"I just want to be the best player Ken Griffey can be -- not what everybody expects me to be. I'm tougher on myself than anybody."
Woe how the mighty have fallen. The great Shakespeare himself could not pen a more potent tragedy than the one of Ken Griffey Jr. A hot 2nd generation outfielder who could swing a bat with the best of em; it once seemed that this man would conquer the baseball world. Early projections had Griffey pounding out hundreds upon hundreds of home runs, but since signing with the Cincinnati Reds, he has become plagued by ever constant injuries. Does baseball have another curse? Will Griffey ever regain his All-Star status? These are questions that cannot be answered.
George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was born on November 21, 1969, in Donora, Pennsylvania. The son of Ken Griffey Sr., Junior grew up inside the Reds' lockerroom during the hey-day of the Big Red Machine. At Moeller High School, Griffey excelled at football and baseball. After his graduation, the Seattle Mariners picked Ken as the first overall pick in the 1987 June draft. Ken spent only two years in the minor leagues, before being called up to the majors at the age of 19. Lebron James eat your heart out.
Ken started his career with the swing that would crown him The King of Seattle. In his first at bat in the majors, he punched a double. His first pitch in Seattle's Kingdome was sent out of the field for a home run. At one point during his rookie season, the kid hit 8 straight, giving hope to the fans that the Mariners might have a good season soon. A broken finger stymied plans for a Rookie of the Year run. Griffey ended his first season with a respectable .264 batting average with 61 rbi and 16 dingers. This season also marked the first that a father and son played in the majors at the same time.
Junior continued to do nothing but improve while in Seattle. His numbers climbed with every season. In 1993 Ken Griffey Jr. blew up. He provided a solid foundation for the Mariners as they expanded their roster, with acquisitions of Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, and Randy Johnson. 93 saw Griffey rip a whopping 45 home runs, including a streak of 8 straight games with a home-run, tying the then record held by Don Mattingly and Dale Long. After that season, Ken's babyface was everywhere.
The 1994 season was shortened by the Player's Strike, although you could not tell that by the numbers put up by Ken Griffey Jr. In 111 games he smacked 41 home runs. At that pace he would have hit ~60 home runs, and easily could have surpassed Roger Marris then record of 61 home runs. 1995 would be a different year for The Kid. With everyone expecting a stellar year, Ken broke his wrist while making a spectacular catch off a Kevin Bass line drive. Griffey ended up missing half the season, 73 games, due to the injury. He came back to the fold in time for the end of the season, and helped the Mariners make up a 13 game difference, and force a one game playoff with the Anaheim Angels for the AL West pennant. The Mariners beat the Angels that day, earning not only the first pennant in team history, but also the first playoff berth for the team. Griffey was the driving force that got the Mariners out of the first round, defeating the New York Yankees in five games. However, in the next round of the playoffs, Seattle was defeated by the Cleveland Indians.
1997 was the season of Ken Griffey Jr. His face was now everywhere. He had a candy bar named after him, two different games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and several endorsements with Pepsi, Pizza Hut and several other companies. On the field, Ken was in his prime. He spanked 56 home runs, which put him at 5th on the all time list for homers in a season. That, combined with his 147 RBIs and his near perfect, aggressive defense earned him the AL MVP. Ken was the 8th MVP to be voted unanimously, with no other players getting a single vote. While Griffey would repeat these statistics in the following season, not many would notice, nor care, especially outside the Seattle area as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were hitting home runs left and right, creating one of the most spectacular moments in baseball history.
When the Mariners traded Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros at the end of the 1998 season, Ken Griffey Jr. became depressed. Johnson was one of the best pitchers in the American League, and his trade made Griffey feel that the Mariners had given up on becoming a contender for the World Series. While the Mariners started their rebuilding process, they also started construction of Safeco Field, a new home stadium that featured real grass (which is more important than you may think) and a retractible roof. Griffey was not blinded by the fancy new field. He wanted to win, which is why he signed with the Cincinnati Reds when his contract was up. The Cincinnati Reds????
Earlier in the 1999 season, Ken moved his wife and two children to a gated community in Orlando, Florida. On November 2, 1999 Ken asked to be traded, citing that he wanted to be closer to his family. The Atlanta Braves hopped up and down with excitement at the prospect of signing one of the hottest players in baseball. The Reds also showed interest in Griffey, as they would love to have him come back to his hometown. The New York Mets also showed interest, but many teams shyed away from attempting a deal due to Seattle's high asking price for The Kid. On February 10, 2000, a deal was finalized. Griffey was returning hometo Cincy, and in return Seattle was getting pitchers Brett Tomko and Jake Meyer, as well as outfielder Mike Cameron and utility infielder Antonio Perez. Griffey signed a nine-year, $117 Millon contract. How he was closer to his family I'm not too sure, I guess being in the same time zone is close enough.
With the Reds, Griffey would not fair well. Every season he's played with the Reds has been cut short by some sort of injury or another. He has yet to be anything besides over-priced, over-hyped, and over-injured. His numbers have shriveled and dwindled, even though he showed promise after his first season as a Red. With plenty of questions floating around the Reds organization, many are wondering what the team would do with this fallen star. During the 2003 Spring Training, Griff put the rumors to an end. He smacked homeruns like he was the Ken Griffey Jr. of old, healthy and powerful. Things seemed to be going alright, and it looked like Griffey would have his comeback season. Then April 6, 2003 happened.
The season was not even a week old. During a game with the Chicago Cubs, Griffey went to make a diving catch, when he slid awkwardly, and dislocated his shoulder. Junior will miss anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks as he rehabs his shoulder. If surgery is necessary, Junior will be out for the entire season! This is his fourth major injury as a Cincinnati Red, and one can only wonder why things are going so poorly for such a talented player, and where he goes from here.
Injuries aside, Ken Griffey Jr. is an amazing ball player. He has 10 consecutive Golden Gloves to his credit, from 1990 to 1999 He was the 1997 AL MVP and has led the Majors in home runs for four different seasons. However, all this occured before his trade to the Reds. As a Red Sox fan, I am hoping that I am not seeing the formation of another curse.
Positions: Outfield, First Base
Weight: 205 lbs
Numbers: 24, with Mariners; 30, with Reds