Thursday, February 19, 2009

Junior Comes Full Circle


It seems hard to believe that nearly ten years have gone by since Ken Griffey Jr. left Seattle for Cincinnati in pursuit of a World Series Championship. What looked like the next step in Griffey's illustrious career instead marked the beginning of his decline. Moreover, Griffey's departure marked the end of my youth, and the end of a simpler age in baseball. Hopefully, Griffey's return to Seattle will bring with it a return to his prolific days. Either way, it just seems right to have Griffey back in Seattle.

I was an impressionable kid growing up in the sticks outside of Philly when Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene in the early 90s. This was back in the days of collecting baseball cards, starter jackets, and having the coolest baseball team pencils in school were the most important things to a kid. Well, with Griffey Jr. dominating, and the Mariners logo change to teal and navy in 1993, most children at Murray Avenue School were obsessed with with a player and a team over 3,000 miles away.

I had to have everything Ken Griffey Jr. I had his shoes, I had posters of him all over my room, all of his baseball cards, I had Mariners hats, I even had a Ken Griffey Jr. doll similar to one of those wrestler guys kids used to fight and throw around in their basement. Despite the Phillies making the World Series in 1993, Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player and idol. Moreover, he was the undisputed best player in baseball. I remember in the late 1990s, statisticians determined that Griffey was destined to break Hank Aaron's home run record in 10 years if he stayed healthy and put up even mediocre numbers. All was right with baseball and the world it seemed. Then came the denouement; Griffey in Cincy.

When he left Seattle for Cincinnati in a trade he approved after the 1999 season, the 29 year old with the sweetest swing in baseball had 398 home runs. Somehow, it all went wrong from there. In the nine seasons since Griffey left Seattle he has only amassed 213 home runs, compared to the 398 that he put up in 11 seasons in Seattle. Moreover, the most games he played in a season since leaving Seattle was 145 due to plaguing injuries. It seemed as if Griffey was cursed for leaving the cozy confines of the Kingdome. Moreover, the game of baseball kept moving by thrusting stars like Sammy Sosa (pronounced "Sooser") and Mark (pronounced "Mike") McGwire into the spotlight, only to see them both fingered in the great steroids scandal of the 2000s. What used to be a wonderful game dominated by one of the players whom I can come the closest to guaranteeing was clean had now become a adrift in a vast sea of juicers. Despite the fact that I was growing up anyway, I think I lost a portion of my childhood with the confluence of these events. I no longer had an idol, and I no longer could trust these athletes whom I had so revered.

Nowadays it seems that the steroid era is coming to an end. Though I wouldn't be surprised if any MLB player came out tomorrow and said he used steroids, the A-Rod scandal and the Mitchell Report have pretty much let the cat out of the bag, and it has actually become frowned upon and not a part of "the culture". It seems fitting that Griffey should go back to Seattle at this time. Though he is much older and his skills have diminished, perhaps the person they used to call "The Kid" and "Junior" can return to his former greatness and steal the show from the Steroid Era. There is no doubt that he is the best player of my generation, he has just been lost in the shuffle for a while. Welcome back Junior.

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