When I was growing up in San Diego, Tony Gwynn was my sports hero. He may be more synonymous with his team than is any other player. Watching him hit to the 5.5 hole every year was unbelievable. Some of my happiest memories growing up were of me and my mom watching baseball and cheering for Tony Gwynn.
While Tony was my hero, Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player.
Even when I was as a little kid, Griffey converted me into a quasi-Mariners fan because I just loved watching him play. I remember thinking that God never created a more perfect player.
“The Kid” could do it all. He had that beautiful upper-cut swing; he hit for power, average, ran the bases, played unbelievable center field, and always smiled when he played.
With the news breaking that Manny Ramirez took a banned substance, I’m left with only a few great players who remain untainted.
Is it Alex Rodriguez? Nope. Barry Bonds? Nope. Mark McGuire? Nope. Sammy Sosa? Probably nope.
They are Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, and Tony Gwynn, who will all be in Cooperstown, sitting on the dividing line between the previous era and the Steroids Era. No accusations surround these men. They were clearly players that were amongst the greatest of all time.
Leaving Henderson, Ripken, and Gwynn behind in the dust, however, is the one man who can preserve some happy memories from a generation of ball players: Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey was elected to 13 all-star games. He won the MVP and was in the top five in voting for five of six seasons. Griffey won 10 straight gold gloves. During his years in Seattle, Griffey had an OPS+ of 149, meaning he was basically 50 percent better then you’re average player.
In the post season, he hit .290, .367, and .580. In the ALCS, he was even better, hitting .333, .440, and .571.
Baseball Reference lists his best comparables as Frank Robinson and Willie Mays. Willie Mays seems appropriate.
Griffey is sitting on 614 home runs, good for fifth behind Willie, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds*.
With the news of Manny, Barry, Big Mac, and Sosa, I’m left with one revelation. If—and, of course, it is still a big "if"—Griffey was clean, then he truly is the one whom we should put in the pantheon of the greatest players of all time. That, I think, is something that isn’t talked about enough.
It only makes the memories sweeter: those of Griffey making a catch, seemingly everyday, over the center field wall, or of towering home runs in the upper deck of the Kingdome—not lasers, but majestic blasts that didn’t seem to land till he touches home plate.
I don’t know if Griffey was clean; I doubt I ever will know for sure. My heart tells me he was, but maybe that’s just my way of preserving the last great player of a generation.