Or: How Ken Griffey Junior's Body Betrayed His Shot At History
We all know Junior's story. #1 draft pick. Phenom. Called up at 19 years old, an All-Star at 20. Gold glove centre-fielder, monster power, wrists so quick that you could make a really good metaphor about how quick they are. The swing that made every child in America want to be left-handed. Then fights, tantrums, and a move to Cincinnati that tore the heart out of the city. Some might call the injuries he incurred as a Red poetic justice for hubris, but most had forgiven Griffey even before he left town. Me? I call his injuries lost chances to make history.
Griffey's back in Seattle now, but he's barely a shadow of his former self. He's no longer the svelte, graceful fielder of the 90s but a lumbering - to put it kindly - DH. The swing? It's still there, but the bat looks heavier somehow. Slower, too. There used to be thunder in that swing - 56 home runs in 1997 and 1998, 40 or more in five other seasons. That swing was going to be the tool to build Ken Griffey Junior's throne, to anoint The Kid as the tops of all time.
But his body conspired against him. After one season in Cincinnati, things started falling apart. 145 games played became 110. Then 70, then 50. 2001-2004 saw as many home runs as Barry Bonds put up in one year. The record? It was slipping away, day by day, into the hands of a cheater. There are many casualties of the steroid era. The fans' innocence? Gone. Players' reputations, built up to ludicrous proportions during equally ludicrous seasons, were washed away in the storm. But perhaps the greatest crime of all is that the face of Good Baseball, the very pride of Seattle, was denied his rightful place in the history books. He should have been number one. He should have been the king. And now he looks at an unassailable lead built on dishonesty and disrespect for the game. He's not catching up. When you talk about victims of the steroid era, few were subjected to a fate as cruel as that meted out to Ken Griffey Junior.