Friday, June 4, 2010

The Best Baseball Player I've Ever Seen Links

As everyone is aware of by now, Ken Griffey Jr. retired on Wednesday. Here in Philadelphia, the news took a back seat to game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Across the nation, it was overshadowed by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce and the perfect game that wasn't. And as a 26-year-old sports fan, that just doesn't sit right with me, and it shouldn't sit well for anyone who was privileged enough to watch Ken Griffey Jr. ply his trade for 22 remarkable seasons.

In my eyes, Ken Griffey Jr. takes a back seat to nobody. He was the Michael Jordan of baseball, sadly minus the championships. But he was every bit as good on the diamond as Jordan was on the hardwood. The man had no weakness in his game. Not a one. Yesterday, silver fox laid out the stats: 630 home runs, 1,836 RBI, 2,781 hits, 184 stolen bases, 10 Gold Gloves, 13 all-star appearances and an MVP. Truly impressive, staggering numbers, especially for a guy who was riddled with injuries his entire career.

As incredible as his numbers are, they don't tell the whole story. Ken Griffey Jr. transcended numbers. He was a god walking amongst men. During his prime, which spanned the entire decade of the '90s, there was no argument as to who the game's best player was. It was Ken Griffey Jr. and everyone else. He was Willie Mays reincarnated — a swift, smooth centerfielder who covered more ground than anyone, with a rifle arm to boot; a picture-perfect swing that generated astonishing power without sacrificing contact; a deer on the base paths; a player so good, so talented that he made it all look so easy.

All my life, I've admired players that value their defense as much as their offense. Over the past few years, as injury and age and a more rotund waistline caught up with him, Griffey's defensive abilities vanished, but in his prime, in his early days, he was arguably the best defensive centerfielder who ever lived. I've gotten to watch the Kenny Loftons, the Andruw Joneses, the Torii Hunters and Jim Edmondses, some of the truly incredible centerfielders the game has ever seen. And not a single one of them could hold a candle to Griffey. No one got to more balls. No one took better routes. No one made stronger, more accurate throws. Most people remember his sweet swing first and foremost. Me? I think about all his diving catches, about breaking his wrist with a miraculous catch at the wall, about him gunning a runner down at the plate.

In his prime, he was far and away the best baseball player I've ever laid eyes on. Better than Bonds. Better A-Rod. Yes, even better than Albert Pujols. He played the toughest outfield position, probably the third toughest defensive spot on the field behind catcher and shortstop, and he was the best at it. He hit for power. He hit for average. And he had more speed than should be legal.

And he brought a joy to the game that so few of today's athletes display. Before injuries robbed him of prime years and he became less outgoing, you couldn't look at Griffey without seeing a smile on his face. He was engaging, endearing, a man who truly loved what he did for a living. With the backwards hat and the giant grin, he looked every bit the part of "The Big Kid." And he played the game with the enthusiasm of a little leaguer imaging himself playing in the World Series. He wasn't just the best, but the most likable too.

The biggest shame of it all is the way he's been brushed aside over the years. As Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa HGH-ed and steroided their way into the record books, Griffey was put on the backburner. When his career ended, I found out by a ticker on ESPN, not a break-in news story, because a perfect game was going on. The man has been lost in the shuffle, and that's not fair. It's not right. To think that there is an entire generation just below mine that knows Griffey only as the aging, slightly overweight slugger whose career fizzled out makes my blood curl, and makes me realize just how lucky I was to get to watch him at his peak.

Ken Griffey Jr. wasn't just one of the best players of his day. He was THE BEST player of his day, one of the greatest of all time. He was the left-handed Willie Mays. He was The Kid. And that kid made grown men marvel at his remarkable feats, for 22 incredible years. The game always goes on, new stars always emerge, but a player like Ken Griffey Jr. only comes along once in a generation. I couldn't be more honored that he happened to come along during mine.

Links …

-Dash has his chilling farewell to the Kid, painting a picture-perfect scene of his thrilling gallop around the bases to beat the mighty Yankees.

Really great read.

-Beelove re-emerges as well with his thoughts on Griffey.

-Ed has his Griffey tribute as well.

-Big League Stew was all over Griffey's retirement yesterday.

-Landon Evanson pays homage to Griffey, or as he calls him, the best.

-Rob Iracane's take on Griffey.

-Dan Levy provides his top 10 moments of Girffey's career.

-And yet another voice on Griffey:

Ken Griffey Jr. left Seattle bound for his home in Orlando Wednesday afternoon.

Diminished playing time and lack of productivity brought to an end one of the greatest careers in baseball history.

If the airplane had been headed straight to Cooperstown, it would have been just as appropriate, because the Hall of Fame is bound to be Griffey's next home.

Couldn't agree more.

-Jayson Stark discussing what was and what if with Griffey:

Here we have one of four players in history to hit 600 homers, one of three outfielders in history to win three Gold Gloves, the only outfielder in history to be elected to start 13 All-Star Games -- and we're still wondering WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?

Digest that thought for a moment.

He was still one of the two or three greatest players any of us ever saw play, from beginning to end. But …

He easily could have been in the argument for Greatest Player Ever. Easily.

Great read.

-Jim Caple captures what Griffey meant to Seattle.

-And finally, Tim Kurkjian's tribute to Griffey:

In 1989, the Mariners wanted Griffey to spend a third year in the minor leagues and play a year at Triple-A. "When he came to camp in 1989, he had no chance to make the team," Bradley said. "But he got a lot of at-bats early that spring because a lot of veterans don't like to play a lot early. After 20 games, he wasn't just the best player on our team, he was the best player in the league that spring. The Mariners basically said, 'We don't want this to happen, we don't want to rush him, we don't want him to make the team.' So they started running him out there against every elite pitcher, against all the nastiest left-handers they could find in hopes that he would stop hitting, and they could send him out [to the minors]. It never happened."

-The Phillies installed Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn plaques at Citizens Bank Park.

Really miss those guys.

-Adam EatShit passed this along:


-Me on Kobe over at Ed the Sports Fan.

-Good read on Ville Leino.

-Another stroke of genius by Peter Laviolette: Getting Hartnell's play turned around in the postseason.

-A funny dismantling of Bill Simmons, via Deadspin.

-Bad news for Ivory Coast and the World Cup: Drogba may be done.

-The Phils signed Willy Tavares. If I had my way, I'd immediately call him up to the big club (a speedy guy who has a career batting average of .274) and send down Greg Dobbs.

-KG and Paul Pierce playing in the McDonald's All-American game, along with Vince Carter, Robert Traylor, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, among others:

-In case you forgot, Tracy McGrady used to be all sorts of amazing:

-Top 10 plays in Lakers-Celtics Finals history:

On tap this weekend, the Phillies return to begin a four-game set against San Diego and hopefully find their missing offense. And of course, game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight, game three slated for Sunday night. Three more wins.


BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. I still get choked up watching Junior round the bases against the Yankees...and I have no shame in saying that.