Ken Griffey Jr. ranks among the most well-rounded superstars to play in Major League Baseball in the last 50 years. A prodigious power hitter, Griffey Jr. ranks seventh in career home runs with 630. He also played the game with an enthusiasm that was welcome during a time when baseball started to lose popularity after the 1994 players’ strike.
Fans and media nicknamed Griffey Jr. “The Kid.” He is the son of former MLB player Ken Griffey, who played in the majors from 1973 to 1988. Raised in baseball, he seemed like a natural from the start, with one of the sweetest swings in baseball.
He never played in any of the game’s biggest markets in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Instead, he played for two teams: the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s Early Life
Griffey was born Nov. 21, 1969 in Donora, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Cincinnati when Griffey Jr. was six because his dad had started playing for the Cincinnati Reds. Young Griffey Jr. saw his father play on the team that won back-to-back championships in 1975 and 1976.
He experienced difficulties in his youth. While Griffey Jr. became a baseball star in his own right in – he became U.S high school baseball player of the year in 1987 and hit .478 in two seasons of high school baseball – he also later talked about a suicide attempt he made in 1988.
He said in an interview that he swallowed 277 aspirin and ended up in an intensive care unit at Providence Hospital in Mount Airy, Ohio when he was 17. About the incident, Griffey Jr. said: “It seemed like everyone was yelling at me in baseball, then I came home, and everyone was yelling at me there. I got depressed. I got angry. I didn’t want to live.“ He also said, “It seemed like my father and I were always fighting.” He said he made the story public to dissuade other people from thinking of suicide as a solution.
The two apparently improved their relationship after the incident, and Griffey went on to become an all-time great in baseball.
Ken Griffey Jr. Early Career
The Mariners drafted Griffey Jr. in June 1987. His talents became apparent from the start. He joined the Bellingham Mariners of the Northwest League, and hit .313 in 54 games. He also had 14 home runs, 40 RBI and 13 steals.
In 1988, at Single-A San Bernardino, Griffey hit .338 in 58 games with 11 home runs and 32 stolen bases. The Mariners then promoted him to the AA Vermont Mariners, where hit .279 in 17 games.
The team felt Griffey Jr. deserved a shot. In 1989, he broke camp as the starting centerfielder for the Mariners.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s MLB Career
Griffey Jr. debuted in the majors on April 3, 1989, at the Oakland Coliseum. The legendary Dave Stewart took the mound that day for the Oakland A’s. Griffey Jr. hit a double in his first at-bat, on the second pitch, launching his superstar career.
Just one month later, a Seattle-area company had created a Griffey Jr. candy bar. That candy bar foreshadowed a career that included promotional ties with Nike and Nintendo, among others. Griffey Jr., despite never playing on a championship team, became one of the most-known players in baseball. His youthful spirit – he was only 19 when he debuted – helped the majors during a time when owner-labor relations fell apart, ending with a strike-shortened season in 1994.
Griffey played 11 seasons in Seattle. Along with a core group that included Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Jay Buhner, Griffey Jr. played for mid-1990s Mariners clubs that rank among the best teams never to win an American League pennant.
He also racked up many accolades, including:
- Named an All-Star 13 times
- Winning 10 Gold Gloves
- Four-time AL home run leader
- 1997 AL MVP
- The first No. 1 overall draft since 1965 to become a member of the Hall of Fame
After moving to Cincinnati for the 2000 season, Griffey Jr.’s career became hampered by injuries. Although he continued to play well, he never played at the consistently high level he had in the 1990s for Seattle. Griffey finished his career in the 2009 and 2010 seasons back in Seattle.
Griffey Jr. has focused on his family since retirement, living in Central Florida. But he works as a special consultant to MLB and has been named to the Baseball Hall of Fame Board of Directors. Also, both the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame have enshrined Griffey Jr.