CINCINNATI -- Ken Griffey Jr., overcome with emotion, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. And although his plaque in Cooperstown will rightly feature him in a Mariners cap, there should also be a sense of pride for people in Cincinnati and from the Reds.
Griffey grew up in the city and around the club, with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., playing for the Big Red Machine teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and '76. Then Junior returned to play in Cincinnati in the second half of his career.
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"I got a front-row seat to the greatest team ever assembled, the 1975 and '76 Reds," Griffey said on Sunday during his Hall of Fame induction speech. "As a member of the Reds, I was often teased by my teammates saying that my dad played for the Big Red Machine -- and you're the engineer to the Little Red Caboose."
Although a bad run of injuries marred Griffey's tenure with his hometown team, he still provided some thrilling moments in a Reds uniform.
"I got to play this game for 22 years, and I wouldn't trade it in for anything," Griffey said. "I spent eight years with the Reds. I got to put on the same uniform as my dad. Run around the same outfield."
Right fielder Jay Bruce grew up idolizing Griffey, and he was at Dolphin Stadium on June 9, 2008, when No. 600 was hit vs. the Marlins. Bruce, a rookie in '08 who would replace Griffey in right after his trade to the White Sox that season, fondly recalled playing next to him.
"When I was able to be there for home run No. 600, that was super, super special," Bruce said. "That's some of the most rare history that you'll ever be there for. I just remember a few plays he made in right field, too. Everybody knows his hitting prowess and his fielding prowess, too. I got to see some plays, even though it was in what some would consider the twilight of his career, you could really see where it came from. It was there. Even though it wasn't there in youth, it was there in skill. It was really cool to watch."
Traded to the Reds from the Mariners at his request on Feb. 10, 2000, for Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron and Antonio Perez, Griffey asked for the deal so he could return home. He played for Moeller High School when he was the No. 1 overall Draft pick by Seattle in 1987.
The deal did not yield the World Series that would elude Griffey his entire career. In fact, there was only one winning season -- in 2000. From '00-07, he missed 453 games due to injuries that included tears to both hamstrings, torn tendons in his right knee and ankle and a separated right shoulder. It may have diminished Griffey's abilities, but he still is esteemed by Reds greats who watched him grow up.
"He's one of those guys, he's one of the top 10 players ever," Major League all-time hits leader Pete Rose said last month. "Statistic-wise, ability-wise, great defensive player, great offensive player; he would have been a great player in the middle of the lineup for the Big Red Machine. I just wish that he played in a bigger market. He came out OK, but when you're a player like that, you want to play in big markets where everybody can see you. You want to be in the playoffs. You want to be in the World Series."
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench appreciated the effort Griffey showed defensively. The outfielder did win 10 Gold Glove Awards, although none came with Cincinnati.
"The way we played defense, and talked about the greatness of defense ... for him, he saw us go out there every day and play with a certain level of professionalism and greatness," Bench said. "He just assumed that was the way to play, because that's what he learned from baby steps."
On Wednesday, the Reds paid tribute to Griffey by wearing throwback uniforms from his era in the early 2000s. This weekend, a contingent from the club will be on hand in Cooperstown -- including CEO Bob Castellini and members of the ownership group, president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty and general manager Dick Williams. There will be a team reception held in Griffey's honor.
Bruce will be playing this weekend, of course, and he won't be part of the Cooperstown crowd. But he has nothing but appreciation for Griffey and his generosity -- both on and off the field.
"He was so nice," Bruce said. "He never said, 'I need to do this or that.' He just told me to relax and slow down and breathe. Now I think, above all, that I can call him a friend -- outside of baseball. We'll text and not talk about baseball. We talk about our families and stuff like that. It's pretty cool."
Griffey slugged 210 of his 630 career home runs in nine seasons with Cincinnati, and he batted .270/.362/.514 with 602 RBIs. He also hit career homer No. 500 as a member of the Reds on Father's Day in 2004 at St. Louis, with father Ken Griffey Sr. in the seats waiting with a hug for his son.
As Griffey gave his speech on Sunday, he thanked those who, he said, made him the man he is today. When he came to his father, Griffey choked up.
"To my dad," Griffey began, fighting back tears. "Who taught me how to play this game -- but more importantly, taught me how to be a man."