When I was growing up in the '90s, there was one guy who every young baseball player wished he could be: Ken Griffey Jr.
He made baseball more exciting than anyone in the game and kept my short attention span focused on a slow-paced sport.
I remember playing wiffle ball in my backyard, imitating Griffey's swing, even though I was right-handed. That smooth left-handed swing with the one-handed follow-through was the prettiest swing in the history of baseball.
The way the guy played the game was amazing. He really was the first baseball player in his era to make the sport cool for a younger audience—an audience that had options to follow other action-packed sports. Griffey brought the action to baseball, steering the younger crowd towards the great sport.
I know this was the case, because I grew up in a time when football was emerging as the most popular sport in America. The one thing that kept me glued to baseball was the excitement that Griffey brought to the ballpark every night.
When Griffey would participate in the home run derby every year, everyone watched. He was the coolest cat out there with his backwards hat. He brought a certain swagger to a sport that had been lacking an attractive attitude for the upcoming generation.
I wasn't a Mariners fan, but Griffey was one of my favorite players. If it wasn't for him, I might not be following the New York Mets the way I do today. He is the reason that I grew up with baseball.
If he never got hurt, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have broken the homerun record and gone down as one of the statistically great players ever.
We all know how important statistics are to baseball purists, so those of you that are statistically driven, don't read this next part.
I don't care what the stats say—Ken Griffey Jr. was the greatest ever to play the game.
There was never anyone to play center field the way he did, and there weren't many that were as physically gifted. If you just watched the way Griffey played the game, you didn't need to look at statistics to know that he was the greatest outfielder ever. Based solely on the eyeball test, Griffey was it.
The overall production of his career will land him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, without a doubt. But those numbers don't do justice to what he brought to the sport every day.
And we all know the greatest baseball video game ever is Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
I could keep going on about Griffey's contributions to the sport, but as a journalist for a college newspaper, I feel that I am not worthy of commemorating a player such as him.
Major League Baseball is in a hangover right now; the sport is decreasing in popularity, whether it be due to the steroid era or the dominance of the NFL. If you go to baseball stadiums nowadays, you rarely see a sold-out crowd, and the TV ratings are down.
Baseball needs another Ken Griffey Jr. to step up and make it exciting again for the future of the game. However, I don't know if there's a player like that right now. Albert Pujols is putting up inhuman numbers and because of his stats he will go down as one of the greatest ever, but he's nothing like Griffey.
Baseball needs someone to make the game cool again.