Ken Griffey Jr: My Mickey Mantle
30 years ago til now, fans and critics continue the debate of Mickey Mantle the greatest Yankee of all time…….barring injuries. Not so much for his stats, lifestyle, or tragic end, but for his imposing personality and his ability to transcend beyond the sport itself. 30 years later, they will be calling Ken Griffey Jr. the greatest baseball player in the steroid era, and perhaps top 10 all-time.
My experience growing up with Griffey will make me a little biased, but let me explain…
As a young African-American male in a white suburban neighborhood, I often found it hard to relate to my peers as far as hobbies. I wasn’t into BMX’ing, skateboarding, or quads. But the one thing we all had in common is that we loved baseball. There was a baseball field in my neighborhood (even if it was all dirt) and during the summers, we would all go and play baseball, emulating our favorite baseball players. It would be a collection of Greg Maddux, Barry Larkin, Gary Sheffield, and Ken Griffey Jr.
I had Ken Griffey’s stance. I patterned my swing after his. I had my hat cocked backwards EVERYWHERE. I wore the #24 on ALL OF MY SPORTS TEAMS, including my junior varsity year in Basketball. I always played center field, and tried to make catches off the wall….to no avail.
I religiously watched the Mariners every day. The lineup was this (in no order): Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, A young A-Rod (this is why the Mariners suck nowadays), probably the best lineup of the 90s. Though they didn’t win anything, they still produced at a very high level, even making the ALCS one year (with the infamous Griffey slide against the Yankees).
During his career, Griffey won 10 gold gloves in 22 years. 13 time all-star, and is 5th in total homeruns (630). Oh yeah, he also never failed a drug test, or tested positive for steroids. He was drafted number one overall at 16 YEARS OLD and entered the league at 19 years old!!! He was named to the All-Century team at 29!!! He is an anomaly in today’s HGH-filled baseball world, and continues to retain respect from teammates, foes, and critics alike.
He (not Barry Bonds) is the marquee African-American athlete in baseball. Kids of all races rocked his Nike shoes. He was the modern day Mickey Mantle-people just gravitated to him naturally. He created euphoria wherever he went. After his 97 MVP year (please google that, you will be amazed), things slowly went downhill…
Once he left the Mariners, my heart dropped. Injuries robbed him of his superstar talent. He changed his number. The Reds never quite accepted him, as he was trying to honor his father by playing for his team. (The Reds) He played for a forgettable White Sox team. He was no longer relevant in the major leagues anymore. ”The Kid” became “The Adult.” “The Natural” became “The Human” and was never the same….
For 90s babies, regardless of creed or background, you admired and respected Ken Griffey Jr. More than Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter (who is my new favorite player), Albert Puljos, or Barry Bonds. He is our Mantle. Our hero. Never had an off the field incident. A true legend, and in my top 10 all-time baseball players, and 2nd best center fielder (Willie Mays owns that easily) Let’s toast to a better after-baseball life than Mantle.