Noticing a Few Similarities Between Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays
Ken Griffey Jr. turns 41 tomorrow, November 21. I recently read through the authorized Willie Mays biography by James S. Hirsch, and although I’d known of a few loose analogies between the careers of Griffey and Mays, I was struck by the sense that the two great center fielders had several key points in common, things that go well beyond their status as great players who electrified baseball. So I worked up this list of some similarities between Griffey and Mays:
Both made their major league debuts in the year they turned 20.
Both struggled a bit in their first year, but had good seasons in which they regularly showed clear evidence of their talent, before emerging as superstars in the year they turned 23.
Both missed significant stretches of time early in their careers due to forces beyond their control (the Korean War and the baseball strike).
Both were once thought of as primary candidates to set the career home runs record, but had sharp power dropoffs in their mid-30s (especially Griffey) and were surpassed at the end of their careers by stars they’d overshadowed in their prime.
Although Mays started his career in New York, both spent the bulk of their careers in West Coast cities.
Both spent many-year stretches playing on heavily talented teams that failed to win a World Series, largely because they lacked pitching depth (Mays on the 1958-1970 Giants, Griffey on the 1990-1999 Mariners).
Both were beloved superstars, with deeply positive public images, and were largely known as happy-go-lucky types (Say Hey, the Kid), but had strained relationships with the media.
Both lived fairly quiet private lives during their careers.
Both abstained, so far as is publicly known, from smoking and drinking, as well as illegal drugs.
Both were rarely if ever protagonists in brawls and other confrontations on the field (Mays was the primary peacemaker in the Roseboro-Marichal brawl).
Both left their first major league city after establishing themselves as superstars, and returned to it for their last two seasons.
Both had ongoing conflicts with their managers, largely over playing time, in their final seasons (Mays with Yogi Berra, Griffey with Don Wakamatsu).
Both ended their careers sitting on the bench as their team played games near where they’d won their fame (Mays at Shea Stadium and the Oakland Coliseum in the 1973 World Series, Griffey at Safeco Field in the days before he retired.)
Both made their final appearance as late-game pinch-hitters in games their teams lost by one run: Mays grounded out, shortstop to second for the force at second; Griffey grounded out, second to shortstop for the force at second.
Both had decade-plus stretches of winning the Gold Glove (10 for Griffey, 12 for Mays) that, once broken, they never won again.
Both were known for wearing #24.
Both led the league in homers in four different seasons.
Both hit over 50 homers in two seasons.