Ken Griffey Jr., owner of one of the most perfect swings in all of baseball, abruptly announced his retirement after 22 predominantly successful seasons. The game will sorely miss one of history’s true greats. What fun it was to watch a superstar, sporting a backwards cap and the smile of a kid playing ball for the first time. Griffey’s home run swing has been considered an art form amongst the baseball elite, prompting his apt nickname, The Natural.
But it isn’t Griffey’s swing which makes that moniker the most appropriate choice. Nor is it his 13 All Star appearances, 630 career home runs, or smooth fielding style – a style that garnered him 10 Gold Glove Awards over his career. Rather, ‘The Natural’ may be the nickname of choice as a result of a steroid era that has left the statistical purity of the game in tatters.
Sadly, one of the most prolific home run hitters of our generation is looked upon with a sour taste in one’s mouth. Questions persist of what could have been. What would have happened had Griffey remained healthy throughout his career? What would have happened if he remained as a Mariner, avoiding the immense expectations and scrutiny upon his arrival in Cincinnati in 2000? What if the team in Seattle – a team which consisted of Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson — stayed together? Would he have a World Series ring?
These questions, while valid, put a shadow on the story of Ken Griffey Jr., a story that should be one of perseverance, not possibilities. For his has been an injury-plagued career in which he missed 260 out of 486 games from 2002 through 2004, and suffered through various hamstring ailments, knee surgeries, and freak accidents. One such example was his 2004 injury, in which Griffey had a hamstring torn completely from the bone.
So while the 500 home run club (a milestone which at one time etched a man’s name in stone as a baseball legend) was riddled with allegedly steroid-laced freaks of nature – Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and of course, Barry Bonds – one has to consider Griffey’s ability to get to 630 even more astonishing.
Less obvious questions should also be considered when assessing Griffey’s place in the all-time baseball annals. Would Griffey have recovered quicker from his injuries, or possibly avoided more severe ones had he been juicing up as well? How many pitchers during his era were shooting themselves with human growth hormone? How many more home runs would he have hit?
Thankfully, we will never know. While it is easy to look at Ken Griffey’s career as a bit of a letdown — or worse, a disappointment — it should really be looked upon as a bright spot in a very dark era.
He has never been mentioned in Mitchell Reports, or testified in front of Congress, or even had his bloody gauze pads saved by a personal trainer. What Griffey has done however, is accomplish what only four other baseball players have done in history. He has placed his name among a select list, one that includes the likes of Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron. And he has done it naturally.
In a time that demonstrates the athlete of today’s propensity to cheat at any cost, Griffey should be celebrated near and far, not looked down upon as one who never lived up to lofty expectations. His 630 home runs are far more impressive than the tainted 762 that Bonds has hit. And he did this as ‘The Natural.’
Rusty is a political writer for NewsBusters.org, whose work has also appeared in the American Thinker. He welcomes feedback at email@example.com. Please visit Rusty’s Facebook fan page, Combat the Mental Recession.