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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. Robert Manley - Jun 3, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    No body has a perfect career. Griffey, was one of the best to play the game period. Top five. Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Aaron, and Junior. Remember Mantle caught the injury bug as well. As players, for ten years straight, these five are the best non pitchers to ever play the game.

  2. Lady Vader - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    Barry Bonds doesn’t deserve to clean Jr.’s cleats.
    Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, A-Fraud…they did it with the aid of PED’s…
    Godspeed Jr.!!

  3. Robert Manley - Jun 3, 2010 at 10:25 PM

    jayT, thats when he broke all the records, from 2000 on. Before then he was good, a little bit like Grady Siezmore without the Glove. He wasn’t great though, until he grew in size and avoided injuries, I wonder what kept him injury free and actually get better as he aged, hmmm… oh I know, steroids.

  4. John Eric - Jun 4, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    Skip Bayless lead too far off base just for the sake of trying to gain readership with a less than flattering lead. I heard Bayless call Griffey “spoiled” today on National TV. Unbelievable. You can believe Bayless or you can look at Griffey’s actions over the years and the words of his teammates. He was always a class act. I cannot say the same for Bayless. Maybe he should write less.

  5. Shooty Babbit - Jun 6, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Baseballreference.com names ten players that are most similar to the Kid’s career. Six of them are Hall of Famers. Top name on the list: Frank Robinson. The other Hall of Famers are Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Dave Winfield and Mickey Mantle.
    When he is linked to those names, statisically, how can you say he is overrated?
    The other four on the list won’t be driving to Cooperstown anytime soon, only because of their links to PEDs. (Other four: Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.)
    I understand you’re trying to go against the grain, to generate discussion, and to bring in some Internet traffic to the site. But, you cash in on any credibility you may have earned in the past. Considering I never read anything of yours in the past, my first impression of you is that you know absolutely nothing about baseball.

  6. Dillon - Jun 6, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    I too think he is overrated. Sorry Griffey lovers. That being said he was one of the greatest pure talents ever. You have to define overrated before you say he wasn’t. Saying he was overrated is not saying he was a bum. Clearly he wasn’t. Saying he is overrated is saying he was not as good as he was recognized for being. I am saying that well he put up great career numbers he never fully lived up to his own potential because he was lazy and disinterested.
    He never won a single World Series and never even played in one. He only won one MVP award. Yet somehow is considered one of the best players ever? In my view he was one of the greatest talents ever but that talent was mostly wasted by a selfish and lackadaisical personality. By the way Griffey is and always was as big an egomaniac as Barry Bonds. You couldn’t be much of a bigger jerk to fans than he was.

  7. Ed - Jun 9, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    The stupidity of most of these responses is mid-boggling. This is a fairly balanced and well-written short analysis of Griffey’s career, and in no way trashes Griffey. The author clearly was a Griffey fan, aching to remember the young Griffey, before all the injuries. Overrated? Depends on how people are rating him. If they are rating him as a great player and a first ballot HOF-er, then he is obviously NOT overrated. If they are rating him as the best player of his generation – which, based on these comments, people are apparently doing – then yes, he is overrated. I have not seen anyone address the fact that even pre-steroids Bonds used up far fewer outs than Griffey and stole far more bases (and at a higher percentage success, to boot). How’s that for a more complete player? And anyone who thinks that Griffey’s higher RBI totals mean anything is obviously just a stat-head who never watched a game in their lives, because no one got more walks in tight situations than Barry Bonds, even pre-steroids.

  8. Ed - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    “I saw Bonds fail in the field twice.” WOW! Two observed failures over 20+ years! The heck with that guy.

  9. Ed - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    “Pre-2000 Barry was good not great . . . a bit like Grady Sizemore without the glove.” Wow. Just . . . wow. You do know that through 1998, Bonds had 8 gold gloves, 3 MVPs, and was the only man in history with 400+ steals and 400+ home runs? Are you aware that he was 400-400 by age 34? And that he was still toothpick Barry at that point in his career, not Michelin Man Barry?

  10. eric - Jun 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    your spelling and syntax are “sickining” fuck off asshole, go sit on a knife already.

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  12. Shallow Throat - Jun 14, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    As most of you are aware, guys like Jr./Bonds etc. will have the asterisk next to their names…no not PED but the one for LOP(lack of pro pitching). Do we hold it against them for playing in the era of home run derby hurlers;Mays,Aaron and Clemente hit the very best pitching in history…Clemente being the MOST proficient in this RAREIST of categories. Would Jr’s long, languid Els like stroke have held up to Koufax, Carlton etc. Mantle had a long swing too,not as smoothe as Jr’s,he said some nasty but accurate comments about trying to survive Koufax. Clemente: best defensive player ever coupled with best ever against PRO pitching and he doesn’t make all century team!!!! Let’s investigate that one.

  13. ben - Jun 15, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    One of the Greatest of All Time. “Overrated”? I think your crazy!!!

  14. jodea7 - Jun 15, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    If Mr. Pouliot dies and at the time brain trasplants are a reality please do not transplant his. His rear end oerifice is a better choice. Jimmy Jones could have used jerks like you to distribute the Kool-aid. Matthew you have a great future if they ever build the monument to the Unkown asshole I am pretty sure it will bear your face and your rear end.
    Adios F**kface

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