It was a slow week on the news front in Cincinnati. The team did rack up a 4-2 record since last Sunday, and they’ve won all three series since the All-Star break. However, the coming week could be an important one for the Reds’ rebuild. MLB’s trade deadline hits on August 1, and fans could be watching the final week of players like Jay Bruce in Cincinnati.
It might have been a quiet week for the current team, but Sunday featured some big news for the organization. Earlier today Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Admittedly, Reds fans have an odd mix of emotions regarding Griffey. His trade to Cincinnati felt like one of the biggest moments in team history. In his first few seasons in Cincinnati, Junior flashed some of the brilliance fans saw during his time in Seattle. However, a long list of injuries kept him from reaching his full potential with the Reds.
With those caveats in mind, today was still exciting for fans of a certain generation. More than any other player, Griffey Jr. defined baseball in the 90’s. Over the past few years there has been talk about baseball’s inability to create stars. Questions like, “Would you recognize Mike Trout if he walked into a room?” drive home the point. However, in the 90’s there were few stars in all of sports bigger than Griffey. Not only that, but he transcended sports and made a mark on pop-culture. There was an effortless cool about “The Kid” that made him a hero to baseball fans everywhere.
In honor of Griffey Jr.’s big day, this week’s Reds Report will be a trip down memory lane. In fairly chronological order here are a few of the things that stick out to me when I hear “Ken Griffey Jr.” What follows is a list of some of the most important things (baseball and pop culture) that solidified Griffey as an icon. Griffey’s time in Cincinnati might not have gone as planned, but there is still plenty to remember.
The Holy Grail
On a spring day in 1991 my dad bought me a pack of baseball cards. This was one of a few crucial moments that fueled my life-long love affair with this game. As a baseball card collector in the early 90’s there was one card that everyone wanted to get their hands on. A 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie card. Sadly, I never owned this card myself, and I couldn’t convince my parents to drop $75-$100 for a piece of card stock with an athlete’s face on it. Like most baseball cards this was considered to be an item that would sky rocket in value. Who knew how much this card would be worth in 2016 back in the early 90’s?
My parents are probably glad they didn’t listen to me. You can now acquire one on eBay for under $50.
The Candy Bar
You know you’ve made it big when there’s a candy bar named after you. The first edition of this was actually released in Griffey’s rookie season (1989). Jason Foster of the Sporting News describes the candy this way: It “featured the star’s image molded onto a flat, rectangular bar of milk chocolate. The treats were limited to the Seattle market, though they can still be found on eBay for less than $10.”
Griffey Jr. Hits the Warehouse
In 1993 MLB’s All-Star Game made its way to Camden Yards in Baltimore. Prior to the game a few of baseball’s best hitters faced off in the annual Home Run Derby. Juan Gonzalez eventually won the event in a playoff against Griffey, but it was “The Kid” who left fans with one of the most iconic moments in derby history.
Griffey Jr. vs. the Fresh Prince
In the early 90’s few things announced to the world that someone had “arrived” like a cameo on Fresh Prince. Griffey Jr. took his turn in 1993, and got to take a shot at Will Smith in the process.
Griffey Jr. on the Big Screen
If you were a kid and a baseball fan in the 90’s you likely watched this move on loop (along with Angels in the Outfield and Rookie of the Year). You remember this movie don’t you? The owner of the Minnesota Twins passes away and leaves the team to his twelve year old grandson The grandson then fires the manager and…appoints himself manager? It was every kid’s dream. Griffey made one of the best guest appearances in the film.
The Video Game
There was an entire summer of my life devoted to eating, sleeping, and playing this game. It featured real major league teams, but fake players that the developers had fun with. The Colorado Rockies roster was named after famous horror movie characters. The Kansas City Royals featured the names of former U.S. presidents. You can find a number of other connections like this, but at the end of the day it was just a fun game to play.
Griffey Jr. Meets Lil Penny
There was a time in the mid-90’s when one of the most popular figures in commercials was actually…a puppet of Penny Hardaway voiced by Chris Rock. The Lil Penny commercials were wildly successful, and when Griffey Jr. was added to the mix…magic ensued.
Griffey Climbs the Record Books
As mentioned above, Griffey’s time in Cincinnati was plagued by injuries. However, that didn’t stop him from reaching a few impressive baseball milestones. While playing with the Reds he reached the 500 and 600 home run marks. First, home run number 500 in 2004.
A few years later he found himself in the rarefied air of the 600 home run club.
Even with all of the injuries he faced, Griffey currently finds himself at #6 on baseball’s all-time home run list with 630.
Griffey Jr. Calls It Quits
In 2010 it was obvious that Griffey’s time as a player was coming to an end. He only played in 33 games for the Mariners that season before deciding to call it quits in June. Fans might wish that his final few seasons turned out a little differently, but Nike stepped in with a “Goodbye” to Griffey that reminded us all why we loved him so much.
Junior Enters the Hall
Today, Griffey Jr. took that final step into baseball immortality. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Game, and he gave what was, by all indications, a very emotional speech. Once everything was said that needed to be said, he left us with one more memorable image.
– Mike Oz (@mikeoz) July 24, 2016
Thanks for the memories “Kid.”
If you’re interested in reading more about Griffey’s time in Cincinnati check out this piece at Red Reporter.
This week the Reds will head out west for series against the Giants and Padres.
You can follow the Reds, and Eric’s writing, all season long at Red Reporter.