Thursday, June 3, 2010

Farewell to "The Kid"

Ken Griffey, Jr., the owner of the smoothest swing in baseball history, retired Wednesday, ending a Hall of Fame career of one of the nicest players to ever don a big league uniform.

Forget all the numbers, the 630 career home runs, 5th most All-Time in the big leagues, or the 1.800+ RBIs,  10 Gold Gloves, or that MVP Award in 1997.

No, for me, what Ken Griffey Jr. should be remembered for is the way he played the game, the way it should be played, just like we played in the sandlots of our hometowns, the way Al Kaline, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Willie Mays played.

Just like a kid, there was always that big, beaming smile, from ear to ear, Griffey was always smiling,  smiling after making one of his spectacular catches in center field, smiling after scoring the winning run from first base in that 1995 playoff game against the Yankees, smiling when a teammate made a big play, or got a big hit...he was always smiling.

Baseball is a game for kids, and Ken Griffey always played that way, just like a big kid, never growing up, just playing one long, continuous baseball game, just taking long enough to run back home so your Mom could make you lunch before you ran back to that make shift diamond that you and your friends made out of a bunch of dirt and over grown grass.

I always felt sorry for Ken Griffey, Jr. I felt that way because baseball has not taken care of "The Kid," or the countless other players who have given their all every single day for the past 15 years, or so, only to have fans, and the media, wonder of what they were doing was legitimate, or was it because of some pharmaceuticals that you had taken.

Because of the steroid era, players like Griffey have not been given the credit they are due...just because other players have been accused, or have been found to have violated baseball's drug policy. Because of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Raphael Palmeiro, the 630 round trippers hit by Griffey have come almost as an after-thought, and that's the shame of it, the shame of baseball.

So, it's so long, and farewell to "The Kid," who loved to play America's National Pastime, and who played with the energy, the excitement, and the jubilation of that kid inside, a kid who never wanted to grow up.


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