This countdown is a way for me to look back at the three decades I've spent as a baseball fan. My introduction to the project, with an explanation of sorts, and links to every entry can be found here.
In 1992, Griffey was one of the nine players tracked down by Smithers to play for the Springfield Nuclear team in the landmark episode of the Simpsons, "Homer at the Bat." (Something I wrote one of my favorite posts ever about) He was the youngest member of Mr. Burns' team by five full years. Sadly, Griffey got hooked on nerve tonic and missed the big game.
In 1994 Griffey had already hit 40 home runs when the labor stoppage wiped out the rest of the season. By the end of 1999 Griffey had hit 398 home runs, and still hadn't turned 30, giving him more long balls at that age than any player in history. He seemed a good bet to eventually break Hank Aaron's all-time record. Even though he'd said he wanted to be traded, I was shocked when it actually happened, and he was sent to Cincinnati prior to the 2000 season. The second half of Griffey's career couldn't live up to the first half, which is why he's "only" one of the top 50 or so greatest players ever, instead of one of the top 20.
Griffey often wore his hat backwards, and it's funny now to think back on how controversial that was at the time. Some said it was a sign he wasn't taking things seriously enough, but it inspired a ton of kids to do the same thing, and made Griffey an early hero in the newest version of the generational war that had probably been going on since humans first lived long enough to give much thought to different generations. The backwards hat became such a part of Griffey's identity that when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016 there was a strong push to include it on the official portrait for his plaque. Ultimately he and the Hall agreed on a front-facing Mariners cap, but during his induction speech, Griffey took out a cap and put it on backwards, bringing huge cheers from the crowd.
He had the most beautiful swing in baseball, and used it to hit sizzling lasers and majestic moonshots, home runs to every part of the stadium. He made breathtaking plays in center field, the kind every kid pretended to make when he was at Little League practice or alone in his backyard. He epitomized cool. Griffey wasn't my favorite player and it turns out he wasn't quite the best player (though he seemed it at the time), but he was most definitely the player.