(Getty images, from mlb.com)

Back in the day, I never really cared for Ken Griffey Jr., and I was basically the only one to feel that way. I never got the image out of my head of him scoring the winning run to beat the Yankees in the 1995 Division Series, and I also knew he’d made some comments about not liking the Yankees. Basically, those reasons blinded me from everything else – mainly, that he was the best player of the decade of the 1990s and that he was just a fun player to watch play. Five-tool guy, best outfielder in the game for many years, always at least acted like he was having a good time, looks very unlikely he was ever on steroids (although this reason hasn’t started to matter until the last few years). Well, now he’s 37 years old and in his 19th season, and it’s taken me about that long to realize – I was missing out.

He made tons of spectacular plays in the outfield, he once hit 56 home runs in back-to-back seasons, had the Magic Johnson smile effect (fortunately without the burden of being HIV+), and more or less made it all look effortless. For the three of us who write on this blog, he was the biggest star of our childhood, and unfortunately for me, I was too consumed in my hatred of his beating my team to realize any of it.

Luckily, I’ve come to this realization before he turned into a complete shell of his former self. Sure, he hasn’t been able to keep from getting injured since he’s been playing in Cincinnati, and the wear of that plus getting older means he’s not nearly the same outfielder he used to be (he doesn’t even play center field anymore), the fact is…the guy can still hit. Currently, he’s third in the National League in home runs, with 22. That puts him on pace for his first 40-homer season since 2000 – he probably would have also done it in 2005, but (of course) he got injured. In addition, he’s 8th in the league in OPS+, which is probably a better indicator of how good he’s been as an all-around hitter. If he stays healthy (still a big question mark with him these last several years) and keeps up the pace he’s been going at, he’ll hit his 600th home run this year, especially amazing considering all the time he’s missed over the years.

With that in mind, I guess this could be called a pre-600th home run tribute. George, I apologize for failing to properly recognize you as the best player of my youth. I also hope you stay healthy long enough to make a run at Barry Bonds’ soon-to-be home run record, maybe even with Seattle (if he went back to the AL and didn’t have to play in the field, he could potentially be a deadly DH for a few more years than he would if he stayed in the outfield). In the meantime, I just hope he can maintain the pace he’s on now and stays healthy, because even though he still has it, he can only do it if he plays.

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