Several Reds players appeared on the most recent ESPNÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
The Ken Griffey Jr. (#35) story is one of the most tragic in Reds history. The Kid came home, and sadly, the KidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 JuniorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 JuniorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tenure in Cincinnati, even if much of that disappointment wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t his fault.
Griffey Jr.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢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.
The 2004 season would produce at least one memorable moment for Griffey Jr. With Ken Griffey Sr. in attendance on FatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Day in St. Louis, Griffey Jr. would hit his 500th homerun. Here is aÃ‚Â 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 GriffeyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢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 sportÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.