CINCINNATI — It’s been viewed as a formality for years, but it finally came to pass on Wednesday. Cincinnati’s hometown player and former Reds star Ken Griffey Jr. is now officially in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In his first year of eligibility on the ballot, Griffey was elected on a record 99.3 percent of the ballots, and he just missed being unanimous with 437 out of 440 votes. The record had previously belonged to former Mets and Reds pitching great Tom Seaver, who was elected in 1992 with 98.8 percent of the vote.
“Excited, nervous,” Griffey said about the moment. “I want to thank you guys for voting for me, the Baseball Writers’ Association [of America]. I want to thank you for putting pen to paper and punching out my name. … It’s truly an honor.”
Top 10 vote-getters by percentage
|2016||Ken Griffey Jr.||440||437||99.30|
|2007||Cal Ripken Jr.||545||537||98.53|
Joining Griffey as a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee is former Dodgers and Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who received 83 percent of the vote. Both will be inducted on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Despite being a lock for being granted baseball immortality, Griffey said he tried not to think about becoming a Hall of Famer. Very superstitious, he admitted to playing in the Hall of Fame Game three times at nearby Doubleday Field, but he would never set foot in the Hall of Fame museum itself or even drive in front of it.
“I could control how I played and how I do things. But I can’t control what other people do for you. To get the call is unbelievable,” Griffey said.
During a 22-season career from 1989-2010 — spent primarily with Seattle and Cincinnati — Griffey batted .284/.370/.538, and his 630 home runs are ranked sixth all-time. His 1,836 RBIs are ranked 15th all-time and he hit 40 or more homers in five consecutive seasons, including a career-high 56 homers in a season in both 1997 and ’98.
“Ken made things that were not supposed to be easy, look easy,” said former left fielder Adam Dunn, Griffey’s Reds teammate from 2001-08. “There are very few players who had more fun playing the game. He loved playing, and we loved watching. Ken is one of my favorite people, both as a professional and on a personal level. He not only is a Hall of Famer on the field, but he also is one off it.”
The unanimous winner of the 1997 American League Most Valuable Player Award, Griffey was also a 10-time All-Star (and ’92 All-Star Game MVP), a seven-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner, a recipient of 10 consecutive AL Gold Glove Awards from ’90-99 and a member of the All-Century Team that was named in ’99.
The son of Big Red Machine member Ken Griffey Sr., the 46-year-old Griffey Jr. is the first overall No. 1 Draft pick to enter the Hall of Fame. He was selected by the Mariners in 1987 out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati.
With that connection in mind, Griffey requested a trade to his hometown team after the 1999 season. On Feb. 10, 2000, the Mariners honored his request by dealing him to the Reds. During his nine seasons in Cincinnati from ’00-08, Griffey ranked seventh in franchise history with 210 home runs. He hit career milestone homers Nos. 500 and 600 while in a Cincinnati uniform.
The Reds traded Griffey to the White Sox during the 2008 season. Unfortunately for him and the club, he left with unfinished business. Between ’00-07, Griffey missed 453 games with injuries, including a torn right hamstring. The Reds only enjoyed one winning season, which was during Griffey’s first year with Cincinnati.
However, Griffey remains one of the more special players to ever wear the Reds’ uniform.
Reds shortstop great Barry Larkin was Griffey’s teammate from 2000-04, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in ’12. Griffey and Larkin will be now be reunited in Cooperstown.
“Ken Griffey Jr. had the prettiest swing I have ever seen,” Larkin said. “Not only was the swing pretty, but it was effective. He hit for average, for power, and he hit in situations. He played the game the right way offensively, he impacted the game defensively. Junior had great range, tremendous athleticism and a cannon of an arm. And he played with a smile on his face. It was an honor to play alongside one of the greatest players in the history of the game.”
The BBWAA has never unanimously elected a player on its Hall of Fame ballot. Griffey did not hold a grudge against the three writers who did not check his name.
“I can’t be upset. It’s truly an honor to be elected,” Griffey said. “To have the highest percentage is definitely a shock, because I don’t think that way. I was just hoping. The big thing is to get into the Hall of Fame. As long as you get in, that’s what it is.”