You remember him, right? The guy everyone said would break every homerun record in the history of the game? The guy with the prettiest swing in baseball? The first guy to have a baseball video game named after him? The guy who could run down any fly ball in center field and throw the runner out at the plate by three steps? The guy who’s numbers drastically declined when he started getting a bit older?
At the time, everyone was confused as to why he lost some pop at the plate. He wasn’t THAT old. Everyone around him was tearing the cover off of the ball so why couldn’t he keep up? Maybe he lost the will to perform. Maybe he stopped hitting the weight room, stopped going that extra mile in practice, changed his swing, changed his approach at the plate. But maybe he didn’t change a thing at all. Maybe he knew something that we didn’t. Maybe he chose to play with integrity and respect for the game.
In 2001, the season A-Rod admitted that he began to use performance enhancing drugs, Griffey had one of his worst offensive seasons to date. In his previous eight seasons he hit 40 or more homeruns in all but one, 1995 when he was sidelined with an injury for 90 games with Seattle.
After the 2000 season, when Griffey turned 30, his numbers overall started to decline; something that is understandable but unheard of in the steroid era. Over the next three seasons, the exact three seasons Mr. Rodriguez admitted to cheating with the Texas Rangers, Griffey put up only 43 total homeruns; a total he surpassed in one season five times. What did A-Rod put up in the three seasons following his 30th birthday? 48 lies, 35 lies, and 54 lies.
Sure, A-Rod may pass Barry Bonds one day as the all-time homerun leader and sure, A-Rod might be the best offensive player we’ve seen in years. But just like Barry Bonds, his numbers no longer mean a thing to me – they are products of steroids, deception, and cheating. The one thing A-Roid has that Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, and the like do not have is the decency to admit that he cheated. I know it was after he was caught, but at least he didn’t lie any further. His apology on ESPN appeared sincere and I may believe that he hasn’t juiced since 2003, but that’s the problem with liars; it’s hard to trust a word they say.
So, here’s to you, Ken Griffey Jr, the best true baseball player I’ve seen in my life. When you broke on to the scene at a mere 19 years old you turned heads and pushed pitchers into the minors and retirement. You had the most unbelievable arm in center field and your athletic catches were a thing of beauty. I know you could not do that forever. I wanted you to, but I knew it was improbable. I know few 35+ year olds that can even run to first base without injury. Everyone around you began to juice, balls started flying out of the park at a massive rate and you found yourself in the twilight of your career. You could have cheated, you could have put up more monster numbers after the age of 30, but you played the right way. You stayed true to America’s game, baseball, the game you love. At a time where the temptation to cheat was so high, you played with the one thing that steroids can never enhance: your heart.