If you were lucky enough to ever watch Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball, you witnessed one of the greatest hitters of all time. There is a reason Griffey is iconic as he is and why Nike still uses his Swingman logo on its baseball gear.
Griffey wasn’t my favorite player, but that was probably only because he played on the west coast and every game wasn’t televised every night back in the 90s. Had he played on the east coast or had Spring Training in Florida, I might be an even bigger Griffey fan than I am now.
Fan favorites are hard to come by, and it takes more than just talent to become one for any athlete. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Derek Jeter are probably some of the few true fan favorites of this generation. Unfortunately for Ken Griffey Jr., his injuries are probably what cost him from becoming even a bigger icon than what he already is.
Asking kids today who has the best swing in baseball, you might hear Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano, or Bryce Harper. In the 90s, very few people would argue that there was a better swing than Junior. He was the closest thing to a natural and played with such grace and fluid motions. His swing was a thing of beauty and a true art form for the game of baseball. His defense was just as spectacular as he made diving catches and robbing home runs at the walls of every ball park he played in.
I almost was a Mariners fan for the simple fact that Griffey played for them. Not to mention the other talent Seattle had back in the day with Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez (before he was A-Rod), Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez. But Griffey was by far the most popular of them all. His light-hearted attitude and smiles on the baseball field were so fan friendly and really put a positive spin on baseball.
Before all of the steroid issues in the late 90s, there was baseball’s Golden Boy. Even if you weren’t a fan of the Mariners, it was nearly impossible to not root for Ken Griffey Jr. He had an aurora that just produced greatness whenever he was on the field. I couldn’t believe it when he ended up in Cincinnati, despite the fact that his dad played for them. It was like seeing Jordan in a Wizards’ uniform, Joe Namath in a Rams’ uniform, or imagining Cal Ripken Jr. in anything except an Orioles’ uniform. I got used to seeing Griffey in the red and white pinstripes after a while, but it was nothing like when he was in Seattle.
One of the best parts about Ken Griffey Jr. playing was when he competed in the home run derby. His backwards hat was perfect for that atmosphere. It would almost be more entertaining to see him still competing in the home run derby to this day rather than see guys that are one year wonders at the plate. No offense to the current derby participants, but after watching Griffey compete it is hard to imagine anybody better.
Not many athletes get their own video game, but Griffey was one of the few who did. Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run was by far one of my favorite baseball video games as a kid. Of course it was most fun playing as Griffey himself.
Movie cameos are another thing that I love, and Griffey had one himself in Little Big League. It is awesome to see real life players in fictional sports movies, and Junior was no different. Although he got picked off by a trick play in the movie, Griffey had the last laugh as his team ended up winning the game in which he played in the movie. He’ll steal second, steal third, and might even steal home.
Ken Griffey Jr. was by far one of the greatest athletes of the 90s and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Without setbacks from injuries, he might have been the all-time home run leader with his ability to hit the long ball. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, including Griffey’s career. His legacy still lives on through Swingman, which players still wear today.