Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best players to ever put on a uniform and play a baseball game, and he just got his final moment in the sun on July 24, when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Not everyone who gets into the Hall of Fame deserves to be there, but there’s no question, based on what our eyes saw or what the numbers say, that Griffey Jr. does belong there. He hit 630 home runs, won 10 Gold Gloves, and grabbed an American League MVP in 1997. To honor Junior, let’s look back at the greatest moments in his career.
1. Ken Griffey Jr. robs Ruben Sierra
On May 25, 1991, Ruben Sierra of the Texas Rangers stepped to the plate and crushed what appeared to be a double, possibly even a triple, into the right center field gap. Unfortunately for Sierra, Griffey Jr. made what might be the defining defensive play of his career.
Griffey Jr. caught the ball before climbing the wall like Spiderman, and then he crashed to the ground in a heap before pulling himself up and jogging back toward the dugout. The young man made countless great catches in his time in Seattle, but this one is the best of the bunch.
2. A double for the kid
Making his major league debut on April 3, 1989 at 19 years old, Griffey Jr. stepped up to the plate against starting pitcher Dave Stewart of the Oakland Athletics. Putting his patented, long swing on the ball and crushing it the opposite way, Griffey Jr. gathered the first of what would be many hits in his career.
The Mariners lost the game 3-2 and finished the season an unremarkable 73-89. But it was only the beginning of what would be a long, exciting run with one of the best centerfielders to play the game.
3. Back-to-back with dad
One of the more interesting facts about Griffey Jr.’s early career was that he got to play parts of two seasons on the same field as his father, Ken Griffey Sr. When the Cincinnati Reds released Griffey Jr. in August 1990 — after hitting just .206 in 46 games — the 40-year-old signed with the Mariners. The highlight of their experience together in Seattle? The time they hit back-to-back home runs.
Griffey Sr. was no longer much of a power hitter by the time he batted in front of his son on a major league field, which makes this all the more impressive. Senior hit just four total home runs in a Mariners uniform, a fraction compared to the 417 his son hit for Seattle.
4. Griffey Jr.’s 500th HR on Father’s Day
Playing against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 20, 2004 — Father’s Day — Griffey Jr. reached one of many historical milestones in his career. He hit his 500th career home run, a mammoth blast into the right field seats, off Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris.
Even more special? He was able to share the moment with his dad, who was at the game. Griffey Jr.’s father strongly influenced his career and was one of the big reasons the young man was traded out of Seattle to his hometown of Cincinnati, where Griffey Sr. spent the majority of his career. That his dad was present and able to hug his son after one of the defining moments of Griffey Jr.’s career was very special.
5. Griffey Jr. hits number 600
In his final weeks with the Reds, before being traded to the Chicago White Sox, Griffey Jr. was still chasing the final big milestone of his professional career: his 600th home run. On June 9, 2008, playing on the road against the Florida Marlins, he finally got it.
It was a first inning, two-run shot off Marlins left-hander Mark Hendrickson. Griffey Jr. hit eight more home runs in the next month-and-a-half in a Reds uniform before a forgettable stop with the White Sox to end the season. He finished out his career by playing two seasons back in Seattle in 2009 and 2010, combining to play 150 games and hit 19 home runs.
6. Clutch 1995 ALDS home run ties Reggie Jackson
In his first ever playoff series against the New York Yankees in 1995, Griffey Jr. had several of his most memorable moments. He hit two home runs in his first playoff game, a tie-breaking homer in the top of the 12th inning of Game 2, another tie-breaker in Game 4, and then a homer to bring the Mariners within one run of the Yankees in the eighth inning of Game 5.
This homer tied Yankees great Reggie Jackson for most home runs his in a playoff series, which is pretty special. Seattle went on to tie the game, then go down by a run in the top of the 11th inning, and finally win in walk-off fashion with Junior sliding across the plate in the bottom half. The only downside? This would be the only playoff series Ken Griffey Jr. would ever win.
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