SEATTLE — Ken Griffey Jr. kept telling stories, continued to acknowledge his appreciation to the fans and reminisced about his career, even as the scheduled game time came and went.
On this night, as the Seattle Mariners honoured Griffey with induction into their Hall of Fame, no one was going to stop the greatest player to ever wear the team’s uniform.
Griffey became the seventh member of the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday night during an emotional ceremony that’s likely just a precursor for when he is inducted in Cooperstown in the future.
What was supposed to be a ceremony lasting about 30 minutes instead went on for nearly an hour. Griffey spoke for nearly 25 minutes in an unscripted speech and nobody seemed to mind its length.
Griffey joins late Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus, and former teammates Alvin Davis, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson in being honoured by the team.
But Griffey is clearly the head of the class.
“I am truly honoured and humbled to be associated with these people here,” Griffey said.
The current Mariners roster — coaches and players — all stood on the railing of the first base dugout for the ceremony with their hats backward, a nod to the unique style Griffey brought to baseball. Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” — Griffey’s walk-up music for much of his career in Seattle — blared over the speakers and ’24’ jerseys were worn throughout the stands.
There weren’t many surprises in the ceremony, except for his son Trey — a football player at the University of Arizona — popping up on the screen for a message to his dad that finally started the tears.
“I can’t be more proud of you and the way you did it,” Trey Griffey said.
Griffey entered through centre field as the outfield walls parted. He walked across a ’24’ painted in the outfield grass, and with each stride closer to his seat in front of home plate, the roar only grew. The roof of Safeco Field was closed about 10 minutes before the ceremony began due to storms in the area, but the roof only amplified the adulation.
There were no boos, even when the Mariners’ polarizing ownership was briefly introduced.
If Griffey was nervous about his reception, the response from the fans showed there was no reason for worry.
“I can honestly say I am thankful to be part of the Seattle Mariners,” Griffey said.
The pregame ceremony capped a two-day celebration of Griffey’s career. He spent 13 of his 22 seasons in the majors with the Mariners and was the face of the franchise for most of the 1990s. He was drafted by Seattle in 1987 with the No. 1 overall pick, made his debut at the major league level two years later and went on to have one of the finest careers in baseball history.
Griffey finished with 630 home runs, sixth all-time, and was a 13-time All-Star and the 1997 American League MVP.
As during his playing days, Griffey tried to direct the attention away from himself during Saturday’s ceremony. He talked about all the other members he was joining in being honoured by the club rather than putting the focus on his playing career.
He cracked jokes about Johnson and Davis, called Martinez the best right-handed hitter he ever played with and marveled at Wilson’s fire playing the game.
But his most heartfelt messages were for Niehaus’ wife, Marilyn, and Buhner. Griffey said he was honoured that Niehaus called home run No. 1 and homer No. 630 in his career.
He then turned to Buhner and brought both men to tears talking about their close bond developed playing in the same outfield for much of the 1990s.
“There is no other person in the world, other than my parents, that if something happened to me or my wife, that I would want to raise my kids,” Griffey said, as Buhner wiped away tears with his tie.