He had been missed, after all. And Mariners fans celebrate what they miss.
To understand the rapturous welcome Griffey received in Seattle when he — along with six other Mariner greats — made the Hall of Fame, you have to know something about baseball in that city: The Mariners get a lot of love, even when it’s not deserved.
And they don’t deserve it very often. When Ken Griffey Jr. made his Major League debut on the 1989 team, they needed a star. That’s what the Mariners got. Quickly the standout on the team, Griffey would go on to hit 417 home runs (out of 630 in his career) for the Mariners. He played for the team over the course of 11 seasons, encompassing pretty much all of the 1990s. While Ken Griffey Jr. played, the Mariners saw their only playoff action ever in the mid-’90s. Griffey even came back for two final seasons at the end of his career.
Obviously, number 24 deserved a spot in the team’s Hall of Fame as much as anyone.
Griffey seemed pretty happy to take that spot as well. His speech, devoted almost entirely to thanking as many Mariners as possible, clocked in at almost half an hour (about 15 minutes longer than planned). It even delayed the start of that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. But that speech made everyone happy, from its beginning — “I can honestly say I am thankful to be a part of the Seattle Mariners” — to its end — “I just want to say thank you.”
Five of the six others who made it into the Mariners Hall of Fame were former Griffey teammates — and the sixth was Dave Niehaus, the team’s announcer for years until his recent death. Alvin Davis, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Randy Johnson and Jay Buhner all had Seattle careers that overlapped with the Kid’s.
Griffey concluded his speech at Safeco Field with a tribute to Jay Buhner. Buhner, the official “bad boy” of the Mariners back in the ’90s, listened stoically to Griffey’s heartfelt words. And then he flipped the bird at Griffey while wiping his eyes. (The NSFW moment is at the 2:08 point in the video if you want a laugh.)
“Of all people that I would consider my brother — from another mother — a guy who listens to country music, wears cowboy boots and big buckles … Two people that are so far apart on every level became very close … There is no other person in this world — other than my parents — that if something happened to me or my wife that I would want to raise my kids.”
There aren’t many more fitting tributes to the Mariners’ of the ’90s than this.