Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. elected to Hall of Fame

AP file, 1997

The Kid’s in the Hall.

Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., the most iconic player in Mariners history, was elected Wednesday to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a record margin in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“Happy and shocked,” he said. “Happy that I get to be in such an elite club. … Shocked because anytime somebody else does something for you, it means a lot.”

Griffey, 46, received 99.3 percent of the 440 votes cast and will be formally inducted into the game’s shrine along with catcher Mike Piazza on July 24 in a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“He was the best player in baseball,” former Seattle manager Lou Piniella recalled. “There is nothing he couldn’t do on a baseball field. And he did it so gracefully.”

Tributes rolled in immediately.

“What I remember the most,” former teammate Edgar Martinez said, “is his talent, his great sense of humor, his personality and his love for the game. He wanted to play the game and he did it the right way, hard daily.”

The voting also provided encouragement for Martinez, another of the franchise’s cornerstones, when he jumped to 43.4 percent in his seventh year on the ballot.

Martinez, 53, has three more years to reach the 75 percent threshold required for election. He tallied 27 percent a year ago and had topped out previously at 36.5 percent in 2012.

“For me, I am really encouraged, and thankful, in the increase of votes,” Martinez said. “I certainly didn’t expect to be elected today, but it is always a little disappointing when it becomes official.

“Although I’m so happy for Ken that makes it a little easier.”

The day certainly belonged to Griffey, who broke the record for the highest percentage received in BBWAA balloting. Pitcher Tom Seaver held the previous record at 98.84 percent in 1992.

Piazza won election by garnering 83.0 percent of the votes in his fourth year on the ballot. First baseman Jeff Bagwell (71.6 percent) and outfielder Tim Raines (69.6 percent) were the nearest misses.

Griffey dismissed any suggestion of disappointment in failing to be a unanimous selection.

“I can’t be upset,” he said. “It’s truly an honor to be elected. To have the highest percentage is definitely a shock. The big thing is to get into the Hall of Fame. As long as you get in, that’s what it is.”

Griffey also became the first player elected primarily for his achievements while playing for the Mariners. He spent 13 of his 22 seasons in Seattle before retiring in June 2010.

“Whenever we needed something done on the field to win a ballgame,” former teammate Dan Wilson said, “Junior was the guy to do it.

“Whether it was a game-winning home run or a game-saving circus catch in the outfield, Junior always delivered. He is undoubtedly the most influential player in Mariners history.”

Longtime Mariners ace Randy Johnson was elected last season, but his plaque at the Hall depicts him in an Arizona cap.

While Griffey spent eight-plus seasons in Cincinnati and part of one season with the Chicago White Sox, there seems little doubt the cap on his plaque will have a Mariners logo.

The only real question is whether that cap, in typical Griffey exuberance, will be worn backward.

“He’s a superstar,” former teammate Ichiro Suzuki said, “and not just because of his numbers and his stats, but because of his personality. He was about caring for each other.

“It’s something we all need to learn from him, and it’s what makes him better than a superstar.”

Griffey achieved that status in Seattle, where he hit 417 of his 630 career homers and won all four of his league home-run titles.

His time with the Mariners included his only Most Valuable Player award, 10 of his 13 All-Star selections, all 10 of his Gold Glove awards and all seven of his Silver Slugger awards.

“We love Ken Griffey Jr. because he is everything we would like to be,” Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said. “He’s young. He’s good-looking. He’s got the best smile in the world, and he’s a heroic athlete.

“He is a shot in the arm for baseball. He is what this game needs right now. He is creating excitement and making headlines just by his presence. There hasn’t been anyone like that since ... Reggie Jackson.”

Griffey was a prodigy selected by the Mariners as a 17-year-old with the first pick in the 1987 draft. He grew up in the game as the son of outfielder Ken Griffey Sr., who spent 19 years in the big leagues.

“My dad would have bopped me on the head when I was a kid,” Griffey once said, “if I came home bragging about what I did on the field. He only wanted to know what the team did.”

Griffey’s father closed his career by playing for the Mariners, alongside his son, for 51 games in 1990-91. On Wednesday, Griffey Sr. explained how his son developed a preference for wearing his cap backward.

“When Junior would come into the (Reds’) clubhouse (in the 1970s),” Griffey Sr. recalled, “he would always come and get my hat.

“My hat was bigger than his head, so it would fall down over (his eyes) and he could never see when he was catching or throwing.

“So he just decided to turn it around and put it on backwards. He got used to doing that. He would turn it around backwards to play catch.”

Junior reached the big leagues in 1989 at age 19 and quickly became a fan favorite far beyond the Pacific Northwest. His five-tool skills came spiced with a sweet left-handed swing and a killer smile wrapped in youthful joy.

“As long as I have fun playing,” Griffey once said, “the stats will take care of themselves.”

Alternately called The Kid, Junior and The Natural, Griffey was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in his second season. A year later, he won his first Silver Slugger award and reached 100 RBIs.

At age 23, Griffey hit 45 homers, which started a run in which he hit at least 40 in seven of eight years. He hit a career-high 56 homers in 1997 and 1998 and was picked in 1997 as the AL’s MVP.

“The thing I remember about Griffey is that swing,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout recalled. “That smooth swing. If I look back now, me and my buddies would be in the back yard; I am a righty and I would get up there lefty and just pretend.”

Griffey made it all seem joyfully effortless. Fans everywhere loved it.

“The other guys,” he said, “all they have to do is use their big butts and big python arms to hit homers. Me, I’m the little guy in the group. People always root for the little guy.”

Even so, Griffey’s time with the Mariners hit a rough patch in the late ’90s. There were various reasons, including concerns regarding whether the Mariners could afford to keep him once he qualified again for free agency.

Similar concerns prompted a 1998 trade that sent Johnson to Houston and left some questioning the organization’s commitment to winning. A Cincinnati native, Griffey began pushing for a trade to his hometown.

The Mariners capitulated and traded Griffey to the Reds on Feb. 10, 2000, for outfielder Mike Cameron, infielder Antonio Perez and pitchers Brett Tomko and Jake Meyer.

“We gave up Babe Ruth,” Mariners club president Chuck Armstrong lamented at the time.

Shortly thereafter, the Reds reached agreement with Griffey on a nine-year deal for $112.5 million. However, the 30-year-old just wasn’t the same player on a consistent basis.

Injuries began taking a toll. Griffey played more than 130 games only twice with the Reds. He hit 40 homers in his first season with Cincinnati, but never again topped 35.

The Reds traded Griffey to the White Sox on July 31, 2008, for pitcher Nick Masset and infielder Danny Richar. Griffey became a free agent after that season and chose to close his career by returning to the Mariners.

“Never could I imagine it would be like this coming back,” he said of Seattle. “I spent 11 years here, 11 wonderful years here. I met my beautiful wife here. Two out of my three kids were born here. This place will be home.”

The reunion worked well in 2009, when Griffey hit 19 homers in 117 games, but he was batting only .184 through 33 games in 2010 when he chose to retire. It was no longer fun.

Griffey simply got in his car and began driving. He was in Montana when he reached Armstrong and made it official. His career was over — after 22 years in which he hit 630 homers, drove in 1,836 runs and batted .284.

The countdown to Cooperstown started on that day.

“I am really superstitious,” Griffey said. “I have played in the Hall of Fame game three times, and I’ve never set foot in the building. I’ve never even seen the front of it.

“I’ve gone directly from the field to the hotel, and the hotel to the bus. The one time I wanted to go in there, I wanted to be a member of it.”

 

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

TOP HALL OF FAME VOTING PERCENTAGES

Player

Percent

Votes

Voters

Year

Ken Griffey Jr.

99.32%

437

440

2016

Tom Seaver

98.84%

425

430

1992

Nolan Ryan

98.79%

491

497

1999

Cal Ripken Jr.

98.53%

537

545

2007

Ty Cobb

98.23%

222

226

1936

George Brett

98.19%

488

497

1999

Hank Aaron

97.83%

406

415

1982

Tony Gwynn

97.61%

532

545

2007

Randy Johnson

97.27%

534

549

2015

Greg Maddux

97.20%

555

571

2014

Mike Schmidt

96.52%

444

460

1995

BY THE NUMBERS

1 – Was the first overall selection in the 1987 June Draft.

1 – Is the only first overall selection in the draft to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

7 – Won 7 Silver Slugger Awards: (1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999). All with the Mariners.

8 – Consecutive games to hit a home run from July 20-28, 1993, to tie the MLB record.

8 – Hit 8 home runs on Opening Day in his career (1990, 1993, 1995, 1997-2 homers, 1998, 1999 and 2009), tied with Frank Robinson for most Opening Day homers in major league history.

10 – Won 10 Rawlings Gold Gloves (1990-1999) and is a member of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award All-Time Team. All with the Mariners.

10+ – Notched double digits in home runs in 20 separate seasons in his career (every year except 2002 and 2010).

13 – Was the 13th player to be a unanimous MVP when he swept the votes in 1997.

19.133 – The age when he made his MLB debut on April 3, 1989 (19 years, 133 days)

29 – Is one of 29 players to appear in at least four decades (1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s).

29 – At age 29, was the youngest member of MLB’s All Century Team.

140 – Had 140 or more RBI in three consecutive seasons (1996-1998), joining Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as the first three players to accomplish that feat.

417 – Home runs as a Mariner, most in club history

630 — Career home runs to rank sixth all-time

AWARDS/HONORS

▪ MVP winner in 1997.

▪ Commissioners Historic Achievement Award winner in 2011.

▪ Team Roberto Clemente Award Winner five times (1996, 1997 and 1998 in Seattle; 2000 and 2006 in Cincinnati).

▪ Silver Slugger winner (7x): 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999

▪ Gold Glove winner (10x): 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999.

▪ Louisville Slugger first Living Legend Award winner.

ALL-STAR ACHIEVEMENTS

▪ Voted to the All-Star Game starting lineup 13 times, including 11 consecutive seasons from 1990-2000.

▪ He led the majors in fan balloting five times.

▪ Competed in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby, eight times, winning three: 1994 in Pittsburgh, 1998-Colorado, 1999-Boston. Famously hit a ball off the warehouse in the 1993 Home Run Derby in Baltimore.

▪ Was the 1992 All-Star Game MVP. The Griffeys (Jr. and Sr.) are the only father-son duo to both homer and receive MVP honors in an All-Star Game (Sr. accomplished both in 1980).

COMMUNITY HALL OF FAMER

▪ Ken Griffey Jr. Family Foundation supports local, regional and national causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Orlando, Cincinnati and elsewhere.

▪ American Public Diplomacy Envoy for the U.S. State Department since 2008, and has traveled the world in that role.

▪ Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Board of Directors.

▪ Make-A-Wish Foundation Celebrity Recognition Award winner in 1994.

▪ Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) A. Bartlett Giamatti Award winner in 1994.

▪ Team Roberto Clemente Award Winner five times (1996, 1997 and 1998 in Seattle; 2000 and 2006 in Cincinnati).

▪ Finalist for the Hutch Award in 2005 and 2006.

▪ Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club in Seattle: Sponsored annual Christmas dinner, flew kids to Disneyworld, and volunteered his time with members.

POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE

▪ Appeared in 18 career postseason games with the Mariners (1995, 1997) and White Sox (2008).

▪ Is a career .290 (20x69) hitter in postseason play with six home runs and 11 RBIs.

▪ Hit .391 (9x23) with nine runs, five home runs and seven RBIs in the 1995 ALDS vs. the Yankees.

▪ Hit .333 (7x21) with two doubles and one homer in 1995 ALCS vs. Cleveland.

GRIFFEY’S CAREER HIGHS

Most hits in a game: 5 (two times, last on July 2, 1994, at New York Yankees)

Most home runs in a game: 3 (two times; May 24, 1996, vs. New York Yankees, and April 25, 1997, at Toronto)

Most RBIs in a game: 8 (July 8, 2000, vs. Cleveland while playing for Cincinnati)

Most stolen bases in a game: 3 (July 26, 1998, at Baltimore)

Longest hitting streak: 16 games (May 10-28, 1999)

Career grand slams: 15 (last on May 20, 2006, at Detroit while playing for Cincinnati)

GRIFFEY ON ALL-TIME CAREER LISTS

630 home runs: sixth (Barry Bonds is first with 762).

1,192 extra-base hits: tied for seventh with Rafael Palmeiro (Hank Aaron, 1,477)

1,836 RBIs: 14th (Hank Aaron, 2,297)

5,271 total bases: 13th (Hank Aaron, 6,856)

1,662 runs: 26th (Rickey Henderson, 2,295)

524 doubles: 43rd (Tris Speaker, 792)

2,781 hits: 45th (Pete Rose, 4,256)

55 multi-homer games: tied for eighth with Jimmie Foxx (Babe Ruth, 72)

MILESTONE HITS

*1: April 3, 1989, vs. Oakland (Dave Stewart)

500: May 7, 1992, vs. Toronto (Jack Morris)

1,000: Aug. 16, 1995, at Minnesota (Frankie Rodriguez)

1,500: July 14, 1998, vs. Texas (John Burkett)

**2,000: June 18, 2000, vs. Seattle (Joel Piniero)

**2,500: July 18, 2007, at Atlanta (John Smoltz)

* — first major league at-bat; ** — with Cincinnati.

bdutton@thenewstribune.com

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