When the MLB All-Star Game gets underway tonight in Anaheim, or Los Angeles of Anaheim, or whatever Arte Moreno is calling his city these days, it will do so without a man who may go down as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Hopefully you already know who I'm talking about, but just in case, I'll give you some clues: This man was the number one overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, he was a can't-miss prospect who actually exceeded the sky-high expectations, and he may go down as one of the greatest heroes in the history of Washington sports.
I'm talking, of course, about Ken Griffey Jr.
What, you were expecting someone else?
More than perhaps any of the players taking the field in Anaheim tonight, Ken Griffey Jr. deserves to be an All-Star. Not because of his performance this season (Junior retired last month, and his 2010 numbers were not so good), but because of his performance throughout his career, and because of what he means to Major League Baseball.
Let's start with the numbers.
Despite several injuries that robbed him of hundreds of at bats throughout his career, Ken Griffey Jr. collected 1,836 RBI -- good enough for 14th on the all-time list -- and an eye-popping 630 homeruns, more than all but four players in Baseball history. The Kid was also a 13-time All-Star, he won 10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and one MVP.
Those numbers (especially the homerun numbers) may seem a bit less impressive in this post-steroids era, but consider two important facts: First, Ken Griffey Jr. never used performance enhancing drugs. Not even Jose Canseco accused Junior of using PEDs. Second, before steroids, only three players had ever hit more than 600 homeruns. That's right, only three. Ever. In fact, if you remove the suspected and/or admitted juicers from the list, the 600 Homerun Club looks like this: Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), and Ken Griffey Jr. (630). That's it. Looks a bit more impressive now, right?
And while Junior's numbers alone should have earned him an All-Star spot, Griffey should be in Anaheim this week for a much more important reason: to be a role model. Griffey would have been an example to future MLB stars that you don't have to cheat to be the best, and he would have been a welcome reminder to fans that some players still play the game the right way. We should honor him for that if nothing else.
Plus, it's not like Griffey's "honorary" All-Star selection would be a first. In 2001, Cal Ripken Jr. started the All-Star Game despite numbers that were not quite All-Star worthy, and all he did was homer on the first pitch he saw and eventually take home the All-Star Game MVP. Going further back, Magic Johnson started the 1992 NBA All-Star Game despite retiring before the season. Magic scored 25 points, lead the West to a 153-113 victory, and also took home the MVP. And while Griffey may be older than Ripken or Magic were, I have no doubt that he could still put on a show.
But the fans didn't vote him in, and Joe Girardi didn't put him on the team. Bud Selig probably could have added a roster spot for Junior, but we all know how Bud feels about doing things that are good for baseball.
So when you watch the game tonight, pour a little out for Ken Griffey Jr. Remember his beautiful swing, his 630 steroid-free homeruns, and the unbridled joy with which he played the game. He may not be on the roster, but he's definitely an All-Star.