Pennant races are heating up and the trade deadline approaches as the 2016 baseball season rolls into the dog days of summer.
This time of year also means that baseball pauses for a moment to recognize the greatness that was in the past by inducting its newest members into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
From his very first Major League hit, a double against the Oakland A’s, to when he became the younger half of the only father-son combo to ever hit back-to-back home runs, to his mad dash home from first base to beat the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS–you never wanted to miss a chance to watch Ken Griffey, Jr., because something magical could always happen. His was quite simply the greatest natural talent in a generation.
Griffey, along with Hall of Fame classmate Mike Piazza, are now in Cooperstown, enshrined with the rest of the immortals of baseball, with lines as much as 90 minutes long to see the two newest additions to the collection of player plaques. Between the two there were a combined 25 All-Star games and 1,057 home runs. Two great hitters, with two very different paths to the Majors.
Griffey was the #1 overall pick in 1987 and part of a baseball dynasty, with his father Ken, Sr. having been an All-Star with the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. Junior, The Kid, as he was often called, was destined for greatness. He had the prettiest left-handed swing in baseball. He glided around the outfield, and went on to win 10 Gold Gloves in centerfield. And if not for the injuries that hampered his career in his final years, instead of 660 career home runs, he very likely could have been the game’s all-time leader. He did it all, and he seemed to do it with a smile always on his face.
Piazza on the other hand was drafted with 1,390th overall pick (62nd round) of the 1988 draft as a favor to his father, who happened to be friends with then Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. A first baseman initially, it was Lasorda who suggested that Piazza switch to catcher to improve his chances of advancing in professional baseball, even arranging for Piazza to attend a catcher’s camp in the Dominican Republic. Obviously it worked wonders. Piazza went on to hit 427 career home runs with an MLB-record 396 of them coming when he was catching. Dogged by the performance-enhancing drug era of the 1990s that has kept a number of other players from Hall of Fame induction, it wasn’t until his fourth year of eligibility that Piazza received the needed 75% of votes.
One man was destined to achieve, and he did. But even a talent like Griffey exceeded the lofty expectations that were placed upon him be becoming his generation’s Willie Mays. While the other man, Piazza, shows that when it comes to scouting reports, draft stock, and player prognostications, hard work still trumps them all, as he became arguably the greatest hitting catcher ever.
Both men are now in the Hall of Fame where they so richly deserve to be.