Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into Cooperstown on Sunday. He will go down as one of the greatest players in MLB history and perhaps the best clean player in a generation tainted by steroid abuse.
Yes, as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit home runs at a video-game pace, Griffey was utterly breathtaking for more than a decade before suffering a string of injuries and declining late in his career, which is usually what happens when you don’t take steroids.
How important was it to fans that Griffey, who hit 630 home runs in 22 big league seasons, played his career seemingly without performance-enhancing drugs?
“I think it meant a lot,” KOMO-TV Seattle sports director Mike Ferreri said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I was in St. Louis when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ record, when the Maris family was there. I feel like a lot of people felt like they were duped by that, by Sosa and McGwire and everything that came from it. But Griffey didn’t get in trouble. He was the guy that really did it. If you just dumb it down, if you go into a conversation with somebody, if you go out to dinner with somebody, and you want to make some sort of connection, what do you want them to see? Real. What appeals to people? Real. That’s what Griffey was. That’s why he had that appeal, and that’s why he mattered because he did it the right way.”
Ferreri said Griffey could also be real and genuine during one-on-one interactions with the media, but that he wasn’t always completely comfortable with the attention he received.
“I think there’s a bit of an awkwardness to Ken Griffey Jr. that makes him Ken Griffey Jr,” Ferreri said. “The thing he liked to (do) the most was kind of deflect attention sometimes. He liked to tell stories and bring other people into it. He did that even in his second time back in Seattle. One of his favorite things to do was hold court in front of his locker (and tell stories about the past). If you got him near Jay Buhner, forget it. The interview was over. Those guys would start talking about something and you were done. He just was that type of guy and you kind of respected the unique individual that he was. The media was not his favorite thing when he played. I think he’s realizing how to work with that a little better.”
Griffey, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, received a record 99.3 percent of the vote. His career numbers had a lot to do with that, but so did his persona.
“I think the one big draw of Ken Griffey Jr. was the enjoyment of the game,” Ferreri said. “It comes down to this is a sport, people have fun playing it, you grow up playing it and people could relate to him because he looked like he was having a good time. Even though he was getting paid millions of dollars and that was his job, he never looked like he was having a bad day. That was just the draw of Ken Griffey Jr. He made it look so easy with that swing and the way he played defense. You could count on him for some dose of excitement. When Jr. was up, you didn’t go get a hot dog. You knew something could happen.”