Well, Ken Griffey Jr. is still a five-tool guy, except on Saturday night, they were sincerity, humor, nostalgia, compassion and gratitude. And it may have added up to his finest performance at Safeco Field.
The induction of Griffey into the Mariners Hall of Fame lured the first sellout of the season to Safeco – a location that might have been a parking lot if not for Griffey.
The 46,027 weren’t in the house to see the erratic Mariners take on the non-contending Brewers. They came to offer an outpouring of appreciation for the man most responsible for saving baseball in Seattle.
And they were rewarded with a highlights package on the big screen that was worth the ticket price. There was home run after home run, the result of that effortless swing, with hands and eyes perfectly synchronized, and the power coming from the fluid rotation of the hips.
There was the iconic view of him grinning from beneath a dog pile of teammates celebrating the American League Division playoff series victory over the Yankees in 1995.
And there was a series of run-saving leaps to grab balls that would otherwise fly over fences.
The highlight was his ridiculous, wrist-breaking catch while smashing into the wall that caused Dave Niehaus to declare in extemporaneous perfection: “There is no way a human being gets to that ball.”
Appropriately, Griffey appeared in center field, except this time they opened a door for him, rather than having him run through it as he often tried to as a player coursing after deep flies.
Current Mariners players lined the dugout rail, all with their hats on backward, a sartorial tribute to Griffey.
Lou Piniella recalled, in his video clip, that he would beg Griffey to take it easy in his pursuit of fly balls, because losing him to injury was so costly to the team.
“He told me, that’s just the way I play,” Piniella said.
Yankees outfielder and former Mariners star Ichiro said what a thrill it was to be on the team that once had Junior, and then he turned his hat backward and shouted Niehaus’ call, “My, oh, my!”
The final video clip choked up Griffey. It was his son, Trey, a receiver on the University of Arizona football team.
“As I was growing up, I wanted to be just like you,” Trey said. “You were my role model.”
Could a man hear anything more meaningful from his son? Griffey dipped his head and wiped his eyes.
It took a few moments before the crowd allowed Griffey to speak after he took the podium. Chants of “Griff-ey, Griff-ey” rang out. Someone shouted, “We love you.” Griffey answered, “I love you, too.”
He had no idea what to expect when coming to Seattle at age 19, he said, but he called the town “the melting pot of the U.S. … it doesn’t matter what color you are, what race, people treat you like people.”
He commented on the other team Hall of Famers, starting with Alvin Davis, whom he considered an older brother, who would sometimes offer counsel for hours. Edgar Martinez, he said, was “the greatest right-handed hitter I’ve ever played with.”
The late Dave Niehaus was represented by his wife, Marilyn, and Griffey pointed out that the announcer called his first home run as well as his last.
He remembered that the first time he faced pitcher Randy Johnson as an opponent “he drilled me.” Catcher Dan Wilson is “probably the most fiery person I know … probably the only person on the team who was willing to tell Randy shut the hell up.”
He thanked his parents and fans and current Mariners as well as front-office honchos Chuck Armstrong, Howard Lincoln and John Ellis.
And then it got pretty misty when he talked about his dear friendship with Jay Buhner, a Texan so different in personality and background. If anything tragic ever happened, Griffey said, he could think of no one other than Buhner who he would want to raise his kids.
Buhner, goatee now gray, had to wipe away tears with his necktie.
Griffey talked for 23 minutes, more than twice the time allotted.
“I really wasn’t going to speak this long,” he said. “But I always speak from the heart. Sometimes I may have been standoffish, I didn’t mean to be, I just wanted to play baseball.”
So, they put him in the team Hall of Fame, and are putting a plaque in his honor somewhere in the stadium.
Are you kidding … is that all? Where’s the renamed street? Better yet, where’s the statue?
Can’t you see it already? Griffey captured in the follow-through of that swing that defined athletic perfection. Eyes up, perpetually following the ball’s path in some upper deck in time, just as he is about to drop his bat and start that jog around the bases.
Fans would show up just to stand near it.