Griffey's Seattle fans await call to Cooperstown

January 5th, 2016

SEATTLE -- Mariners fans remember the gorgeous Ken Griffey Jr. swing, the effortless catches, the monster home runs and megawatt smile.

I remember tears. Unabashed tears from my son, who was then 13, when I told him Junior had been traded to the Reds in 2000.

That was how much of the Pacific Northwest felt when Griffey forced his way out of Seattle after 10 straight All-Star and Gold Glove seasons. Hearts torn, dreams dashed, a region's greatest sports star sent packing.

HOF show: Wed., 12-4 PT, MLB Network/

It seemed that rainy February afternoon that something great had been taken away, but it turned out to be a temporary loss. Griffey returned to the Mariners 10 years later, played two final seasons in Seattle and remains part of his original club still as a special assistant to the general manager and a member of the team's Hall of Fame.

And now Griffey will place the ultimate backward cap on his career when he's elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today, becoming the first player whose plaque at Cooperstown will bear a Mariners hat.

The only question swirling around Junior now is whether he'll break Tom Seaver's record for highest voting percentage in Hall of Fame history when results are announced during the 3 p.m. PT show on MLB Network and

Griffey answered all the other questions long ago. He was one of the greatest players in Major League history, the youngest selected to MLB's All-Century team in 1999 at age 29. In his prime, he averaged 52 home runs and 142 RBIs in his final four seasons in Seattle. Over the course of his 22-year career, he launched 630 homers, sixth most in Major League history.

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He still ranks sixth in in MLB history in intentional walks, seventh in extra-base hits, 13th in total bases, 15th in RBIs, 26th in sacrifice flies, 32nd in runs, 33rd in slugging percentage, 44th in doubles and 50th in hits.

Defensively, he has the sixth most putouts of any center fielder to play the game and is 12th in outfield assists from that position. His 10 Gold Gloves tie him with Andruw Jones for second behind Willie Mays (12) for most won by players who spent the majority of their games in center field.

Those are the numbers. Some of the numbers. But his impact was far greater than that for the generation of Mariners fans who grew up watching The Kid play in the Kingdome and eventually a half-season at Safeco Field.

He arrived in Seattle as a talented teen, the first player selected in the 1987 Draft and a youngster gifted with such skills and genetics that he forced his way onto the Mariners roster with an eye-opening spring as a 19-year-old in 1989.

It was love at first sight for Seattle fans, who couldn't help but root for the youngster with the big grin and natural game. He doubled in his first Major League at-bat off Dave Stewart in Oakland, then blasted a home run to left off Eric King of the White Sox on the first pitch thrown to him in his Kingdome debut.

From there, whether it was playing -- and one game homering back-to-back -- with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., or winning Home Run Derbies or making sensational Spiderman catches against the wall or leading his team to its first postseason appearances in franchise history, The Kid grew into The Man in Mariners' lore.

Children grew up imitating Griffey's sweet swing, families grew together watching him play and the Mariners evolved from a struggling franchise to a Seattle staple, with a shiny new Safeco Field built largely on Junior's popularity opening in mid-1999 to cement the club's once-tenuous future in the Pacific Northwest.

That's why the hurt ran deep when Griffey left in 2000. But it's also why Seattle fans opened their arms -- and roared their unending support -- when Junior returned to Safeco in 2007 with the Reds for an Interleague series and was so overwhelmed by the response that he acknowledged he might like to eventually finish his career back with the Mariners.

I made sure to take my own now-grown kids to Griffey's first game back at Safeco with the Reds so we could sit in the stands together, just as we had so many times when they were little. Sometimes you really do want to re-live the past and Junior gave it his own go, re-signing with Seattle in 2009 before retiring midway through '10 at age 40.

By then, the bat was slowed and the magic diminished by Father Time. But Mariners fans relished the reunion and it just seemed right for Griffey to finish his magnificent career back where he started.

Now comes the capper, a Hall of Fame induction everyone knew was just a matter of waiting the requisite five years. Now it's time. The votes have been cast, only the official announcement awaits.

My son, along with many Mariners fans, vows to be in Cooperstown when Griffey gets inducted on July 24. I'm guessing there'll be more tears that day, including a few from The Kid himself, as he reflects on a journey shared by so many and takes his permanent place among baseball's greats.