In the quest to grow the game with a younger audience, Major League Baseball has turned to “The Kid” to bring the kids back to baseball.
On Friday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced that Ken Griffey Jr. has been named as a senior adviser to the commissioner.
While the job comes with multiple responsibilities, Griffey’s consultation role will have “a special emphasis on baseball operations and youth baseball development, particularly regarding improving diversity at amateur levels of the game.”
“We are thrilled that Ken will represent Major League Baseball on some of our sport’s most important stages, alongside our current and future stars,” Manfred said in a statement. “We welcome the perspective and insights that Ken gained as a historic player, as a parent, and as someone who has spent his life in and around our great game.”
Griffey will also serve as an ambassador for MLB in youth baseball initiatives and at its special events, such as the All-Star Game and its festivities as well as the postseason.
“I am humbled to be asked to work with Major League Baseball in this role,” Griffey said in a statement. “It will be an honor to represent the best sport in the world and to promote our game among today’s youth.”
Can Griffey make baseball cool to kids again?
He’s already done it once in his Hall of Fame career.
He was a precocious prodigy at Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati when the Mariners selected him with the first overall pick of the 1987 draft. His talent and baseball acumen were obvious from his first professional game. He rocketed through the Mariners system in a season and a half, earning a spot on the Mariners’ opening-day roster for the 1989 season and debuting April 3.
He became an instant phenomenon in the Northwest and in baseball, injecting a youthful energy and bringing a level of excitement that was needed for a moribund franchise that had never had a true superstar and experienced success.
But it was how Griffey played baseball that changed the perception of the game for a generation of children.
With his megawatt smile, his cap turned backward and penchant for highlight-reel plays, Griffey made baseball cool to kids. He was one of them. He had a rap song, a candy bar and a video game on Nintendo.
He only started to understand it later in his playing career and in retirement when those children, who were now adults with kids of their own, would approach him and tell him what he meant to them growing up.
“Yes, it’s weird,” he said back before his Hall of Fame enshrinement. “But you know, those people — whether male or female — they were baseball fans, and they are going to have their kids play baseball. In order for us to grow the sport, that’s what we need.”
Current players still hold a reverence for him. They gushed about him in his Hall of Fame induction year.
“He changed the game of baseball in my opinion,” said Jay Bruce, a former teammate to Griffey. “Even (Angels star Mike) Trout being as iconic as he’s been in his career so far, he didn’t generate the interest that Griffey did. I think he really changed the game, especially in that time for baseball. Baseball was kind of looking for something to spark. And man, that was more than a spark. This guy was known all over the world. He really changed the game.”
Even current players feel his influence despite not seeing him in his prime.
“The Kid! The Kid!” then Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said with glee. “What an exciting player to watch. As a kid, everyone wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. You wanted to have that sweet, smooth swing and play the outfield like him. You wanted to bring that charismatic personality to the field like him. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.”
Griffey’s career spanned three decades and 22 big-league seasons with three organizations — Seattle, the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox.
In 2,617 career games — the majority in a Seattle uniform — Griffey had 2,781 hits, 630 homers (sixth most in MLB history), 1,662 runs, 1,836 runs batted in and a .907 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
From an honors standpoint, he appeared in 13 All-Star Games (voted a starter in all 13), earned 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards and was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century team at age 29. He was the unanimous American League MVP in 1997 and led the AL in homers four times (1994, 1997-99).