Cincinnati Reds: Remembering Ken Griffey Jr.’s Time in the Queen City

Aug 9, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. (left), second baseman Ron Oester(center), and right fielder Dave Parker (right), speak at a news conference at Great American Ball Park. The three will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in ceremonies before a game between the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. (left), second baseman Ron Oester(center), and right fielder Dave Parker (right), speak at a news conference at Great American Ball Park. The three will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in ceremonies before a game between the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

On Feb. 8, 2000, the Cincinnati Reds traded a quartet of young players — outfielder Mike Cameron, pitcher Brett Tomko, infielder Antonio Perez and minor-league pitcher Jake Meyer — to the Seattle Mariners for one of the best players the game had ever seen: Ken Griffey Jr.

Per his wishes, the trade brought Griffey closer to his home and family in Orlando, Florida, but it also moved him back to the city where he’d grown up. The same city where he watched his father capture two World Series titles as part of the famed Big Red Machine. The city where he starred at Moeller High School as a baseball and football star before eventually becoming the No. 1 pick in the 1987 MLB Draft.

Along with a trade for Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette, the acquisition of “The Kid” was expected to put the Reds over the top after the team had narrowly missed a playoff appearance in 1999 despite winning 96 games. If everything went according to plan, he’d be the center of the Reds’ success for the next decade, as he signed a nine-year, $112.5 million contract extension immediately after the trade.

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At 30 years old, Griffey had already established himself as one of the greats to ever take the field. His 398 home runs were the most ever for a player at his age, leaving him in excellent position to make a run at Hank Aaron‘s home-run record of 755.

Aside from his gaudy home-run total, Junior had 1,742 hits, 1,152 runs batted in, 167 stolen bases and an impressive .299/.380/.569 slash line. A true five-tool player, he also played a masterful center field and was the recipient of 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards coming into his first year in the Queen City.

With an MVP and 10-time All-Star brought into the fold, expectations were high in Cincinnati. Things didn’t work out so well. Although Griffey had an all-star 2000 season (.271/.387/.556, 40 HR, 118 RBI, 5.4 fWAR) and the Reds ranked fifth in runs scored in the National League, the starting rotation ultimately let the team down as their 85-77 record wasn’t enough to make the postseason.

That would be the last time the Reds would even get a sniff of the playoffs with Griffey and the last time they’d finish a season with a winning record until 2010. It was also the last time Junior would look like anything more than the shell of the elite player he once was.

The 2001 season saw the start of his string of injuries and the drop-off in his numbers. He missed 51 games with a torn hamstring while hitting only 22 home runs (one of them was of the walk-off, inside-the-park variety, though, if you’re interested in that sort of thing) and posting a 1.8 fWAR as the Reds finished a miserable 66-96.

From 2002 to 2004, he would play in a total of 206 games — an average of just 68 per season — as he dealt with an array of injuries ranging from a torn hamstring to a dislocated shoulder. The Reds went 223-263 during those three seasons.

2004 wasn’t a total loss for Griffey, however. One of the most memorable moments of not only his Reds tenure, but his entire career, came on Father’s Day that year. With his dad in attendance for a matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium, Junior became the 20th player in baseball’s storied history to reach 500 career home runs, bashing a towering solo shot far into the right-field bleachers off Matt Morris.

For the first time since 2000, he was also elected to the All-Star game in 2004, though he was unable to participate due to a hamstring injury that ultimately ended his season.

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  • With fans simultaneously frustrated and saddened to see such a beloved (and expensive) player on the decline, a bounce-back happened in 2005. En route to being honored with the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year award, Griffey hit .301/.369/.576 with 30 doubles, 35 home runs and 92 runs batted in. Additionally, he played in 128 games, the most since his inaugural season with the Reds. He even finished 24th in the MVP balloting, the first time he’d received a vote since 1999 and the last time he’d receive one in his career.

    The next year, at age 36, Griffey had his worst offensive season as a Red. Limited to 109 games by more injuries, Griffey slashed .252/.316/.486 with 27 home runs and a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) mark of 97, the worst of his career to that point. His mediocre offensive output along with his ever-declining outfield defense also led to the worst fWAR (minus-0.6) he’d produced in his 18 seasons.

    His skills continuing to decline, expectations were low for Junior heading into 2007. In a move that was long overdue, he finally switched from center field to right field. Though his defense still wasn’t the best, the move likely aided in keeping him healthy and he played in 144 games, the most since his first year with the Reds.

    As a result, he had another resurgent year at the plate, hitting .277/.372/.496 with 30 home runs, 93 runs batted in and even six stolen bases, more than he had in the previous six years combined. Although he again had a minus-0.6 fWAR, it was almost entirely due to defense.

    Griffey was also selected to start in the All-Star game for what would be the 13th and final time. He went 1-for-2 in the game with a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly.

    Entering the 2008 season, the last of his lengthy contract with the Reds, Griffey was sitting on 593 home runs. On June 9, his next big milestone came when he hit his 600th career home run — becoming the fifth player to ever reach that mark — on the road against Florida Marlins pitcher Mark Hendrickson.

    The Griffey era in Cincinnati came to an end before the trade deadline later that year when he was traded by new general manager Walt Jocketty to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for pitcher Nick Masset and infielder Danny Richar.

    He finished his nine-year stint with the Reds having hit .270/.362/.514 with 210 home runs, seventh most in team history.

    There were some fans who resented Griffey for his struggles, citing his huge contract and the team’s lack of success during his tenure (the team finished above .500 only once in his nine years).

    However, those who disliked him made up the minority; there was no denying he was immensely popular with the Reds’ fanbase. He still had the swing. He still had the charisma. He still provided numerous memorable moments. He was still one of the most likable people in sports. He just didn’t have the body any longer, an unfortunate part of life as one ages, whether or not that person is a highly gifted athlete.

    Back in the American League, he got his first taste of the postseason since 1997, albeit a brief one as the White Sox lost the ALDS in four games.

    Griffey returned to Seattle in 2009, where he would stay until his retirement 33 games into the 2010 season at the age of 40.

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    When all was said and done, he amassed 630 home runs, more than all but five players in baseball history. He also drove in 1,836 runs (15th all-time), hit 524 doubles (one of 61 players to reach the 500 mark), slugged .538 and had an OPS of .907 (both ranking in the top 55).

    For some, Griffey was a classic case of a player who left you wondering, “what could have been?” thanks to the many injuries he suffered through in the latter stages of his career. At the end of the day, however, what he was — even with the disappointing Cincinnati years — ended up being pretty darn good.

    Since his retirement, Junior already been named to two Hall of Fames, being honored by the Mariners in 2013 and the Reds in 2014.

    Griffey will be overwhelmingly — if not unanimously, for the first time in history — be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He won’t be remembered by most for his days with the Reds and certainly won’t be enshrined in Cooperstown with a ‘C’ on his cap, but there’s little doubt that “The Kid” managed to leave a piece of his legacy in the city of Cincinnati.