Call it a test run for the future.
Three years from now, when he is finally eligible, Ken Griffey Jr. will almost certainly be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But in the time being, Griffey can practice his acceptance-speech skills with a different hall of fame induction.
On Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners announced that Griffey – arguably the greatest player to ever don the team’s uniform – will be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame this season. The formal ceremony will take place before the Mariners’ game on August 10 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Safeco Field.
“Like all Mariners fans, I consider it a privilege to have watched Ken Griffey Jr. grow up before us to become one of the greatest players in baseball and a true gentleman,” Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said in a press release. “He was a naturally gifted athlete who played the game with pure joy. We are proud to welcome Ken to the Mariners Hall of Fame and look forward to the day in January 2016, when he gets the call from the National Baseball Hall of
Griffey was quietly reflective when he spoke of the honor via conference call from his home in Florida.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s something that you dream about. It’s the organization you’ve been drafted by and a celebration of your career. It means a whole lot that they would think that highly of me and what I’ve done to be able to put my name up there with the rest of the guys.”
Those guys he spoke of – Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson — were his teammates and friends during the beginning of the Mariners’ most successful run in the franchise history.
Those relationships are what Griffey cherishes most about his time with the organization.
“I think that’s the thing that will always be on my mind,” he said. “We still talk and laugh and joke. Even though we are a couple of thousand miles away, it’s like we still live next door if we get together.”
To join those four players along with Alvin Davis and Dave Niehaus in the team hall of fame only makes it that much more special.
“These are THE guys,” he said. “We played hard, had fun, learned from each other. The biggest thing was that we were all still really young enough not to know any better and have egos. We just wanted to play baseball. Everybody took care of each other.”
Griffey was drafted by the Mariners with the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft. After less than two years in the minor leagues, he was the opening day starting center fielder in 1989 at the tender age of 19. From there, he rocketed to stardom, helping turn the lowly Mariners into an eventual playoff contender.
But for all the home runs, RBI, All-Star Game selections and Gold Glove awards, Griffey was still more than that. For a generation of young baseball fans, he made the game cool again with his backward hat, his big smile and child-like enthusiasm.
In 1991, the Mariners signed his father, Ken Griffey Sr., and the two were able to start alongside each other in the outfield. It was a major league baseball first. And that brief period of time when the two were together helped shape Griffey into a future Hall of Famer.
“Having him batting second and me batting third, he stood there in front of me and I watched how he handled pitchers and what he needed to do at 38 years old,” Griffey Jr. said. “He set up pitchers better than anyone I have seen.”
After asking to be traded by the Mariners in 2000 and having played stints with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, Griffey returned to Seattle in 2009, playing in 11/2 more seasons before retiring.
He ranks in the top three in almost every major offensive statistical category in team history.
While Griffey has been retired from baseball, he still works for the Mariners as a special consultant. He tutors minor leaguers on life in baseball and also works with outfield prospects on their defensive skills.
“I try to help out as much as possible,” he said. “I don’t have to go in there and have day-to-day decision making. I go in there and help everybody. Everybody starts in (Single) A ball, Double-A, Triple-A and sometimes you run into a little rut. Here’s a chance to see somebody who’s been through it and can bounce things off of you. I sit there and do a lot of talking and work on some things whether it is outfield footwork or just telling the guys to stay patient.”
And that other Hall of Fame induction that’s looming a few years from now, does Griffey think about that?
“I don’t really worry about that,” he said. “It’s a couple of years away. I just have to keep plugging away on what I’m doing now and the role I have with the Mariners. When that time comes, I will cross that bridge. Right now, I have to get this team and this organization where I think it should be.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish