EDITOR'S NOTE: WCPO is looking back on Ken Griffey Jr.'s life growing up in Cincinnati, stunning success and Hall of Fame career. See all of our coverage at WCPO.com/griffey.
CINCINNATI – Ken Griffey Jr. was 30 years old – not "The Kid" anymore – when he walked into a news conference in 2000 announcing his trade to the Reds.
But the hometown hero was still regarded as one of baseball's best – he had just been named to the All-Century Team - and the Crosley Room at Cinergy Field was crammed with media and excited elected officials who apparently thought being seen on camera with Junior Griffey would win points with voters.
Junior's family was there - his wife Melissa and their two kids, Trey and Taryn, along with dad Ken Sr. and mom Birdie. He said being close to them was the reason he left the Northwest after 11 seasons in Seattle and 1 ½ in the minors.
When he stepped to the microphone, his journey seemed complete.
Watch the entire news conference in the two videos below:
"Well, I'm finally home," Junior said, and the elected officials and Reds employees in the room clapped.
Reds General Manager Jim Bowden looked like the cat that just ate the canary. He had been trying to trade for Griffey for years, and now he had the superstar he wanted to lead his team into the new Great American Ball Park next door.
“Feb. 10, 2000 will go down in Reds history - major-league history - when one of the biggest trades in our sport took place, when the Michael Jordan of baseball came home to Cincinnati,” Bowden said.
Bowden was sure Griffey would get the Reds to the World Series, and so were Reds fans. Hundreds came out to Lunken Airport to greet Griffey after he and Reds owner Carl Lindner flew in on Lindner's private jet. They stood outside the airport gate and cheered when Lindner drove Griffey past them in his Rolls Royce to the news conference.
It was a night of both joy and disbelief. The Reds were already a contender. They nearly made the playoffs the season before but lost a one-game wild-card playoff to the Mets.
Bowden pumped his fist in the air as Griffey put on his Reds jersey and cap. Surely Griffey would put them over the top.
Griffey also said he hoped to win championships here – something he wasn't able to do in Seattle. He said he took less money to come home than the Mariners offered him to stay.
“This is my hometown. I grew up here. It doesn't matter how much money you make - it's where you feel happy. Cincinnati is the place where I thought I would be happy,” Junior said.
Griffey took far less money than his market value - about half, some estimated. He got the richest contract in baseball history - nine years, $112.5 million with a $4 million buyout clause in the 10th year. But the average was only the seventh highest. Even the Mariners had offered more: $148 million for eight years.
General Manager John Allen, explaining the terms of the deal, said Griffey agreed to take deferred payments for 16 years after his contract expired. The Reds would pay him $900,000 annually until 2025.
“As you can see by this contract, it was never about the money," Griffey said. "I didn't want to move around. I didn't want to be here one year and have to go somewhere else. I wanted to be able to stay put."
"The main thing is, it made him happy," Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg said. "That was the key: it made him happy."
The Reds did not have to pay a king's ransom for The Kid. The Mariners had insisted on getting first baseman Sean Casey in a package deal, but they eventually settled on center fielder Mike Cameron, pitcher Brett Tomko, and two minor leaguers - pitcher Jake Meyer and infielder Antonio Perez.
One of the questions at the news conference that night was: How much are you looking forward to breaking the all-time home run record? Even Lindner said he was excited at the prospect of watching Griffey pass Henry Aaron.
That sizes up the level of expectation Junior was facing.