I began playing corporate softball on a regular basis in my mid-thirties, after having only played once or twice since the glory days of keg softball in college. Similar to riding a bike, the limited skills I put on display during my college years came flourishing back. If not noticeable, they were certainly memorable. Especially when I landed flat on my rear-end as I backpedaled for a fly ball in right field. It was, unfortunately for my sake, not the only time I brought joy to the Mudville spectators.
What is most memorable, among numerous things, is a quote from the senior manager of my division, a forty-seven-year-old guy who appeared to be in pretty good shape. He jokingly bowed out of playing, "for fear of embarrassing all of you young guys, since I'm such a gazelle!"
While the above proclamation may sound cocky and arrogant on the surface, we all knew he didn't mean it that way. John had a great, self-deprecating sense of humor. As the hot stove heated up yesterday with the announcement of the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot, memories of John's famous quote came roaring back.
A gazelle in many facets of the game, a truly wondrous and marvelous athlete, a once in two generations player, was put on the ballot for the 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame class. He instantly became the favorite to get the most votes, and as predicted while playing, will almost certainly walk into Cooperstown as that rarest of birds, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Ken Griffey Jr. dazzled and bedazzled the baseball world from the day he made his debut in 1989. It started with his play on the field, and was brought into our living rooms by the infectious smile that showed how much fun he was having playing ball. Who can forget his speedy, graceful, stride as he chased down balls in centerfield? Sometimes he was guilty of highway robbery, reaching over the fence to steal four bases from some poor sap who was already into his home run trot.
How does one not remember the lightning quick, through-the-zone, powerful swing that launched balls that looked as if they were going to blow a hole in the roof of the Kingdome? When some of his rockets somehow stayed in the park, bouncing around the artificial turf of Seattle's cozy home field, Junior was on third before anyone knew it. Many a Yankee fan's memory is still seared with the pain of Ken Griffey Jr. barreling around third with the walk-off winning run in Game 5 of the crazy 1995 Wild Card Series between the Yankees and the Mariners.
On top of all of his natural talent, he played at a high level with grace, class, and dignity. Not to mention without steroids. Nary a whisper has been rumored that Ken Griffey Jr. did anything but play the game the right way, hard and clean, on and off the field. In fact, his body began to break down at about the same age almost all ballplayer's bodies in baseball have been breaking down since the game began in 1869. Around the age of thirty-five. From his late thirties into his early forties, e didn't win any MVP's or other awards, let alone hit 70 homers in a season. Just the everlasting respect of the baseball world.
It can be argued he was the closest thing to Willie Mays since the Say Hey Kid hung 'em up in '73.
Thank you Junior, for giving us the pleasure of watching you play. Despite the fact you broke my heart in 1995.