Does Ken Griffey Jr.'s record Hall of Fame vote make him greatest player of all time?

No, but for Cincinnati years, he might have been
Posted at 7:47 AM, Jan 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-13 06:45:10-04

CINCINNATI – Does getting the highest percentage of votes for the Hall of Fame make Ken Griffey Jr. the greatest player of all time?

No, but we might be making that case if injuries hadn't led to such a huge falloff in the second half – the Cincinnati half - of his career. And it wasn't just injuries. The Reds' failure to put a good team around Junior cast a shadow on his Cincinnati years, too.

As it is, Griffey's vote should raise him to the level of the game's greatest center fielders - a lineage that runs like this -- Tris Speaker to Joe DiMaggio to Willie Mays to Griffey, with Mike Trout on the horizon.

With 437 out of 440 votes by the baseball writers, Griffey overwhelmed his colleagues and won election Wednesday with a record-setting 99.32 percent. He surpassed the great Tom Seaver, who was traded to the Reds from the New York Mets in 1977. Seaver's voting mark of 98.84 had stood since 1992. The previous high vote-getter was Ty Cobb, who was in the Hall's first class, and was named on 222 of the 226 ballots (98.23)  in 1936.

The 2016 voters obviously acknowledged Griffey's amazing first half  in Seattle and didn't hold the second half in Cincinnati against him.

In his last six full Seattle seasons (1993-94; 1996-99), Griffey averaged 49 homers, 127 RBI and 17 stolen bases. There was nothing he couldn't do; he was the best center fielder in baseball, and made some of the most exciting plays the game had ever witnessed.

SEE Griffey's career stats.

As has been all too well remembered here in Cincinnati, Griffey didn't live up to the expectations of Reds fans after his homecoming in 2000. Except for his first year when he hit 40 home runs with 118 RBI, and to a lesser extent when he went 35/92 in 2005, and 30/92 in 2007, he wasn't the same player here.

In his 11 seasons in Seattle, he hit 398  home runs and drove in 1,152 runs, and, most importantly, singlehandedly saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest. Safeco Field, which opened in 1999, was (and still is) called "The House that Griffey Built" - a homage to Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium.

When then-Reds general manager Jim Bowden went to Anaheim in mid-December 1999 in pursuit of Griffey, he said famously, "I didn't come out here to bring back Goofy."  But what he might have added was: "Ownership is going to treat our acquisition of Junior as if I brought back all of Disneyland and don't need to any add any more pieces."

Even more than Griffey's physical breakdown, the demise of the Reds from 2000-08 was a result of Reds ownership failing to surround him with good talent, especially pitching.   

In my 30 years of covering baseball, three of my favorite trips were to see Griffey in his prime: The first two of those jaunts were in 1993 and 1994,  to Cleveland and Baltimore, respectively, and the last one was in 1997 to Cleveland.

That's when I saw the Griffey who baseball fans outside Cincinnati cherish.

My all-time favorite baseball headline was placed on the 1993 story: "Can Griffey Save Baseball?" Such was the stratospheric popularity of Griffey throughout the country when he was a Mariner.

In 1994, the strike year that cost fans a World Series and might have cost the high-flying Reds another World Championship, Griffey was only 24 and still six years away from coming here. But he foreshadowed his own relocation when he said that if things didn't work out in Seattle, his first choice for continuing his career was in Cincinnati, ahead of the four other destinations he would consider: Atlanta, Miami, Anaheim and Pittsburgh (He was born in Donora, Pa).

The Seven Hills shook when he said it.

Some experts thought the second half of Griffey's 22-year career might cost him a chance of overtaking Seaver in the all-time voting percentage. Not even Babe Ruth (95.1 percent, No. 11 all-time) and Willie Mays (94.7 percent, No. 16) were unanimous picks.

It was once thought that anybody who was to overtake Seaver would have to have a full career of greatness. Seaver played 11 1/2 of his 20 seasons in New York, and then played here, back to New York, then Chicago (White Sox) and Boston.

The Q-value (otherwise known by the widely accepted analytical measurement of  "WAR," Wins Above Replacement) of Seaver's second half was 39. In other words, he was two-thirds the player in the second half of his career than he was in the first half (66.0 total WAR in his first half). This is sustained greatness.

By comparison, Griffey was one-fifth the player in his second half as he was in his first (13.2/70.4).

Griffey's dropoff was even bigger than Mickey Mantle, who until now was unfairly regarded as the poster-child for dropoff -- but even Mick was half the player in his last six years (3.3 average WAR) as he was in his first 12 (7.7 average WAR).

SEE how Griffey's first-half, second-half compares to other Hall of Famers.

But here's the point:

Griffey's talent was transcendent; truly he was a comet in the baseball universe.

In the music world, his best comparison is Elvis Presley, who is best-remembered for his revolutionizing rock-and-roll. He isn't remembered for his uninspiring final six years (1972-77), when people went to see him more for who he was than anything new he was doing.

The same thing can happen to a superstar baseball player. But "peak years" are what make the transcendent talents cherished and revered. 

It's the reason Elvis still sells records -- and why Junior will always receive among the loudest of ovations when he returns every year to Cooperstown with the other greats for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.