His speech concluded fittingly when Ken Griffey Jr. fit a cap onto his head, backward.
He said Saturday that he wasn’t going to cry. But it took less than 30 seconds into his Hall of Fame induction speech for that to happen. And he couldn’t help but pause and wipe his eyes as soon as he said the words “to my dad.”
And now Griffey is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame – as if it was ever doubted – and the first to go in with a Seattle Mariners cap.
He approached the end of his speech – which followed fellow 2016 inductee Mike Piazza’s – on Sunday outside Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown with a tribute to the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1987.
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“I learned only one team will treat you the best,” Griffey said. “And that’s your first team. I’m damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
It was simply a historic July 24 for No. 24.
It was his day, his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He became the first to go in as a Mariner, the first as a No. 1 overall draft pick and the first to receive 99.32 percent of the votes.
Griffey thanked his family – his father, Ken Griffey Sr.; mother, Alberta; children Trey, Taryn and Tevin, and wife, Melissa.
Trey, a wide receiver at the University of Arizona who was drafted in the 24th round by the Mariners last month, texted his father in midspeech, “I love you, man.”
“I didn’t get it until after, and then I started crying again when I read it,” Griffey said. “Those three (Trey, Taryn and Tevin) are the only ones that can do that to me. Everybody else I can be like ‘I’m good, I’m going to be a man.’ But looking at them, they mean everything to me.”
Melissa, who is from Gig Harbor, saw it coming.
“That’s how you get to his heartstrings, right there,” she said. “Talk about the kids.”
She and their kids sat in the bed of a truck with Griffey during a parade down Main Street in Cooperstown on Saturday.
“It’s been an amazing weekend overall,” Trey said. “Everything about it was amazing. It’s been awesome.
“He did great. It’s a great time for him. I love him, and I think it’s a great thing for us and the whole family.”
Griffey then thanked many of the baseball greats sitting behind him as he stood on the podium – those he met as a child when his father played in the bigs. He thanked Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and former Mariners teammate Randy Johnson, who was sitting behind Griffey, to his right, with a camera.
Then Griffey thanked many of his other Mariners teammates, including Jay Buhner – whom he called the “greatest teammate I ever had.”
And then Edgar Martinez – saying, “And, yes, he belongs in the Hall.”
Faint chants of “Ed-Gar” followed. And more after Griffey finished.
An estimated 50,000 people were in attendance in a town that has a population of less than 2,000. They packed the lawn outside Clark Sports Center, with most having set up their canopies and folding chairs last week.
This was the culmination of Griffey’s career, one that ended with 630 home runs (sixth all-time), 417 with the Mariners (most in team history), 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and a unanimous American League MVP award in 1997.
He was considered the most popular player of his generation. So popular, he was named to MLB’s All-Century team in 1999 – though he was only 11 years into his career.
Griffey said of his first impressions of Seattle: “Hey, Dad, where’s Seattle?”
But it wasn’t just the numbers. It was the moments.
Ones like in 1995 when he slid into home plate as Dave Niehaus belted over the air “the throw to the plate will be late! The Mariners are going to play for the American League championship! I don’t believe it! It just continues! MY OH MY!”
The latter half of Griffey’s career – following his demand to be traded and his landing with the Cincinnati Reds, his father’s former team – included hamstring tears, knee and ankle tendon ruptures and a dislocated shoulder that limited him to an average of less than 80 games per year from 2001 to 2004.
But in Seattle? He’s credited with saving baseball in the city. He and Ken Griffey Sr. became the first father-son duo to hit back-to-back home runs. He homered in his first at-bat in the Kingdome, and he was 19 years old. He started a now-annual tradition by wearing No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson.
There was the “Spiderman” catch; he was carried by teammates in the final game of 2009; he entered the Mariners’ hall of fame.
Now … this.
Griffey said he hopes he’s remembered for how hard he played – both as a Silver Slugger at the plate and a wall-crashing Gold Glove center fielder.
“If I didn’t get any hits, you weren’t going to get any hits. That’s how I played,” Griffey said. “People questioned why I played that hard, and it was because you never want to be that guy who gets replaced in the seventh inning for a defensive replacement.
“I got double-switched one time in my career. One of the reporters asked me how that felt. I said, ‘Well, I looked at the coach and said he has a better chance of seeing God before that happens again.’ I wanted to be out there. From the first pitch until the last.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677