Thursday, June 3, 2010

Swan Song


Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball yesterday. His swan song was not a soaring aria -- just the quiet strum of an announcement made almost as an afterthought. Late-career injuries prevented Griffey from fulfilling the complete measure of his considerable abilities, but they didn't stop him from clouting 630 career home runs (fifth all time) or from playing the most inspired center field of his era.

At his peak in the 90s, before injuries enervated his effectiveness, Griffey was that rarest of players: He possessed in extravagance the five coveted baseball tools of hitting, hitting for power, speed, fielding, and throwing. And, he was a center fielder in the bargain. A great defensive center fielder alone is a rarity; five-tool center fielders with the celestial talents of a Ken Griffey are nearly unheard of: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Joe Jackson come to mind, but I can't think of any others.

Shorty after moving to Seattle, we went to a Mariners game. The next day, I called my brother in Texas to tell him that he had to see this guy Griffey play. At the time, he was 20. A year or so later, Griffey made the best catch (3:35 on the video below) I've ever seen a outfielder make. The film doesn't do the play justice. It doesn't show how hard Ruben Sierra hit the ball, nor does one get an appreciation for the perfect angle Griffey cut as he streaked across the outfield in a straight line, leapt at the last split second for a backhanded catch, then caught his cleats in the wall. You don't hear the crowd's voice gather in anticipation as it began to look like he had a chance. Nor do you see Ruben Sierra turning his head between second and third to shake it in disbelief.

I've seen a lot a of ballplayers since attending my first game in 1961. That doesn't include Mays or Mantle (who was pretty much past his prime by 1962), but none of the rest hold a candle to Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime. I'll never see another ballplayer as good...

Old teammates Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez remember Griffey and wish him well. Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame...

Tom Verducci writes that Griffey's game was sublime, the embodiment of how baseball should be played...

Here, Griffey talks about his five greatest catches as a Mariner. Number 1 is the catch I describe above:

4 comments:

John Hayes said...

Great footage & a fine tribute to a truly great player. I only got to see Griffey play live once--in Oakland in the 90s--don't recall the year, but A-Rod was on the Mariners. He was among the elite all-time for sure.

RGG said...

I believe what you said was "You've got to see this guy play. I can almost guarantee that he will do something spectacular."
Didn't Dad take us to a Senators game specifically to see Mickey Mantle play?
And I'm positive we saw Mays and the Giants at the Astrodome and possbly at Three Rivers -- remember the two games that Bobby Bonds led off with HRs? Juan Marichal pitched one of them.

K. said...

I think we went to the Senators game because Ted Williams was their manager. I missed the two trips to see Mays, although I remember seeing Hank Aaron in the Dome. We also saw what at the time was Tom Seaver's last game as a Met; he was traded to the Reds a couple of days later.

The Dominican Dandy! What a leg kick! There's got to some good footage of that on YouTube.

Dave Miller said...

I too posted on Griffey. He was a great player who might have legitimately broken Maris' record, were it not for the strike.

Mays however was better. His catch in '54 might be the best play in history and had he played in better parks, as opposed to the spacious Polo Grounds and the wind tunnel known as Candlestick, he easily would have passed Ruth before Aaron...