuries much quicker. At the peak of the steroid era, this guy was more injured than anyone.
I believe because of the way it ended and because of it being the steroid era, coupled with never playing in a major market and never winning a World Series, it can be easy for people to forget about how amazing he was. But he was hands down the best player of the 90’s. He did it with an amazing bat and an equally amazing glove. Easily my favourite ball player of all time, and it was so cool yesterday to finally see people remembering and praising the guy as he deserves to be.
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