Junior Joins Baseball Immortality in Cooperstown
The Kid is in the Hall.
Ken Griffey Jr. became the first player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Seattle Mariner on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon before a near-record crowd of around 50,000 fans in Cooperstown, New York.
After being welcomed to the Hall of Fame by Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and having his plaque inscription read by Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, it was official. With such legends of the game as Sandy Koufax, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench and others looking on, Junior joined baseball immortality.
“I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed,” Griffey said. “The last couple months have been a blur. From the call from the Hall to the calls from all the Hall of Famers who are sitting here behind me, I can’t describe how that feels, but I can tell you that I was more nervous talking to them than I am now.”
Throughout a heartfelt 21-minute speech, Junior shared his love of the game, expressed his appreciation for playing on the same team as his father and thanked numerous family, friends and teammates as well as his countless fans in the Northwest and around the world.
“From the day I got drafted to my first at-bat in the Kingdome to the ‘95 playoffs to my first trip back to Seattle as a member of the Reds and then my return to Seattle in 2009 to my retirement in 2010, Seattle, Washington has been a big part of my life,” Griffey said. “There are so many great things that I could talk about, but we’d be here all day. I am going to leave you with one thing, out of my 22 years, I learned that only one team will treat you the best, and that’s your first team. I’m damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
Junior became the first No. 1 overall draft pick to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he did it in unmistakable style. He earned 99.3 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January, the highest percentage of any Hall Famer, surpassing Tom Seaver’s previous record of 98.8 percent in 1992.
Over 22 years in the Majors, Griffey batted .284 while amassing 2,781 hits, 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI. His many awards include the 1997 American League Most Valuable Player award, 13 All-Star Game selections, 10 Gold Glove Awards and 7 Silver Sluggers. He won MVP honors for the 1992 Midsummer Classic, led the AL in homers 4 times, claimed the Home Run Derby crown 3 times and was the youngest player at 29-years-old to be named to MLB’s All-Century Team in 1999.
“I’d now like to thank the Seattle Mariners organization for taking a chance on a 17-year-old kid and allowing him to continue to play this great game of baseball,” Griffey said in his opening remarks.
Early in his speech, it was apparent just how much his family means to Griffey, as he thanked each member of his family individually. He talked about the special bond he shared with his father on the playing field.
“To my dad, who taught me how to play this game,” Griffey said. “But more importantly, he taught me how to be a man, how to work hard, how to look yourself in the mirror each and every day and not to worry about what other people are doing. See, baseball didn’t come easy for him…he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family, because that’s what men do. I love you for that.”
“I’d also to thank the families and friends and thousands of baseball fans who traveled all over the country,” Griffey said.
In a press conference following the induction ceremony, Griffey commented again on what the people of Seattle means to him, as well as the significance of the city to his family.
“I spent 13 years there,” Griffey said. “I met my wife there. Trey and Taryn were born there. I have so many friends who still live there…They have such a warm heart. There’s not a mean spirit. People care about each other…They’re just down-to-earth people who care about their sports and care more about the person.”
Griffey’s love for the game of baseball was evident throughout his 22-year career. His infectious smile and charismatic swagger, while being one of the best all-around players of his time, gained fans around the world and drew the next generation of stars to the game.
“I got to play this game for 22 years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Griffey said.
Many of Junior’s former teammates were also on hand in Cooperstown, including Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Dan Wilson and Dave Valle.
“He was the greatest teammate I ever had, a guy that gave you everything on the field and a guy that spoke the truth even though you didn’t want to hear it,” Griffey said of Buhner. “I love you for that.”
“I want to thank my family, my friends, the fans, the Reds, the White Sox and the Mariners for making this kid’s dream come true,” Griffey said.
Scenes from Cooperstown