These are people who didn’t quite make the 40 for 40 countdown, but maybe they should have? If these people had been greater influences, for better or worse, my life could look very different today. This is not so much about regret, as just to illuminate possibilities that might have been (or maybe still could be).
Ken Griffey Jr
So I have always been of the opinion that “Baseball is a dumb game anyway!”
In fact this is an oft recited phrase in my home.
I played basketball, the Jazz music of sports. Full of improvisation and creativity. Like I said in my post on the 3rd Triumvirate, basketball was my artistic medium. Football allows for a lot of creativity in play calls, strategy and trick plays. It has juke moves analogous to crossovers in basketball. It’s also a team sport that requires coordination and chemistry between teammates just like basketball, soccer, team handball, and even volleyball . Ball sports are creative. Baseball is a stick sport. And stick sports like baseball or golf are are not creative (hockey and lacrosse are kind of a middle ground,). They are simply the repeated execution of the same routine skill sets. I know I know, the pitching strategy of a Genius like Zack Greinke is a work of art! And don’t forget about all the bush league hidden ball tricks. And of course the infield shift is the Paintbrush in the hands of a Picasso manager. But generally in baseball, the more precise your execution the better you are. Ball sports really are no different in the repeated execution of skills, but the creative aspect of them gave dyspraxic klutzes like me a fighting chance to compete with the hyper skilled athletic technicians.
But some how Jr, made baseball an art form. And he made it cool. And he made it slightly hip/hop rocking his hat backwards in BP (he was like MVP of the AL and old timers were still ripping him for disrespecting the game for this circle 1997, further proof of why Baseball is a dumb game anyway, but I digress).
But most of all he had fun playing the game. He was known as “the kid” and he played like one for his entire Hall of game career (except for his final year with the Mariners where he would fall asleep in the clubhouse late in games and not be available to pinch hit). And by the way, when you look at the all time home run list, he is the only one in the 600 club not named Aaron, Mays, or Ruth who does not have PED accusations. Seriously in the steroid inflated era his numbers are still as good as anybody else’s.
Also no one talks about this but after he broke his wrist just taking a swing in 1998, he slightly altered his swing. I can remember he talked about taking his top hand off slightly earlier in his follow through to prevent re-injuring his wrist. This had a fairly profound effect on his swing though as releasing his top hand early naturally caused his hands to rise and his swing to become more of an upper cut. Hence the number of sliced pop ups and fewer line drives from 1999 on. I have no idea what I am talking about, but I swear this is true.
When Bryce Harper says he wants to make baseball fun again, he is harking back to Jr.
Griffey had his own video game. He made Nike commercials for shoes that non-baseball players wore for style. Little known fact: He also was a moody creative genius, with a depressive episode in the Minors exactly 1 year before winning the AL rookie of the year award to prove it. How did he ever end up being a baseball player? Simple, he wanted be like his dad.
Perhaps Griffey’s greatest accomplishment was that he got me to gaze into a mirror (where I look like a lefty) and practiced my home run swing and walk off trot while envisioning myself actually playing baseball.
But not enough for me to ever actually do it