Narwhal Party

On Ken Griffey, Jr.
07/13/2010, 11:14 am
Filed under: Sports, Words | Tags: , , , , , ,

[I know that the retirement of Ken Griffey, Jr. is old news, but Nike aired a farewell commercial during the Home Run Derby last night, so I figured now was a good a time as ever for this post]

Ken Griffey, Jr. was seventeen when he signed his first Major League contract with the Seattle Mariners after being drafted in 1987. I was five when he made his debut two years later. But by the time he was the best in the game, I was a budding sports fan and The Kid, already crowned by some as the Greatest Ever, was on my team. And the significance of such a scenario can’t be overstated. Junior was a marketing machine: shoes, t-shirts, posters, a fantastically enjoyable video game, a candy bar, appearances on The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince, hundreds of commercials. And he was Ours. His swing was poetry, and his passion for the game was unparalleled.

The absolute purity of that swing, the recklessness with which he threw himself after fly balls in center field, the constant smile on his face. All aspects integral to the hero that saved baseball in Seattle and got the Mariners the state-of-the-art stadium they play in today. It’s also that reckless abandon that contributed to his several injuries–injuries that prevented him from playing for much of the 2000s. But that willingness to sacrifice his body to make a catch made him a star and exemplified his passion for the game. He broke his wrist to make an incredible catch during the legendary (in Seattle) ’95 season–a catch, I can proudly brag, that I saw in person, from high, high up in the Kingdome bleachers that smelled like peanuts and beer, my glove in hand. He would return later in the season and be a part of the biggest play in the history of the franchise, pushing the Mariners past the Yankees and into the ALCS (known simply as “The Double”).

It’s easy to look back now and talk about what could have been. Had Griffey stayed healthy, he would probably be the all-time home run champion. Without steroids. And the fact that his career has been riddled with injuries is testament to the fact that he had a clean career: Most players who used performance-enhancing drugs did so to stave off time on the disabled list, while building their bulk in the process. Number one on the list (Barry Bonds) is a known steroid user, as are number six (Sammy Sosa) and the still-active number seven (Alex Rodriguez). Griffey retired at number five, all-time. And all the talk of what could have been, where he would be on this list had he never been injured, is fairly tragic, but it’s nothing compared to the sensation of watching the The Greatest in his prime, with all that hope and possibility ahead.

So the announcement of Griffey’s retirement mid-season was truly bittersweet. To have a slower, older Girffey back in Seattle the last year-and-a-half has been both exciting and absolutely frustrating. But for Junior to retire mid-season is only further proof of his passion for the game and respect for the team. He knew it was time to pack it in and give his team another roster spot, so he quietly stepped down. In five years he will be in the Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, and surely there will be a statue in Seattle soon.

Nike has always had fantastic ads and this one is no different. It aired, so appropriately, during the 2010 Home Run Derby:

Finally, here’s a wonderful highlight reel (including the wrist-break and The Double) of The Kid who was destined to be the greatest (played at Safeco Field the day he announced his retirement):

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