Tonight, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Junior was on 99.3% of the submitted ballots, breaking Tom Seaver’s all-time record. Junior is my all-time favorite baseball player and this is the news I have been waiting to hear since he retired.
I find it fitting that Junior will enter the Hall of Fame in 2016, the same year Kobe Bryant is retiring. While both are probably the greatest and most popular athletes for sports fans in my generation (born circa 1990), they also helped bring sports video game to the mainstream. Before MLB 2K and MLB: The Show, there was Ken Griffey Jr Presents Major League Baseball.
Along with PacMan and Donkey Kong, the game above was one of the first games I ever owned; thanks, Mom and Dad. I played this game ALL. THE. TIME. Along with its successor Ken Griffey Jr’s Slugfest, this game featured one of the coolest game modes of the 90’s: Home Run Derby. Who did I pick as my batter? Not Mark McGuire. Not Sammy Sosa. Ken Griffey Jr. He was the coolest. He made wearing a backward baseball hat cool, he guest starred on The Simpsons, he had his own video game, and he was the main antagonist in Little Big League (well, he and Randy Johnson).
So why does any of this matter? To me, Griffey wasn’t just the coolest baseball player around; he one of the first players that made me realize I could like players who didn’t play for a Philadelphia team. He was a player I’d constantly pick in fantasy drafts, trade for in video games, and go watch whenever Seattle, and later Cincinnati, would come to Philadelphia.
Now that the “Steroid Era” has come and gone, we’ve come to realize that Griffey was the real hero. He may not have broken any records in the great home run chases of the late 90s and early 00s, but he has the record he deserves now and will be immortalized for it. No one will ever match that swing.