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.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Renowned Cincinnati sculptor Tom Tsuchiya hit a home run with Ken Griffey Jr.'s image on his Hall of Fame plaque.
"It's awesome," Griffey said after seeing his plaque for the first time at Sunday's induction ceremony.
“What else can you say about it?” said Junior. “It captured the Denzel (Washington) 'Training Day' me. When you see it for the first time, you’re looking down and ‘Oh, wow.’ When the commissioner was reading it, I looked over his shoulder (and thought) ‘I did that.’ They got all the nicknames in there other than Swingman. But other than that, I’m good."
You know Tsuchiya as the artist who created the statues outside Great American Ball Park of Reds legends Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Joe Nuxhall, Ted Kluszewski and Ernie Lombardi. The UC grad made such a great impression that the Baseball Hall of Fame wanted him to take over the task of creating the new inductees' plaques this year. He also did Mike Piazza's.
The plaques were kept under wraps until Sunday. Griffey had said he would be wearing a Mariners cap, not a Reds cap, but there was one question: Would he be wearing the cap backward - in the style he preferred in his young days in Seattle. No, the reveal showed.
The inscription on the plaque, written by the Hall of Fame, reads:
GEORGE KENNETH GRIFFEY JR.
“Ken” “Junior” “The Kid”
Seattle, A.L., 1989-99, 2009-10; Cincinnati, N.L., 2000-08; Chicago, A.L., 2008
A five-tool center fielder whose sweet swing and winning smile made him a dominant force and fan favorite, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Over 22 years, hit .284 and totaled 630 home runs, including seven seasons of 40 or more. A 13-time All-Star, winning game MVP in 1992, also won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards. Named 1997 American League MVP. Homered in eight straight games, tying major league record. First overall draft pick in 1987. Easy-going nature and love for the game helped define a new era for baseball’s popularity.
Tsuchiya told WCPO he was a little nervous leading up to Sunday's induction wondering what Griffey and Piazza would think.
“I’ll admit it, I’ve never felt quite like this before,” Tsuchiya said. “It’s a little unnerving. It’s the most pressure I’ve felt. With the statues, there was collaboration (with the subjects). With the (plaque) reliefs, Griffey and Piazza haven’t seen them. They won’t see them until everybody else does."
And if they liked them?
It would be “like touching home plate,” Tsuchiya said.