In Major League Baseball, star players usually find their way to one of the big market teams. Ken Griffey Jr., however, never took that path. After starting his career in Seattle, the outfielder moved to Cincinnati to suit up for the Reds; no matter what, though, he was never interested in signing with the New York Yankees. You can thank the team’s late owner, George Steinbrenner, for that.
While Steinbrenner was no stranger to cutting massive checks and signing baseball’s biggest stars, no amount of money could bring Ken Griffey Jr. to the Bronx. During his youth, Junior was painfully burnt by the Boss’ double standard.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s legendary baseball career
Compared to the NFL and NBA, Major League Baseball can seem a bit old-school and boring. During the 1990s, however, Ken Griffey Jr. did his best to shake things up.
Junior had plenty of athletic talent on both the diamond and gridiron but chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and play baseball. The Seattle Mariners selected him with the first overall pick of the 1987 MLB draft, and, after a couple of seasons in the minors, the outfielder joined the big club for the 1989 season. He had a solid campaign, batting .264 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs, but the best was yet to come.
While Griffey arrived in Seattle as a five-tool player, he kept getting better and better with each passing season. He began belting home runs with incredible ease; he hit 56 dingers in 1996, complimenting a .304 batting average and .646 slugging percentage, and claimed AL MVP honors. The outfielder’s time in Seattle, however, would eventually come to an end.
In 2000, the Mariners traded their star to Cincinnati; the Reds promptly inked Ken Griffey Jr. to a massive contract. The outfielder failed to reach the same heights that he did in Seattle, however, and struggled with injuries during his time in the Midwest. He spent the tail end of the 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox before returning to Seattle and ultimately calling it a career.
By the time he decided to hang it up for good, Ken Griffey Jr. had spent 22 years in the majors. He retired with a career .284 batting average, 2,781 hits, and 630 home runs; he earned a place in Cooperstown in 2016, securing 99.32% of all possible votes during his first year on the ballot.
George Steinbrenner’s double standard changed baseball history
In the 1980s, Ken Griffey Sr. spent four and a half seasons with the New York Yankees. While that could have given the Bronx Bombers an edge in signing Ken Griffey Jr., George Steinbrenner’s double standard left a bad taste in his mouth.
As a boy, Ken Griffey Jr. headed to New York to visit his dad. They were spending some time in the dugout before the game when their bonding session was rudely interrupted “A security guard came up and says, ‘Hey, George [Steinbrenner] doesn’t want anybody in the dugout,” Griffey Jr. remembered during to MLB Network’s Junior. “My dad’s like ‘What? He’s my son.”
Ken Griffey Sr. relented and told his son to look at third base, then go wait in the clubhouse. “It’s Graig Nettles’ son taking ground balls at third base,” Junior remembered. While he already had a beef with the organization thanks to Billy Martin, that hypocrisy seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
George Steinbrenner’s move came back to haunt the New York Yankees
While it’s dangerous to drag a straight line between any two events, George Steinbrenner kicking Ken Griffey Jr. out of the dugout sure seems like it helped shape Major League Baseball history.
During his career, Junior refused to sign the New York Yankees; as seen during the documentary, he claimed that he’d rather retire than put on pinstripes. He also burned the team on the field, with a career .311 batting average, 36 home runs, and 102 RBIs in 133 career games against the Yankees; Griffey also helped the Mariners famously defeat the Yankees during 1995 playoffs, helping to save Seattle baseball.
On the other side of the equation, it’s tempting to imagine how dominant the New York Yankees dynasty could have been with Ken Griffey Jr. belting home runs onto the short porch in right field. Thanks to George Steinbrenner, though, that will have to remain an eternal ‘what if.’
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference