Several Reds players appeared on the most recent ESPN’s Hall of 100, the network’s list of the one hundred greatest players of all time. Here’s my general post on their rankings. I’ve previously covered Barry Larkin (#75). The numbers in parentheses reflects the player ranking on the ESPN list.

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The Ken Griffey Jr. (#35) story is one of the most tragic in Reds history. The Kid came home, and sadly, the Kid’s body fell apart.

Griffey Jr. grew up in Cincinnati and attended Moeller High School. Junior impressed scouts so much during his high school days that the Seattle Mariners took him No. 1 overall in the 1987 draft. Griffey Jr. was only 17 years old. He would debut for the Mariners in 1989 and produce one of the best eleven year stretches in the history of the game.

The Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds on February 10, 2000. The son of a Reds legend and arguably the best player in baseball at the time, Griffey Jr. carried enormous expectations with him. The Reds had won 96 games the previous season and lost a heartbreaking one game playoff to Al Leiter (curses!) and the Mets. The addition of Griffey Jr. was supposed to vault the Reds into baseball supremacy at the turn of the century.

I remember Junior’s first at bat as a Red. I was at school, and we begged our teacher to let us watch Griffey Jr. hit. She obliged. I could feel my heart pounding in anticipation. Junior was supposed to ignite a historic period in Reds history. He was the most exciting player many of us had ever seen, and he played for my beloved Reds.

In his first at bat, Griffey Jr. popped up. Little did I know that the disappointment I felt in that pop up would be a recurring feeling throughout Junior’s tenure in Cincinnati, even if much of that disappointment wasn’t his fault.

Griffey Jr.’s played well during his first season in 2000. He hit 40 homeruns, slashed .271/.387/.556, knocked in 118 runs, and had excellent defensive metrics (13.1 Def) in centerfield, a premium position. Unfortunately, his 5.4 WAR would be his highest total in a Reds uniform. The Reds won 85 games and failed to make the playoffs.

In 2001, Griffey Jr. began to fall apart. Literally. He would experience a series of injuries over the next four seasons that would frustrate him and fans alike. The following table is a quick list of injuries and games missed.

griffey_table
The 2004 season would produce at least one memorable moment for Griffey Jr. With Ken Griffey Sr. in attendance on Father’s Day in St. Louis, Griffey Jr. would hit his 500th homerun. Here is a video of that sweet swing.

Griffey Jr. would win the comeback player of the year award in 2005 as he hit 35 homeruns while batting .301/.369/.576 in 128 games. The injuries had taken their toll on his defense, but his sweet swing persisted. A healthy Griffey Jr. was still an offensive force as evidence by his 142 wRC+ that season.

As a 37 year old in 2007, Griffey Jr. would hit 30 homeruns with a .277/.372/.496 slash line. That year would be Griffey’s last full season with the Reds but not his last historical moment as a member of the Reds.

On June 9th, 2008, Griffey Jr. became the sixth member of the 600 homerun club. It was his 202 homerun as a Red.

The Reds would trade Griffey Jr. to the White Sox at the trade deadline in 2008, ending his nine season tenure with the Reds. The Reds never made the playoffs during the Griffey Jr. era. He would play in 140 games for the Reds in only three seasons.

Still, Griffey Jr.’s offensive talent is unquestioned. He hit 210 of his 630 homeruns for the Reds. He had an OBP of .350 or better in eight of his nine seasons in Cincinnati. He slugged at least .496 in six seasons with the Reds. He had a wRC+ of at least 116 in six seasons. He flashed his enormous talent, even as screws held together his hamstring, and his famous smile faded.

The Ken Griffey Jr. story in Cincinnati is one of the most tragic in the sport’s history. While he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer, he could have accomplished so much more. Instead, we can only dream of what a healthy Junior could have produced as Red.

8 Responses

  1. THEGAFFER

    I hate to feel like Griffey was a disappointment as his numbers were much better than other reds “stars” who are unquestionably loved by fans. The problems: 1) expectations were too high 2) the team stunk (pitching mostly) and 3) he did little to make fans feel good about him outside of his AB’s.

    Most of us probably feel disapointed for what he “could have been” more than that he was a disapointment in absolute terms. You cant fault him for staying clean!

    • THEGAFFER

      Griffey’s rank at #35 is interesting because he was much higher earlier in his career (remember SI ranking him at 10!). But, many of us who remember only his time in Cincy would rank him lower. Its probably the correct #, in the balance. I hope the stats geeks can separate his numbers from the steroid guys of his era one day (eg. he was similar to a roided up AROD and Juan Gonzalez). I would add 20% for the years 1998-2005 personally.

  2. Pooter

    My father was the head trainer for Griffey’s first two years. He ran out on the field when he pulled his hammy. Those were frustrating and stressful times as a fan and for my dad.

  3. preacherj

    Jr is without a doubt my all time favorite baseball player. Very much like Larkin in the way that there was not a single part of the game in which he didn’t excel. Given the era, his numbers are fantastic. I have never once heard him associated with anything illegal. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a candid conversation with him about what was going on in the game when he played and what temptations, if any, he had to turn to a bottle to get back on the field quicker; and what his true feelings are toward those who did.

  4. Tom Reed

    I always wished the Reds had made a trade in the early 90’s that included Eric Davis and Ken Griffey, Jr. I was at the game in 2008 in Dolphin Stadium when Griffey, Jr. hit his 600th. home run. Few players have had more natural talent.

  5. i71_Exile

    I waited on Junior once when I worked at the Beckett Ridge Country Club just after man discovered fire. Young Junior had no equal in putting away burgers/hot dogs/fries. He was Adam Richman with a big, toothy grin.

    Those calories went to good use.

  6. Dave

    I remember the disappointment but, sadly, it is all that is written about in retrospect. I saw my favorite player, a class act and genuinely nice guy, suit up for my hometown team. I got to enjoy watching one of baseball’s brightest stars play at home… his home, my home, and my team’s home. I choose instead to focus my remembrances on that – I was witness to my favorite player ever coming home to my favorite team ever, and for that I am eternally grateful.

  7. Ricker

    One of the game’s all time greats. Loved watching him play.