His ability to immediately hit Major League pitching along with his instant mastering of his position in the field were achieved with an abnormal ease that astonished even the stalwart baseball fans, normally numb to the ballyhoo that has consistently proved fleeting for so many that have faded into realms of baseball obscurity, their careers defined by unfulfilled potential.
Unlike many of the enigmatic seasons put up by a litany of questionable players throughout the steroid era, it was never questioned when Jr. hit 56 home runs in back to back seasons. His talent spoke for itself, his prowess evident in the perfection of his technique, not the size of his forearms.
With the sweetest home run stroke since Ted Williams, everyone knew that if “The Kid” could stay out of the trainer’s room he would easily take his place among the game’s greatest legends.
At age 29 he was already selected to the Sporting News’ 100 greatest players list and that was BEFORE the back-to-back 50-plus home run seasons.
A figure of Mantle-esque skill and unfortunately a penchant for similar physical tragedy, Griffey was the quintessential complete baseball talent. A five-tool player, he was arguably the best all around athlete of the 1990s, his combination of hitting and fielding acumen unparalleled by his peers.
Like Mantle, injuries also hampered Jr. early on in his career. A freak shower accident -– resulting in a broken hand — limited Griffey to 127 games in 1989, and undoubtedly cost him the Rookie of the Year award.
This event was eerily similar to Mantle stepping in the exposed drain in the ’51 series against the Giants, tearing his knee to shreds in the accident.
Both freak occurrences would prove to foreshadow future events that demonstrated a painful pattern of injuries that would always be a strangulation to the excessive talent both possessed.
The hype surrounding Mantle and latter Griffey was also very similar. Their entrances into the league are another point at which these figures seem connected over the lineage of the fabric of baseball time. Although the sources and circumstance for each man were markedly different the resulting pressure was incredibly similar.
Mantle wore the yoke of replacing the irreverent Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. This was a daunting task in itself, disregarding that the setting was America’s largest city and he was a member of the most successful franchise in the history of American sports in the third consecutive year of a five-year title run.