(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Ken Griffey Jr. topped the previous high vote received by Tom Seaver on 98.84% of the Baseball Hall of Fame ballots cast by garnering 99.32% of the 2016 ballots cast by the BBWAA members who voted. The previous high percentage total for a position player was 98.53% for Cal Ripkin, Jr. Three voters left Griffey off their ballot while five voters did not include Seaver’s name and eight did not vote for Ripkin.
Despite clearly earning the high vote on his first ballot, Griffey responded, “I’m very humbled and honored. Wow! It’s something you can only dream about.”
The popularity Griffey achieved from the BBWAA voting members surpassed that of legends Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Willie Mays. Griffey came to the majors as a teenager at the start of the 1989 season with the Seattle Mariners. His future greatness was recognized very early as he was the #1 selection overall in the 1987 MLB draft. He proved it on the field in his first season as he finished third in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year. He stated he considered himself just out of high school as he entered the majors as a teenager who had played less than 130 games in the minors. He commented on his status at the time during a press conference at the NY Athletic Club on Thursday afternoon, “There’s always a #1 pick, but you have to go out there and play. Once you get drafted that #1 doesn’t mean anything.”
Junior was not a “flash in the pan” as he was chosen to the American League All-Star Team during each of the next 11 years. He was the star of stars during the 1992 game, winning All-Star MVP honors. Five years later, he was awarded the A.L. MVP award signifying his achievement and leadership as Seattle reached the playoffs for the second time in three years, 1995 and 1997. During the regular 1997 campaign, Griffey led the league in runs scored-125, home runs-56, runs batted in- 147 and slugging percxentage-.646.
Griffey finished in the top 20 in MVP voting in nine of 10 straight years while with Seattle (1990-1999). His superior fielding during that decade earned him the Gold Glove in all 10 consecutive seasons. During seven of those years, his outstanding power hitting was rewarded with his receiving the American League Silver Slugger. Of the importance of playing defense, the new honoree remarked, “I practiced catching balls as a kid at home. As major leaguer, “I took as much pride in my defense as in my offense.”
Injuries, dislocated shoulder, knee and ankle tendon ruptures and hamstring tears, adversely affected him during his first years with the Cincinnati Reds, but his ability to overcome adversity was proven as he was chosen the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2005. His final two seasons as an All-Star were in 2005 and 2007. His dad believes the injuries prevented his son from achieving even a more impressive career, “Those injuries kept him from doing things like being the first to hit 900 home runs.”
Griffey was the first player to be a teammate with his father when both were outfielders with the Mariners in 1990 and 1991. The son still has the jerseys he and his father wore a quarter of a century ago. Although the father only appeared in 51 games with the Mariners during the two seasons, they shared an unforgettable experience. On September 14, 1990, they smacked back-to-back home runs. The son recalled, after his father homered, he said, “That’s how you do it son.” The rarity meant more to the father than the son because “Like every 20 year old, no big deal” stated junior.” He recognized that rare accomplishment and others as he aged, “I finally understood, you know, what I’ve accomplished.”
He gave credit to the positive influence of both his mother and father as coaches. He spoke of his father as a teammate, he said, “it was a lot of fun playing with my dad. I learned more in six weeks than in 17 years. Having a dad who went through it, you understand earlier.” His mom was his driver to games and practices as his father was in the majors at that time. She also coached him, “She knew my swing and if I was fielding well. As I got older, it was my dad.” In his final years in the big leagues, Griffey remembered calling his father for advice on succeeding as a designated hitter.
Griffey’s father, who had an outstanding major league career of 18 years, was present at the press conference in New York. He described his feelings thusly, “I don’t have any emotions other than being a proud father of how he handled the whole time.” Interestingly, both father and son played their final game on the same date, May 31.
Another legendary member of the Hall of Fame, Stan “The Man” Musial is strangely connected to Junior. Musial was inducted into the HOF in the same year that Griffey was born, 1969. Both have the same birth date, November 21 and both were born in the same town, Denora, Pennsylvania.
Griffey had never entered the Hall of Fame, even though he played in three Hall of Fame games, “I haven’t set foot in the museum yet. I’m very superstitious. I wanted to go in for the first time as a member.” He and the other 2016 electee, Mike Piazza, will be inducted on July 24.