(George) Ken(neth) Griffey Jr. came into the league when I was 2 years old. He was the first player I could remember that I loved. I played as him on video games, then I played video games named after him. I saw him on the cover of SI for Kids and in commercials. I collected his baseball cards, and I wore a backward cap because that was how he would wear his hat while winning the Home Run Derby.
I remember how he would always compete with the "Big Hurt" for the MVP award (and lose). But he was the perfect sports idol. He hit the home runs, had the batting average, stole some bases, and could cover center field like a blanket. He had a great name, even when I learned that his real first name is GEORGE!
I rooted the hardest for him in a year where he is sorely overlooked, when he was keeping up with the home run race when McGwire hit 70 and Sosa hit 66. If he had not "slumped" everyone would have been talking about him too. But the most remarkable part of that accomplishment is that his name has yet to surface as using PEDs. Now that is the perfect sports idol.
He wanted out of the Mariners, so just like his co-superstars A-Rod and the Big Unit, he left. If he had never left for the Reds or never gotten hurt, I believe he could be known as the best player baseball has ever seen. He may have had the most talent (and the sweetest swing), but his numbers could have been even better. He only hit a measly 630 home runs. He could have been one of only four players to make it to 700. He would have surpassed the 3000 hit mark by far as well. Who knows what could have happened? All I know is he was great, and baseball will miss him.
I saw him hit 2 home runs (I think #471 and 472) at a Marlins game in 2003 (good year - read my article about Willis too). I was never so happy to see an opposing player play, and especially dominate my team, like when I saw Griffey unleash that buttery swing that night. I will always remember that game, and I will always remember one of the best players to ever play the game. He was my perfect sports idol. See you in Copperstown.