Ken Griffey Jr. is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who did a lot of incredible things during his career. Like with many players, his production tailed off in the last couple years of his career and he wasn’t as good as he was in his prime, partially because of injuries.
That means he wasn’t always a regular starter as he was for much of his career and was often called on to pinch-hit. There was one time, a decade ago, when his manager wanted Griffey to pinch-hit, but he wasn’t available. And the reason why he couldn’t do it is shocking.
A legendary baseball career
Ken Griffey Jr. was one of the top prospects of his generation when the Mariners drafted him with the first overall pick in 1987. He quickly made it to the majors, debuting at the start of the 1989 season, the beginning of a 22-year career.
In his more than two decades in the majors, Griffey hit .284 with 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI. His homers are the seventh most in Major League Baseball history, while his RBI total ranks 16th all-time. Griffey was the American League MVP in 1997, when he hit .304 with 56 homers and 147 RBI.
He was a 13-time All-Star, and he won 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers. Unfortunately, he only made the postseason three times in his career and never made it to the World Series.
Ken Griffey Jr. naps during a game
So, about that time Griffey wasn’t available to pinch-hit for the Mariners. It was in 2010, his final season, when he was 40 years old. ESPN reported at the time that Griffey missed the chance to pinch-hit because he was in the clubhouse.
Then-Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu was evasive when asked why he didn’t use the second-generation player in the game, but according to two unnamed teammates Griffey had fallen asleep in the clubhouse.
One of the players recalled that Griffey had gone back to the clubhouse in the fifth inning to get a jacket and never returned. The player says he went back there in about the seventh inning, “and he was in his chair, sound asleep.”
The second player said that Griffey wasn’t sleeping well at night, at the time, because he was away from his family, but “he’s comfortable in the clubhouse.” It was later reported by ESPN that Griffey didn’t deny taking a nap during a game, but he “lashed out at the anonymous teammates” for talking to the media instead of first going to him.
The napping incident didn’t affect Ken Griffey’s legacy
Griffey was already on his way out of the majors when he was caught sleeping during the game, and that incident didn’t tarnish his legacy because of how good he was during his prime and because he was well-liked by other players, fans, and the media.
For proof of that, all you have to do is look at the 2016 Hall of Fame voting. That was his first year on the ballot, and “The Kid” earned 99.3% of the vote, getting selected on 437 of the 440 ballots. He probably should have been a unanimous selection, but nobody had accomplished that to that point as some voters refuse to vote for a player his first time on the ballot.
Even among fans, the napping incident meant essentially nothing. If you ask a baseball fan what the first thing they think of when they hear the name Griffey, no one will say falling asleep during a game. Most people will talk about him hitting more than 600 home runs — something that just a few people in MLB history have ever done.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference