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Overrated, yet still great, Ken Griffey Jr. left a mark

Jun 2, 2010, 8:33 PM EDT

griffey.jpgA massive talent with a big smile he wore constantly, Ken Griffey Jr. burst onto the scene in 1989, hitting 16 homers and finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing the entire season at age 19.
Griffey just made it look so easy. And there were times in his mid-20s when he really was baseball’s best player. He led the AL in homers four times, won an MVP award in 1997 and finished in the top five on four other occasions. Capitalizing on one of baseball’s greatest offensive eras, he drove in 140 runs in three straight seasons.
Griffey, though, was not the best player of the 1990s. That was Barry Bonds. He never led the American League in batting average or on-base percentage. He topped the circuit in slugging only once. It’s true he had more defensive value than most of the guys who were outslugging him. But the one MVP award was truly all he deserved.
We know what happened to Griffey after the 1990s. Following a trade to the Reds in Feb. 2000, he put up one All-Star caliber season and then spent much of the next four years on the DL. In 8 1/2 years with the Reds, he played in 945 games, hitting .270/.362/.514. Just once did he finish in the top 10 in the NL in OPS (7th in 2005).
As a Red, Griffey was a big disappointment. As a Mariner, his teams were chronic underacheivers. In his 22 seasons, Griffey went to the postseason just three times and his clubs won only one postseason series. Griffey did come through in a big way in 1995, hitting five homers in the ALDS win over the Yankees and then putting together another strong series against the Indians in the ALCS loss. However, he went on to go a mere 2-for-15 in the 1997 ALDS loss, and he wasn’t a factor in the 2008 postseason, going 2-for-10 as the White Sox were eliminated by the Rays.
Griffey is certainly a Hall of Famer. Fairly or not, he’s gone untarnished despite playing during the Steroid Era, mostly because he never looked like a user. He was a brilliant player with a gorgeous swing that produced 630 homers. Before his legs began to go, he was an outstanding center fielder.
I just wish I remembered those days better. Griffey spent about four or five too many seasons patrolling center when he would have helped the Reds more in a corner. He didn’t drive in 100 runs in any of his final 10 seasons. It’s been so long since he was a true great that it’s easy to forget just how good he was.

114 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. BC - Jun 3, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Griffey stopped being anything close to a star 10 years ago. He had 2 good seasons since 2000. He had what I’d term 7 sensational seasons out of 20. It’s not like he was a superstar the entire span of his career.
    People also remember the 20 year old smiling kid. Well, hr groused his way out of Seattle, and after year one in Cincinatti was pretty much a grousing jerk there.
    Overrated? Definitely. Hall of Fame? Certainly, though.
    The 7-great-seasons-out-of-20 argument isn’t a knock. Look at another Hall of Famer who was injury prone and had literally 7 great seasons out of the 20 or so he played (of course he had the fortune of playing for the dynastic Yankees): Mickey Mantle.

  2. james - Jun 3, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    This guy is an idiot! griffey was a true great he didnt cheat he did what he could and if injuries didnt come about he would have shattered the home run record! the guy writing this probably never played baseball and the only thing he knows is to talk about people that actually play the game and he’s not that good at that.

  3. splinter - Jun 3, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    Completely agree. Ruth, Williams, Dimaggio, Mantle, Mays & Griffey – all overrated. Your writing – definitely not overrated

  4. mm - Jun 3, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    Overrated? Apparently, you have not lived long enough nor seen enough baseball. Griffey, Jr. is special in the history of baseball and an encouragement to many of his fans as a role model. His career should be celebrated. His stats are remarkable playing with less competitive teams. Can you imagine what they would be if he had support… wow, this article summarizes the problems with baseball in general. The sport cannot rally behind the real heroes in the profession.

  5. Pisano - Jun 3, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    A great player , but he hung on a bit too long . It’s better to get out too early , rather than too late . Still a great one though .

  6. Dex'tral - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Obviously this idiot wrote this column for attention. To even use Mr Griffey and overrated in the same sentence is absurd.

  7. JJ - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    “Griffey, though, was not the best player of the 1990s. That was Barry Bonds”
    Cant compare a cheater with a clean player. Griffey was one of if not the best CLEAN Offensive + defensive players of the 90’s. He was playing against cheaters hitting 40-60 HRs so how was he suppose to win the awards and win HR titles while the other where cheating to win them?

  8. Coach Wilson - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    Let’s look at this word for a minute before I even give you enough respect to comment on what yo call an “article”
    overrated – to rate or appraise too highly; overestimate:
    How does this even come close to sounding like an explanation of a player that throughout his career was CALLED BY FELLOW MAJOR LEAGUERS, “one of the best ever to play the game”? How does a sportswriter even deserve to write such garbage and have it published. Who cares what writers think, I base my opinions on the guys who put on the uniform and played with and against them. And the facts presented in front of me.
    10 Gold gloves, 630 HR (5th all time) and a man that played the game with everything he had, never was lazy and was an ultimate professional. I know in the last few years he hasn’t been the same JR, but no one has expected him to be. Why did Seattle bring him back this year? Was it to hit 40 hr, drive in 100, and win a gold glove? Hell now, it was to be a positive influnece in the clubhouse, work with the young guys and honestly I believe to say thank you and give him a chance to retire a Mariner. Look I am 38 years old and I remember JR’s rookie season like it was yesterday. I didn’t like the backwards hat just like most others, but the man was a GREAT baseball plyer, an ultimate team guy, and amazing to watch in the field. We all know injuries (caused by playing defense…you hear that barry) took away his chance to be the HR king. However, he will always be the king of Seattle and one of the best players I have ever seen.
    BTW….I think you all baseball fans an apology. You have insulted us with this writing

  9. IndieVote - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Overrated? Bonds the better player? Those two statements alone removed any credibility you ever had. Wow. And saying he sent untarnished in the steroid era because “he never looked like a user” is the lowest blow I’ve seen in a while. I beleive he went untarnished because he never used. He was injury prone late in his career, that is true. Yet he still put up 630 homers. Overrated? You should lose your job.

  10. IndieVote - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    Don Denkinger, 1985 World Series, Cardinals v. Royals. THAT was the worst call ever. Everyone’s getting a little too worked up on this one. Umpires are part of the game. If the second baseman booted a routine ground ball on that last play, would you be saying “hang the bastard”? The ump blew a call. Get over it.

  11. IndieVote - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    Don Denkinger, 1985 World Series, Cardinals v. Royals. THAT was the worst call in the history of the game.
    Umpires are part of the game. If the second baseman booted a routine grounder on the last out, would everyone still want the play changed to preserve the perfect game? Would you still be saying, “hang the bastards”? The ump blew a call. Get over it. We’re not curing cancer here. Why is everyone acting like this is some earth-shattering event?

  12. AllNaturalMuscle - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    What a putz. Who writes a BS article like this on a day when one of the greats of all time retires? A clean player in the Steriod Era. And you can only think to write this BS? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  13. filmdude69 - Jun 3, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    Where’s an editor when you need one? Sports bloggers are overrated. Period.

  14. Coach Wilson - Jun 3, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    Oh yeah, for any of you REAL BASEBALL fans out there that like watching baseball players PLAY BASEBALL, go check out this old “overrated” youtube video of some of his greatest catches.
    For the rest of you, go watch Barry juice up and hit homeruns.
    You have really hit a nerve on me with this garbage you wrote. Do you remember a Sports Illustrated cover with junior on it that read “The Natural”????
    How dare you compare Griffey to Bonds!!!!

  15. Dan Olson - Jun 3, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    What an embarrassing article. If anything, history may judge Griffey’s career as UNDERRATED. He hit over 600 HRs despite missing 714 games to injuries. Name another player with 600+ dingers that baseball fans will ponder, “what could have been?”
    Very classy move disparaging him on his retirement btw. I am so sick of stupid bloggers that pretend they are actual sports writers.
    And for the record, Frank Thomas was the best hitter of the 90’s.

  16. Pat Gray, Cavendish, Vermont - Jun 3, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    I must point out to the very first poster (Andrew), that Matthew Poulliot was actually not accepted to “clown school” due to a lack of credentials. It just goes to show that anyone can post gibberish on a web site. Actually, if we evaluate him for his ability to produce gibberish, he’s quite good. Griffey was not overrated, you dolt!

  17. Dave - Jun 3, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    I personally watched the The Kid grow up in Seattle–I watched Griffey play more games in person than you have seen total dumbass–Matthew–how the hell you got your job is beyond me—Griffey is the GOLD STANDARD for examples of what ballplayers should be—now put your crack pipe down, your mother is calling you upstairs for lunch

  18. Snark David Chapman - Jun 3, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    And the ones that can’t play baseball OR write columns comment here.

  19. Foster Keats - Jun 3, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    This is the kind of garbage that gets printed when the writer gets his journalism degree out of a box of Frankenberry…
    I mean, why would anyone with a brain want to read this drivel???

  20. Merkle Boner - Jun 3, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    Bonds has eight gold gloves, Griffey has 10. Seeing as how the media loved Griffey and wasn’t very fond of Bonds and still awarded him the 8, I would consider that even.

  21. BC - Jun 3, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    OK, I’ll name two. Mickey Mantle and Tony Conigliaro.
    PS. You’re right – Thomas was the best hitter of the ’90s.

  22. jayT - Jun 3, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    A couple of things:
    1) By all accounts, Bonds didn’t use steroids until 2000, so the steroid talk shouldn’t really come into play.
    2) There’s no reason to think Griffey was clean.
    3) If you want to talk about being an all around player, Bonds was a significantly better baserunner then Griffey.
    4) Bonds was every bit the fielder that Griffey was, and like it was mentioned, Griffey won some Gold Gloves just because he was a good guy. I mean in 1995 he played less then half a season and still won the GG.
    5) I don’t understand why people would say Thomas was a better hitter in the 90’s then Bonds when Bonds had more homers, a better OPS, and more total bases then Thomas. Thomas was great, and the gap between the two of them is small, but there is no doubt Bonds was better. Then everyone.

  23. Chris Thompson - Jun 3, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    Bonds was every bit the fielder Griffey was? Are you insane?
    I say Bonds *twice* fail to turn and track fly balls that he assumed would be HRs, but instead landed over his head inside the park. Bonds was a lazy ass.
    Junior was the definition of a top-notch fielder. Gave 100% all of the time. Sacrificed his body. And unfortunately, several of the later seasons of his career, throwing his body into harm’s way in an attempt to play the game the way it was meant to be played.
    Which is more than anyone can possibly say for Bonds.

  24. superD - Jun 3, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    Bonds has eight gold gloves, Griffey has 10
    Griffey played centerfield, bonds played left field.

  25. talex - Jun 3, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    Matthew is correct! Griffey was a great player, but he’s not even in the top 50 of greatest players. Go look up Mickey Mantle’s numbers, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, George Brett, Jimmie Foxx, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, etc. Griffey was a great defensive player and a great homerun hitter, but he didn’t have great on-base percentage, didn’t steal bases, didn’t hit for average like the true super stars did and do. He was really great for about 5 or 6 seasons. That’s it.

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