The Hall induction is the culmination of a big-league career that spanned 22 years and 2,617 career games — the majority in a Seattle uniform. He was elected in January with a record 99.3 percent of the vote.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — With his signature smile brightening an already sun-drenched summer day, Ken Griffey Jr., his eyes red from uncontrollable tears and forehead beading with sweat, ended his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in the only way befitting his game-changing career.
“I want to thank my family, my friends, the Reds, the White Sox and the Mariners for making this kid’s dream come true,” he said, voice shaking with emotion.
And with fans rising and cheering in approval, Griffey reached into the podium, pulled out a commemorative Hall of Fame Mariners hat and put it on — backward, of course.
He stared ahead with a serious look of swagger as if he had just crushed a three-run homer into the right-field seats of the Kingdome, unfurling that majestic and unmistakable swing. After a few moments, he had flashed the all-too-familiar grin as the crowd of nearly 50,000 at the Clark Sports Center’s massive lawn backdrop serenaded him with cheers.
The Mariners’ first real star and first Hall of Fame player had joined baseball’s legends, and he did it his way.
Griffey removed the cap when he and Hall of Fame classmate Mike Piazza posed for pictures with Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall of Fame chairman. But Clark, understanding the moment, urged Griffey to put it on for photos. He accommodated her wish.
So although Griffey’s Hall of Fame plaque, which he labeled “awesome, just awesome” has his hat on forward, his speech forever will be remembered with a backward cap — a look he made all his own in baseball.
When did the idea for the tribute to his style come to mind?
“That really wasn’t my idea,” he said. “That was a guy that happened to play for Chicago and Oakland that cried the entire time in his speech — Frank Thomas. He said, ‘You got to do it, you got to do it, hat backwards. You’ve got to end it like that.’ ”
It made Griffey consider the possibility.
“Him being a veteran of the Hall of Fame, I took his veteran leadership and decided to do it,” Griffey said.
But all this happened in the minutes leading up to the preceremony introductions of the Hall of Famers in attendance. And Griffey didn’t have a hat to wear with him.
So he called his wife, Melissa, to help his late request.
“She made a couple of calls, and one of my friends brought it back to me,” Griffey said.
The commemorative hat, which was one of hundreds given out at a lavish gala hosted by the Mariners on Saturday night, had the Hall of Fame logo on the back. And it belonged to Griffey’s youngest son, Tevin.
It was the highlight to Griffey’s emotion-filled remarks. As promised, his speech was right at about 20 minutes. It wasn’t completely written out. Instead, it was outlined with key points that featured him reading a few comments and speaking off the cuff in others. There were amusing anecdotes and playful stories sprinkled throughout, drawing laughter amid many moments of tears. It didn’t feel rehearsed. It was a player stepping out of his comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory.
Less than 20 seconds into his speech, Griffey’s emotions got the better of him. He had a dress rehearsal Saturday night at the gala, where he also was reduced to a puddle of tears. But that practice speech of sorts offered no help Sunday.
“I think the mistake I made was looking down at my kids in the front row,” he said. ‘They tell you, ‘Don’t look at your kids, don’t look at your kids until you have to.’ Nope, not me. When you’re a kid they always say, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t do that.’ And you do it anyway. First thing, I did.”
His thanks to his family brought out the emotion and playfulness.
Griffey’s milestone HRs
Ken Griffey Jr. ranks sixth on baseball’s all-time home run list with 630, behind Willie Mays at 660.
1 April, 10, 1989 vs. White Sox (off Eric King)
100 June 15, 1993 vs. Kansas City (Billy Brewer)
200 May 21, 1996 at Boston (Vaughn Eshelman)
300 April 17, 1998 at Cleveland (Jose Mesa)
400 April 10, 2000 at Colorado (Rolando Arrojo)
500 June 20, 2004 at St. Louis (Matt Morris)
600 June 9, 2008 at Florida (Mark Hendrickson)
630 October 3, 2009 vs. Texas (Tommy Hunter)
It started with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., also a former major-leaguer.
“To my dad,” he said voice choking,” who taught me how to play this game, but more importantly, he taught me how to be a man, how to work hard, how to look at yourself in the mirror each and every day and not to worry about what other people are doing.”
He then thanked his mother, Birdie.
“The strongest woman I know, having to raise two boys and having to be mom and dad, splitting time to go to one another’s games, me and my brother,” he said. “She was our biggest fan and our biggest critic.”
Griffey’s face brightened into teasing mode.
“I tell people that I’m more scared of my mom than my dad, just because she didn’t play (around),” he said. “If you don’t believe me, there are a couple of my friends here that can attest to that. She’s the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others.”
Griffey then turned to his wife and three children. He called to Melissa, whom he met in Seattle.
“The first time I saw you, I knew you were going to be my wife,” he said. “Now it took a little longer for you to realize that I was going to be your husband, but I’m OK with that now. I love you.”
Griffey singled out each of his three children: Trey, Taryn and Tevin. His chest swelled with pride in discussing them.
“Words can’t describe how much I love you and would do anything for you,” he said, looking down at them.
Beyond his family, Griffey thanked coaches and teammates along the way, some individually and others in group. He thanked close friend and former Mariners star Jay Buhner. Griffey said the two often joked they were “brothers from a different mother.”
“He was the greatest teammate I ever had,” Griffey said. “A guy that gave everything he had on the field and a guy that spoke the truth even though you didn’t want to hear it. I will love you for that.”
Griffey also gave a brief endorsement of former Mariners teammate Edgar Martinez for his candidacy in the Hall of Fame.
“Yes, he does belong in the Hall of Fame,” Griffey said.
Griffey’s decision to go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner was simple for him, and he complimented the organization that gave him his start.
“I would like to thank them for taking a chance on a 17-year-old kid and allowing him to continue to play this great game of baseball,” he said. “In the winter of ’86, I remember being in my garage and (former major-leaguer) Bobby Tolan saying, ‘Hey the Seattle Mariners have the first pick and they are looking at you.’ I walked into my house and looked at my dad and said, ‘Where’s Seattle?’ ”
After some convincing of then-owner George Argyros was needed, the Mariners selected Griffey with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1987 draft. He made his big-league debut as the Mariners’ opening-day center fielder in 1989.
From there, his blend of talent, charisma, youthful energy and a backward cap that he brought to the field captured the imagination of Mariners and baseball fans, transforming the team and the game into something it hadn’t been — cool.
In 13 MLB seasons with Seattle, he hit .292 with 417 homers and 1,216 RBI, including six seasons with 40 or more homers and two seasons of 56 homers. He was named to 10 consecutive All-Star teams, won 10 Gold Gloves in a row, earned seven Sliver Slugger awards and was the unanimous winner of the 1997 American League MVP Award. He led the AL in homers four times (1994, 1997-1999) and won the Home Run Derby three times.
“Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners,” he said. “From the day I got drafted until my first at-bat in the Kingdome, to the ’95 playoffs, to my first trip back to Seattle as a member of the Reds and my return to Seattle in 2009, to my retirement in 2010, Seattle, Washington, has been a big part of my life. There are so many great things that I could talk about, but we would be here all day. So I am going to leave you with one thing:
“Out of my 22 years, I’ve learned that only one team will treat you the best, and that’s your first team. I’m damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
|Players with the greatest Baseball Hall of Fame voting percentages:|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||2016||99.32%|
|Cal Ripken Jr.||2007||98.53%|