“I’ve pretty much done everything you could do in baseball.”
Ken Griffey, Jr.
I became a Seattle Mariners fan years ago when the home team played in a dingy, drab, depressing concrete Quonset hut of a stadium known as the King Dome. The King Dome was to baseball stadiums what a trailer park is to Paris, what a kazoo is to the London Philharmonic.
The Dome was to Fenway what a Burger King is to Le Bernardin. The place had all the class of a certain candidate whose name rhymes with dump. The beer always tasted watered, the artificial turf was washed out and the seats were too small. Did I mention it was a concrete bunker?
I don’t know if Dr. Ben Carson, the presidential candidate, ever saw the King Dome, but if he did he would have declared it was built to store grain. The Dome was a tomb where baseball dreams frequently went to die and Seattle baseball fans often went to cry.
Trudging up one of those interminable concrete ramps to enter Seattle’s concrete Quonset hut of a stadium on a beautiful summer evening, it was possible to experience wildly divergent thoughts all in the space of a nanosecond.
With the high blue sky, the 72-degree temperature, the light breeze and the first hint of alpenglow on the Olympics you could conclude that there is no more perfect place on earth.
Then, suddenly, you’d remember: I’m going inside a sterile, climate controlled concrete dome to watch a baseball game on crappy artificial turf. A game made to be played on real grass under a real sky was going to take place in a grain storage facility.
Then, just as suddenly, another realization hit: A God of Baseball will be camped in centerfield. Junior is in the line-up. The Kid might lace a double off the wall. He might climb that wall and steal a home run from some poor schmuck. Or he might launch a big fly of his own that only a stadium with a roof could hold.
The guy with the sweetest swing since Teddy Ballgame and the best smile since The Babe made even the King Dome a special place. You forgot the venue when #24 dug in. You might have been in Timbuktu. It didn’t matter. George Kenneth “Ken” Griffey, Jr. – Junior, The Kid – was in the bunker. Something marvelous will happen tonight and even if it didn’t – this is baseball, after all – the sheer joy of watching the young man with the wide smile was worth coming in out of the sun.
Junior is now in the Hall. You always knew he would be there. They elected him, those brilliant sportswriters, by the narrow margin of 437 to 3. Griffey’s electoral percentage was 99.3% of the vote, the greatest Hall of Fame total in history. You only win elections with that margin in a Banana Republic or an Alabama congressional district, unless you are Ken Griffey, Jr.
Makes you wonder what got into the three guys who didn’t vote for him. What? He was never seen walking on water? He didn’t change Gatorade into Cote d’ Rhone? I know The Kid only hit 630 home runs and only had 1,836 RBI’s and he quit after just 21 years. Not much of a career. I guess all that is worth three no votes.
No, actually it’s not.
Those three sportswriters would vote no on whether Saturday is a good idea. Voting against Junior is like voting against your grandmother, especially if your granny only had 2,781 base hits. Maybe nobody but George Washington ever gets every vote, but Kenny came damn close and deserves it. I suspect no one will ever do better.
Arguably the best player of his generation, Barry Bonds, got just over 44% of the votes needed to enter the Hall. Bonds needs about 30% more to get there and one suspects the cheating baggage he carries on those broad shoulders will never let him rise so high. It’s a shame for him, for baseball and for fans. Bonds could have been there with Junior, but he sadly never got the game – or the privilege of playing it – the way Griffey did.
In an age when too many twenty-something baseball millionaires flaunt too much ego, too much hair, too much sullen personality, Junior was the game’s countervailing force. He seemed happy and genuine playing a kid’s game and we recognized that fact when we called him “The Kid.”
All of those 437 votes surely reflect Griffey’s greatness on the field, but they pay homage, as well, to a guy we took real joy in watching play the game with real joy.
Junior is in the Hall. I feel so good about it I almost miss the concrete Quonset hut.