Ken Griffey Jr. joined the elite 600 Home Run Club with a 413-foot first inning shot against Florida left hander Mark Hendrickson on Monday, a two-run blast that provided the first scores for the Cincinnati Reds in a 9-4 victory. Griffey was voted to the All-Century Team in 1999 and selected as the Player of the Decade in the 1990s but after several injury plagued seasons he has become an almost forgotten man, so in a way it is fitting that he hit this milestone home run run in front of just 16,003 fans in Dolphin Stadium.
Here is Griffey's historic blast:
An old Inside Sports article about Jim Rice once described the Boston slugger's swing as "short, compact, POW." That is also a fitting way to characterize Griffey's swing, a work of athletic artistry worthy of being displayed in the Louvre. Has anyone ever had a prettier, smoother and more effortless hitting stroke? Griffey has been called "The Natural," which is of course a reference to Bernard Malamud's novel of the same name--but that term carries another, very special meaning now, because Griffey has joined the home run immortals without even the whiff of a cheating scandal, unlike Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, 600 Home Run Club members whose numbers are more suspect than Enron's.
It seems like only yesterday that Ken "The Kid" Griffey, Jr. burst on to the national scene. His father played on two World Series championship teams, made the All-Star Team three times and won the 1980 All-Star Game MVP award but it quickly became apparent that Junior Griffey would leave even bigger footprints in the game's record book. The elder Griffey stuck around long enough--or the younger Griffey was prodigious enough, depending on how you want to look at it--to be his son's teammate in Seattle for two seasons. In 1990, they accomplished something together that had never been done before and is unlikely to ever be done again, hitting back to back home runs against the Angels' Kirk McCaskill. What makes that even more remarkable is that the elder Griffey was 40 years old at the time, hit only four home runs that season and compiled just 152 home runs in his 19 season major league career.
Griffey Jr. was the youngest player to reach 300, 350, 400 and 450 home runs and he seemed to be well on course to breaking Hank Aaron's career record of 755 home runs. After Seattle traded him to Cincinnati--where his father played for most of his career--he had 40 home runs and 118 RBI in 2000, his first season with the Reds. Griffey Jr. missed more than 400 games due to various injuries in the next four seasons but he has had at least 428 at bats each of the past three years, launching 35, 27 and 30 home runs in 2005-2007. It is unlikely that he will catch Babe Ruth (714) for the number three spot all-time but Sosa (609) is definitely within reach and if he plays two more years with reasonable health he has a shot at passing Willie Mays (660). That would be a truly amazing accomplishment for someone who has overcome so many injuries: as Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy detailed in Tuesday's edition of the Dayton Daily News, "Three screws in his tailbone keeps his hamstring attached to the bone, six screws hold his shoulders in place and (Griffey adds), 'I used to have five screws in my elbow.'"
Cincinnati Manager Dusty Baker, who hit 242 home runs during his 19 year career, was a teammate of Aaron's and managed Barry Bonds in San Francisco, said, "He must really love the game, because he doesn't need the money. He has gone through a lot of pain and suffering. I have to damn near drag him out of the lineup."