“The Kid” at 600

Ken Griffey Jr. made history Monday night by becoming just the sixth player in Major League History to hit 600 home runs.

If you watch a lot of ESPN, you knew that he was approaching the milestone, but otherwise, you might have been unaware, because it hasn’t really been talked about too much. The way Griffey hit the home run was somewhat fitting: on the road, at a largely empty Dolphin Stadium in front of just 16,000 fans.

Why does no one seem to care about such an achievement from Griffey, once the most popular baseball player on the planet?

This article offers some ideas. First, the fact that Griffey plays in small-market Cincinnati certainly doesn’t help. When Alex Rodriguez approaches 600 home runs in New York, he’ll certainly get more coverage.

It’s also true that Junior has battled one injury after another ever since he started playing for the Reds, and that has whittled away at the enormous fanfare that he once enjoyed. Just ask Grant Hill or Nomar Garciaparra—as an athlete, it’s hard to stay popular when you never get to play.

But likely the biggest reason is the fact that a home run just ain’t worth what it used to be. Ever since 1998, when McGwire, Sosa, and their enormous bodies started the assault on all of the home run records, each successive milestone has seemed less and less impressive.

Hitting 500 home runs used to be a special thing, but nowadays, it’s almost commonplace, and 600 doesn’t seem that much more exciting.

But in Griffey’s case, we should be excited.

Not only a great player on the field, he’s also been a great ambassador for the game. He’s not surly with reporters, he’s been a positive role model, and in this era, maybe most importantly of all, there’s never been any hint of steroid use.

He’s not perfect. People have called him greedy, and they’ve questioned whether or not he’s a winner, but at the end of the day, Griffey is one of the greatest players of all time, and he did it the right way.

As he got older, his body began to break down. He couldn’t make the spectacular plays in the outfield, didn’t have the speed on the basepath, and much of the time couldn’t seem to stay in the lineup.

But when you think about it, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen. It may have happened a little bit too soon for Griffey, but still it was right—as we get older, our bodies break down. They can’t do the same things they used to. And “The Natural,” who early in his career lived up to his nickname with his seemingly unending talent, lived up to it later in his career by making the most out of what his body could give him without enhancing it with drugs.

In an era where the alternative has become all too common, and we’ve seen the artificially inflated bodies and numbers of player after player, Junior should be applauded for doing the right thing.

But there’s an important lesson there too, I guess. Sometimes when you do the right thing, you don’t get recognized for it. You don’t get the credit or the acclaim you deserve. But the acclaim isn’t what’s important.

Doing the right thing is.


Derek Oxford 6/12/08, 2:13 AM  

Beautiful post. I still remember idolizing Griffey when I was like 8 years old. And I still have his video game on N64.

Luke Dockery 6/13/08, 11:19 AM  


Thanks. I was never a huge Griffey fan when he was super popular, maybe because everybody seemed to like him (kinda like MJ). But I had a lot of respect for him.

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