Ken Griffey Jr. put an appropriate cap on his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Nicknamed “The Kid” ever since arriving in the big leagues at age 19, Griffey Jr. wrapped his 21-minute speech by saying “I want to thank my family, my friends, the fans, the Reds, the White Sox and the Mariners for making this kid’s dream come true,” at which point he point he grabbed a HOF hat from beneath the podium and put it on backward, the look he was known early in his 22-year career.
The first No. 1 draft pick to ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Griffey Jr. choked up several times during the speech, the first of which came just 23 seconds in when he thanked the writers who elected him with a record 99.3 percent of the vote.
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Griffey Jr. followed catcher Mike Piazza to the podium as the only two members of the Class of 2016. Despite the small class, a crowd of more than 50,000 — believed to be the second largest ever for induction weekend — soaked in the scene as the temperature rose into the upper 80s.
The owner of 630 home runs and 2,781 hits in his career with the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, Griffey Jr. was especially emotional while thanking his dad. And it appeared Ken Griffey Sr. was feeling even stronger emotions as he spent much of that time looking down, apparently trying not to cry.
Griffey Jr. talked about baseball didn’t come easy for his dad, who was a 29th-round pick and could have had a football career instead.
“I was born five months after his senior year, and he made a decision to play baseball to provide for his family,” Griffey Jr. said. “Because that’s what men do. And I love you for that.”
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Griffey Jr. also thanked his mom, brother, wife and kids in addition to paying tribute to his coaches at Moeller High School and the Midland organization, in addition to signaling out a few former teammates and a handful of fellow Hall members he got a chance to meet while growing up around the game, such as Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield.
He also sprinkled some humor into the speech, talking about how during his senior year of high school former Reds outfielder Bobby Tolan told him the Seattle Mariners had the first pick in the draft and were looking at him.
“I walked in my house and said, ‘Hey, dad, where’s Seattle,” Griffey Jr. said.
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Griffey Jr.’s humor also was on display in the introduction video before his speech, when Lou Piniella, his first manager with the Mariners, told a story about a time they each picked a team in the NCAA basketball tournament and bet a steak on which would do better.
“My team went further, and I get to the ballpark one morning and there’s a big cow in my office,” Piniella said. “I said , ‘What is this?’ And he said ‘Here’s your steak dinner. Now how do you want it cut up?’”
After thanking everyone for helping him during his career, Griffey rattled off what he considered to be some of his favorite highlights. The list included hitting back-to-back home runs with his dad and becoming the first father and son to each win All-Star Game MVP honors; hitting a home run off the warehouse behind Camden Yards in Baltimore; winning the 1994 Home Run Derby in Pittsburgh; the 1995 ALDS, when the Mariners beat the Yankees to advance to their first ALCS; Randy Johnson’s no-hitter in 1991; Edgar Martinez winning the batting title in 1992 and 1995; and Barry Larkin’s first career grand slam, even though he admitted he missed it.
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“I was in the clubhouse getting hot chocolate,” Griffey Jr. said.
While the speech was highlighted by humility, humor and heartfelt emotion, Griffey did brag at one point near the end. But it wasn’t his talented that sparked the boast, it was his work ethic.
“The two misconceptions of me are I didn’t work hard, and everything I made look easy,” he said. “Just because I made it look easy doesn’t mean that it was. You don’t become a Hall of Famer by not working day in and day out.”
>>> VIDEO: Watch 9 of Junior's Hall of fame highlights
Here is what Griffey Jr. also said about ...
His mom, Birdie, who like his father is a cancer survivor: “The strongest woman I know. To have to be mom and dad, she was our biggest fan and our biggest critic. She’s the only woman I know that lives in one house and runs five others.”
His brother, Craig: “My biggest competitor. We had these epic battles whether it was football, basketball or baseball. I just have one problem with you: How come when you won, all my friends knew about it? And we didn’t even have cell phones back then.”
His wife, Melissa: “From the first time I saw you, I knew you were going to be my wife. Now, it took you a little longer that I was going to be your husband. But I’m OK with that now.”
His oldest son, Trey: “One time he took a bat and hit the TV. Mom got mad at you and then me. She asked why I wasn’t mad. I said, ‘Girl, you can’t teach that swing.” Then I got up and bought a new TV.”
His daughter, Taryn: “When you were born I went into protect mode. I didn’t even like my teammates that had boys.”
His youngest son, Tevin: “Seeing you for the first time made my life complete. I know your brother and sister are at school, but you don’t have to keep us that busy like they’re still at home. So let’s make a deal, only two sports at a time, not three or four.”
The Seattle Mariners: “Out of my 22 years I learned that only one team will treat you the best, and that’s your first team. I’m damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
The Cincinnati Reds: “I got to put on the same uniform as my dad, run around the same outfield. I got a front-row seat to the greatest team ever assembled, the 1975 and ‘76 Reds.”
Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson: “Hey, Rickey, I’m still looking for that rematch. He beat me in a game of H-O-R-S-E when I was 14 years old. Made a jump shot, drove off in his car and never gave me that rematch. Rickey, I know where you’re going to be in July 2017, and I’m bringing my shorts.”
On meeting Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as a kid: “I stuck my hand out and he shook it, and he didn’t smile. Eddie had a beard, a goatee, and a ‘fro. As we’re walking off I asked my dad, ‘Does he smile?’ My dad replied back, ‘He is smiling.’ I turned around and looked back and told my dad, ‘I’d hate to see him mad.’”
On Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson: “Every lefty wanted to take a day off when he pitched. You guys think it was bad, but we had to face him when he had no control in spring training.”
Former Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez: “Yes, he definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame”
Former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner: “The greatest teammate I ever had.”
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