Ken Griffey Jr: A Living Legend

Jerry Burnes@@JerryBurnesAnalyst IJune 9, 2008

In one smooth, sweet swing of the bat, Ken Griffey Jr. launched himself further into the baseball history books and solidified his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When Junior blasted his 600th career home run on Monday off of Florida Marlins pitcher Mark Hendrickson, Griffey reminded us all why he is still one of the best players in the game today.

With the home run, Griffey joined one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball, joining the like of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Sammy Sosa.

Unlike the last two players, Griffey achieved his 600 home runs with class. You won't find Junior's name in the Mitchell Report, you won't find it on a federal prosecuter's subpoena list, or in the middle of a steroid controversy, perjury charges and federal charges on income tax evasion.

When you see the name Ken Griffey Jr., you see one of the greatest hitters of all-time next to it. You see first ballot hall-of-famer, and a player who truly enjoyed playing the game of baseball.

Everyone in baseball knew Griffey would be great, even after he made his debut on April 3, 1989. That season Junior hit 16 home runs, with 61 runs batted in, and a .264 average in 127 games.

Four seasons later, Griffey blasted 45 home runs, with 109 RBI and an astounding .309 average.

In 1997 and 1998, Junior hit a career high 56 home runs, batting .304 in 1997.

Even last season, at the age of 38, Griffey reached the 30 home run plateau for the ninth time in his career. He drove in 93 runs and batted .277.

His career may have been marred by injuries, possibly robbing him of Aaron's home run record, but Griffey has lived a career that every ten year old dreams about having.

Most of all, Griffey's career has been fun to watch.

Every game, all 2,439 of them, Junior gave 110 percent. Crashing into walls, diving for short line drives, and hustling out infield ground balls were all part of Griffey's lure. Baseball purists, writers, fans, and players alike were in awe at the effort and pure talent of the second generation star.

Griffey was a human highlight reel and role model to young players at the same time.

Even in his 20th season in the majors, Griffey remains one of the most popular players around. With age 40 quickly approaching for Junior, he shows no sign of slowing down. Only Ty Cobb and Rusty Staub have hit home runs as a teenager and at age 40.

Even now at age 38, Griffey still has a lot of power left in him.

Questions, however, do remain about his career. Where would Griffey be if he didn't suffer a major injury four season in a row? How many home runs would he have by now?

As we sit back and wonder what could have been with Griffey's career, he will continue to hit home runs and strive for milestones. For someone with a career average of 40 home runs per season, the 700 club is not a far reach.

For someone on the trading block, he has one milestone that he has not yet reached.

Griffey is still missing a World Series ring. A ring that would leave a lasting end-note on a storybook career.