This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
In the early 1990’s, the most coveted baseball card was easily the Upper Deck Rookie Card of Ken Griffey Jr. Even kids who weren’t fans of the Seattle Mariners clamored to find a Griffey card in every pack they unwrapped. The backwards cap, the distinctly smooth home run swing, and the sensational defensive plays in the outfield are all contributing factors to the then-new universal appreciation of the next superstar.
Now, according to a report by ESPN.com, Ken Griffey Jr. is heading off into the baseball sunset after more than twenty five hundred games and more than eleven thousand at bats, carrying with him an incredible body of work that will undoubtedly land “The Kid” in the National Baseball Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. For the first time since 1973, there will be no Ken Griffey playing major league baseball. Next year, for the first time in 38 years, there will be no Ken Griffey baseball card to be discovered in a fresh pack of baseball cards.
The son of a 19 year veteran, Junior Griffey blasted through the minor leagues and joined the Seattle Mariners in 1989. A year later, Ken Griffey Sr. joined his sons team. The Griffey’s made history as the first father and son pair to play on the same team at the same time, and are also the only father-son duo to hit back to back home runs. It was the first of many historic moments for Griffey Jr. He finished third for the 1989 A.L. Rookie of the Year award, but earned many accolades over the next two plus decades. Starting in 1990, he was selected to participate in eleven straight All-Star games, en route to 13 All-Star nods in total. In addition to being voted the American League Most Valuable Player in 1997, he was awarded the Gold Glove every year during the 1990’s. To go along with his incredible defense, Griffey earned 7 Silver Slugger Awards.
Between 1989-1999, Ken Griffey Jr. amassed 398 home runs, leading the league four times in that category. A perennial candidate for Most Valuable Player, the future Hall of Famer showcased his ability to rise to the occasion when he cranked 5 home runs in the 1995 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, and continued his torrid hitting against the Cleveland Indians in the Championship Series.
Before the age of 30, it was widely believed that the center fielder would challenge the single season home run record, and certainly Hank Aaron for the all-time record for most career home runs. While Griffey continued to initially perform at a high level, it is impossible to ignore the transition of his career following the 1999 season when he requested a trade to his hometown Cincinnati Reds.
In his first season with the Reds, Junior Griffey slugged 40 homers and knocked in 100 runs for the fifth straight season. As it turns out, the 2000 season marked the final time he reached either milestone. After playing in at least 127 games in 10 of the 12 previous seasons, he suffered through a number of season ending injuries that limited him to 317 games between 2001 and 2004. He managed to crank 63 home runs during his injury plagued seasons.
Griffey battled back in 2005 to slug 35 homers to go along with a .301 batting average in 128 games, the most since his debut season with the Reds. His resurgence garnered him the National League Comeback Player of the Year award and marked another turning point in his career. From 2005-2007, he averaged 30 home runs, 86 runs batted in and 75 runs scored to go along with a .278 average.
Entering the 2008 season, the veteran sat at 593 home runs and cranked another 15 for the Cincinnati Reds before being traded at the deadline to the Chicago White Sox. The move put Griffey back in playoff contention and into the postseason for the first time since 1997. He managed just 2 hits in the three game sweep at the hands of the upstart Tampa Bay Rays.
Entering the 2008 off-season, Griffey found himself entering free agency for the first time in his career. Following a positive return to Seattle during Interleague Play, the courtship renewed and Number 24 returned to Seattle for the 2009 season. Though his bat had slowed, the slugger still managed to hit 19 home runs in his return season. His overall numbers plummeted and that trait continued into the 2010 season.
Regardless of how his final few seasons turned out, Ken Griffey Jr. retires with 2781 hits, 630 home runs, 1836 runs batted in, and many more numbers that rank him among the greatest players to ever wear the uniform. Though his next home run would have put him in an exclusive club of players that have hit home runs in four different decades, there’s another exclusive group of players that he will hopefully join in Cooperstown, New York in just five years time.