Saturday, November 14, 2009

One More Round For "The Kid"

Every 1990’s little leaguers’ favorite player will be back for another year in 2010.

On Wednesday, Ken Griffey, Jr. signed a one-year deal worth $2 million plus performance incentives to stay with the Seattle Mariners for at least one more season.

Griffey turns 40 on November 21, but many still remember him as “The Kid”.

Escaping his father’s, Ken Griffey, Sr., shadow seemed to come natural to him. Junior possessed one of the sweetest swings any one had witnessed. The smoothness of his swing also generated quite a bit of power, sending majestic fly balls into the upper decks. He was also a fantastic fielder with a flair for some of the most exciting catches one could see. Griffey could run, dive, and jump the wall, and the ball would almost always magically drop into his mitt.

What Michael Jordan was to basketball, Griffey was to baseball. He owned the sport on the field, and was a marketing icon off it.

He has belted 630 career home runs, the most for any active player and fifth all-time. He’s been selected to 13 All-Star games. He has 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger Awards. He won the Home Run Derby three times. He was named the AL MVP in 1997 and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century team.

When not watching Griffey playing in a game, you were sure to see him on television in commercials for Nike, Pepsi, or Nintendo, or on television shows like The Simpsons, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the David Letterman Show.

Through all the years and all the success, Griffey did everything the right way. He was gracious to his fans and kind to the media. You never heard him speak poorly toward his teammates. And a biggie, although we can never be one hundred percent sure with players from this era, many are confident in saying Griffey was successful without the use of performing enhancing drugs. It was just a joy to watch his pure ability on display with a smile always gracing his face.

Still, one can’t help but think that the baseball world and the sporting world in general, were just a little bit cheated.

After a decent first season with the Reds in 2000 Griffey went through an assortment of injuries. He was injured in 2001 and missed 51 games. He suffered season ending injuries from ’02-’04, where he played in no more than 83 games in any of those seasons.

The injury in ’04 was the worst. While chasing down a ball hit to the outfield he tore his hamstring and required a special experimental operation dubbed “The Junior Operation”.

In September of ’05 he strained a tendon in his foot and was shut down for the season. In ’06 he broke his wrist.

He came back with a vengeance in 2007, hitting 30 home runs, driving in 93 runs, and making the All-Star team for the first time since 2004.

However, the injuries have taken their toll. Junior’s production has significantly dropped and he is not the player he once was. In that renascence year of ’07, Griffey hit .277. In ’08, it dropped to .249, and in his latest season he hit a measly .219.

Still, even at his worst single season batting average, pitchers walked Junior 63 times, the most for any Mariner that season, signifying that there was still a lot of respect remaining for Griffey.

Griffey missed significant time due to injury while in Cincinnati. It leaves one to wonder: he has 650 home runs now, how many would he have hit if he actually played close to full seasons during that hellacious six-year stretch? How many more Gold Gloves could he have won? Would we be mentioning Griffey as the greatest baseball player to ever live?

Alas, all we can do now is wonder what could have been. Instead, we see steroid-scandal poster child and media villain Barry Bonds atop the home run record and chasing him is admitted performance enhancing drug user Alex Rodriguez.

Injuries are part of the game though, and you won’t hear Griffey complain about them. He is just happy to still be playing the game of baseball.

"I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to have a player who enjoys playing the game as much as he does," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu told the press. "He's fun. He's infectious to his teammates. He's such a breath of fresh air."

The television show appearances and sponsorship deals are gone and what kind of playing time Griffey will receive remains uncertain, but the future Hall of Famer is ready to accept any role, whether it be an everyday player or he comes off the bench. It speaks measures of his class and how much he enjoys just being part of the game.

"I look forward to contributing in any role that [manager] Don [Wakamatsu] sees fit on the field, and any manner I possibly can off the field," Griffey said in a statement.

Although it can be tough to watch him struggle to hit .220, seeing him come back another year can only bring child-like smiles and wonderment to baseball fans’ eyes.

Here’s to hoping there is still a little bit of “The Kid” left in Ken Griffey Junior, for old time’s sake.

Photo Credits. All photos: AP Photo/John Froschauer

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