A Decade Later, the Savior of Baseball Finally Arrives

Nate OwenCorrespondent IJune 10, 2008

Ironically, it's been 10 years since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were prematurely proclaimed the saviors of baseball.

Ten years to the month that Sosa's home run binge (a record 20 blasts in June, 1998) launched the nationally covered home race between the two sluggers, helping the game forget its ugly labor strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series just four years before.

As fate would have it, both of these sluggers became embroiled in the steroid controversy, and Sosa was also caught using a corked bat. 

They are a continuation of disturbing legal and performance-enhancing-drug issues that have engulfed former stars Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro.

It's only appropriate, then, that 10 years after the supposed saviors of baseball  emerged, the man who had the credentials to be the savior of the game has finally reached an historic milestone.

Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th home run Monday, becoming only the sixth player to reach the plateau. It's a milestone he should have reached years ago.

But, unfortunately for Griffey, a combination of injuries and labor issues in baseball have caused him to play less then 140 games nine times in his 19 seasons entering 2008. Still, projections and the proverbial "what if?" are both moot points.

The point is that Griffey, the owner of 10 Gold Gloves, a .289 career average and 1,730 RBI, is headed to the Hall of Fame as one of the game's good guys. Never, either in Canseco's books or the Mitchell Report released in December, has Griffey been connected in any way to performance enhancing drugs.

Neither one of these, particularly Canseco's book, is a tell-all document on the subject. With the rampant use of drugs over the past few decades in baseball, it's almost impossible to rule any player out as a user. 

But Griffey, unlike Bonds, had maintained the same lanky frame since he arrived as a rookie in 1989.

What Griffey has also retained is his love and passion for the game. His picture on his rookie card is burned into my head. Here, Griffey is just a kid, with a smile from ear to ear exuding pure jubilation for the game. It's no wonder that he's been adorned with the nickname "The Kid" over the years. 

But while the image of Barry Bonds, apart from his stint as Paula Abdul in the Giants' spring training version of "American Idol," will be recalled as surly and aloof, Griffey, even in his later years, will be remembered for his infectious smile.

A kid playing a man's game.

Not just any kid.

The Kid.