Turn Your Hat Backwards and Salute Griffey
AUG 11, 2013 1:15a ET
Before he gets to Cooperstown, Ken Griffey Jr. can now say he is in the Mariners Hall of Fame (joining Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Randy Johnson and Dave Niehaus). How do we remember Griffey's career? What comes to mind is that sweet lefty swing, his dazzling play in center, effortless power and mega-watt smile.
Junior hit the Bigs in '89 and became the transcendent, crossover athlete that ushered baseball into the next decade. With 630 career home runs, 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves (every year in the 90's), 7-times a Silver Slugger, the '97 AL MVP and member of the All-Century Team, Griffey's resume speaks for itself. Beyond his on-field accomplishments, his cultural impact was unparalelled in baseball for his era (Bo Jackson's star shined as bright, but of course briefly).
In case you forgot, here's a scrapbook of all things Junior.
Griffey took the standard issue baseball hat, and spun it backwards. A fashion statement seen elsewhere, but it became his trademark in BP, the clubhouse and commercially. And the rest of baseball would catch on.
Following the Air Jordan model, Nike tapped the supremely talented, fan-beloved kid and gave him his own shoe. Rarely has a baseball player had a signature sneaker (since they play in cleats) but the Swingman became a top-seller, and are still in circulation today. Like the Jumpman, Nike gave Griffey a similarly classic silhouette logo for his brand.
He made his debut in the 1989 season, and a start-up trading card company, Upper Deck, was looking for its poster boy. They found one in the Kid. As the story goes, teenage employee Todd Geideman suggested to go with a top prospect and chose Griffey (over Gary Sheffield, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Gregg Jefferies). With their trademark hologram, a rookie Junior was card number one in the first-ever Upper Deck set.
At the age of 23, in his fourth season and his third All-Star appearance, the Kid was sitting in his locker and was sought out by Michael Jordan for an autograph. Coming off his third career NBA championship, MJ had a handshake for Ripken, Bonds, Gwynn and company, but it was Griffey that he gave his number to. "Call me, man," Jordan said. In an equally cool sign of respect, his Airness then gave Griffey the White Sox jersey off his back and signed it.
Griffey was one of America's most popular athletes of the 90's and one of the decade's most popular shows was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In the show's fifth season, Junior made a great cameo in a scene complete with an oblivious Carlton, a flirty Hilary and star-struck Will. Griffey big leagues Will Smith and a classic moment in athlete cameos was made.
A hip-hop staple is to boast, in Ali-equse fashion, one's greatness and compare lyrical prowess to athletic dominance. From Jordan and Tyson, to LeBron and even Rod Carew, athletes get their names dropped on tracks constantly. In this who's who of 90's MC's, 4-3-2-1 (featuring DMX, Method Man, Redman and Master P), LL Cool JJ suggests (at 4:01) challenging him on the mic is akin to "swinging at Ken Griffey."
Playing in Seattle, Griffey was as iconic in the city as the Space Needle and the latte. While Junior never won a World Series, he did deliver an electricity and enthusiasm for baseball the city had never seen. And for history's sake, he was involved in one of the greatest sports moments the city had ever seen.
Consider the timing of Griffey's tenure in the Emerald City, and it aligned with a decade that was focused on the Pacific Northwest. While the Mariners were a hot ticket, the Rain Man and the Glove were equally as must-watch in the NBA. As flannel became the style, Seattle gave way to the grunge era. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam entered national consciousness and all hailed from the city. From there a cult-classic film, Singles, captured Gen-X life in its birthplace, Seattle.
His style was classic, his game was pure and the mark he left on the sport was historic. From his video game, his candy bar and even his appearance on the Simpsons (one of the show's all-time best episodes), Griffey was the perfect player for baseball at the perfect time. His talent was once and a generation, but his youthful spirit was just what the game needed at the time. Of all players in the decade for baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. was a gift.