Griffey rejuvenated by postseason prospects
Marc Narducci / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 57 minutes ago
PHILADELPHIA - Ken Griffey Jr.says he isn't interested in his legacy, although calling the Cincinnati Reds centerfielder one of the top 20 players in Major League Baseball history wouldn't be a reach.
The 36-year-old Griffey is certainly in the twilight of his career, one that he and others insist hasn't transpired into the fading stage quite yet.
"He has just aged, but at his age who still wants to face him?" said a National League scout. "He still has lightning in his bat and he is very dangerous."
The two biggest knocks on the current version of Griffey are that he is no longer the best player in baseball and that he has spent an inordinate amount of time on the disabled list. So not only can he no longer chase down some balls to deep center field, but he can't outrun his former reputation.
"I felt that for about a 10-year period, Ken Griffey Jr. was the best player in baseball," Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He was a five-tool player whose hitting was just phenomenal."
Every eye-popping statistic that Griffey has compiled is accompanied by the two simple words — What if?
See, Griffey is one of the most accomplished players in baseball history. And also one of the most injured.
There were the 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, the seven years of 40 or more home runs including consecutive years of 56, the four straight years of 130 or more RBIs, eight seasons of batting .300 or better.
If not for injuries, Ken Griffey, Jr. could be making a run at Hank Aaron's 755, too. (John Grieshop / Getty Images)
Of course, the 13 trips to the disabled list would stall anybody's march to immortality even though Griffey, with 559 career home runs and 1,599 RBIs entering the weekend, has long been assured a permanent place in Cooperstown.
"When I do something I usually do it right and that includes the injuries," Griffey said while sitting at his locker before a recent game against the Phillies. "I know it's a unique situation because I'm the only guy in the big leagues who detached a hamstring and got three titanium screws holding it together."
That is only a fraction of the problem. Griffey dislocated his shoulder so badly that it required five more titanium screws.
He has fractured his left wrist, broken the hamate bone in his right wrist, torn the patellar tendon in his right knee and torn the peroneal tendon in his right ankle.
And he has broken many hearts among those who felt he had a chance to be the best ever.
Griffey might play like Willie Mays, but he walks around like the late Walter Brennan.
From 2002 to 2004, he played in just 202 of a possible 486 games due to injuries. That makes judging Griffey even more difficult because had he stayed healthy, he might be challenging Hank Aaron's all-time home run list at 755. And even with all the injuries, 600 home runs is still certainly on his radar.
"The game is much faster, especially anytime you have leg injuries, it's tough," he said.
Griffey isn't making any alibis. He understands that he isn't the player he once was, but insists that the tank is far from empty.
"I still feel I have a lot left," he said. "And unless my daughter tells me that she wants her dad to stop playing, I'm going to continue."
Griffey, at even a shell of a player he used to be, could still be among the most effective performers in the National League. And at his age, that isn't half-bad.
Griffey doesn't play with the reckless abandon he once did in center field, and he'll misjudge a play or two, but he still is among the better defenders in baseball even though his last Gold Glove came in 1999.
"He used to be able to impact a game with speed on bases, with infield hits and speed in the outfield," the scout said. "He used to be an 80 defensive player, which is the best, and now he is a 65, which is still better than most."
Griffey still has good bat speed, but sometimes his legs betray him, not giving him the power to draw from. Still, last year he hit 35 home runs and drove in 92 runs in only 491 at-bats
Griffey has been in the middle of a serious slump that has dropped his average in the .240 range. He still has 23 home runs and 63 RBIs, but pitchers have been able to get him by throwing heat, an unheard of scenario earlier in his career.
"His bat is a little slower and he missed the better part of three years and that is tough because as you age and you miss time, it is difficult to be as sharp," the scout said.
Prior to this year the Reds suffered five consecutive losing seasons and were a total of 86 games under .500 during that span.
This year, despite a pitching staff that has been put together by Band-Aids, the Reds remain among the leaders in the National League wild-card race and are breathing down the collective necks of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
While he won't admit it, Griffey appears rejuvenated this season by having a chance to play well into October, especially since he has participated in the postseason just twice in his first 17 seasons.
"Every game has meaning whether we are 20 games up or 20 down," he said. "This is how we make our living."
So we get the point that Griffey would be playing the same way no matter what was at stake, but it doesn't mean he isn't appreciative at having the chance to play meaningful games during the dog days of summer.
"This year has definitely been a blessing," he said. "Everybody counted us out in spring training."
Just as many have counted Griffey out as being a major factor. When he goes through slumps like his current one, the talk of his demise only intensifies.
It's just the way it is for future Hall of Famers ... the bar is always raised considerably.
Griffey will have the final seven weeks of the season to prove that this post All-Star swoon is just temporary. No matter what is said, Griffey will play with cotton in his ears and fire in his eyes.
"I don't look at individual accomplishments or what people really say," he said. "I just go out there and try to do the best job I can."
And even through injuries that would have forced many to pack it in, Griffey has done his job better than only a few immortals of the game.
Marc Narducci writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer.