A lasting image I have of Ken Griffey Jr. came on a morning the Reds were scheduled to play an unusual noontime game at Great American Ballpark on a very hot Cincinnati day in July.
The night before, I had driven frantically from a game in Milwaukee trying to get to the ballpark when the gates first opened. Batting practice had concluded and all of the players escaped into the air conditioning in the clubhouse – except for one. All smiles all the time, Junior held court posing for pictures, signing autographs, and just chatting. I noticed two things about him. One, he never took his bat out of his hands. And secondly, he always gave special attention to the kids who had come to see him perform.
Now, you might be asking yourself what this has to do with the Hall Of Fame. It has everything to do with the Hall. Numbers get you to the point of being seriously considered for election, but character and integrity put a player over the top. Junior has it all and he deserves a first ballot vote in. If this were not true, Bonds and Clemens would have been elected years ago……except that character flaws should count and more and more we see that they do when writers cast their ballots.
Ken Griffey Jr is as special as the numbers he put up. 630 home runs, nearly 2800 hits, 1800 RBI, and ten Gold Gloves. Hold on, there’s more coming. He earned those Gold Gloves as a fearless center fielder for most of his career. Eight times he landed on the DL, mostly because he had crashed into a wall trying to make a catch. In fact, he missed 392 games over the course of his career due to injuries. ESPN did a study and found that Junior, if he had been able to play in most or all of those games, would easily have out distanced Barry Bonds and would have become the all time home run leader.
But we don’t really need the “ifs and buts”. His numbers stand alone. Moreover, Ken Griffey Jr – the man – stands alone.