(This article is currently available at Beckett.com as well)
Baseball players, for as perfect and infallible as we sometimes believe they are, cannot play forever. It is a cruel cycle but one that has struck players for as long as baseball has been around. Time goes by, bones deteriorate, and wrinkles begin to appear on the faces of our heroes. Before you know it, a career once destined to go on forever has reached the end of the road. It happened to Babe Ruth in 1935 when he could no longer catch up to the fastball. It struck Willie Mays in 1973 as the entire world watched him struggle to make plays that 10 years ago he could have made in his sleep. It has hit everyone who was anyone in the game and today that cycle has its target set on two legends: Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr.
For anyone who collected baseball cards in the 80’s & 90’s, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. were gods among mortal men. They could run, hit, field, and do just about everything better than anyone else. Frank Thomas, one of the most prolific (and Steroids-free) sluggers of our time captured the hearts of those who preferred the “bad boy” and couldn’t quite relate to Griffey’s squeaky clean image. To this day, his “middle-finger” 1991 Upper Deck card is still talked about, as is his Leaf rookie, which once held a lofty Beckett book value. One thing that won’t soon be forgotten will be his 9 years with 30 or more home runs, 11 with 100+ RBI, two M.V.P awards, and his .302 lifetime batting average.
Today, Frank Thomas is hitting .220 with 3 home runs and 21 RBI for the Oakland Athletics after being released and humiliated all too publically by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ken Griffey Jr. has been arguably, the most popular player in baseball for close to 15 years and can actually produce, too. He has hit at least 30 or more home runs in 9 years, driven in 100 or more in 8, and has won 10 gold gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and an MVP crown in 1997. Today, even Griffey is talking about ending his career and wants to do so where it all began, in Seattle. As of May 19th, he is hitting just .245 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI in 42 games. It’s clear the “Kid” is now just an old man trying to make it through a long, 162-game season without another injury, the same one that robbed him of 700, maybe even 800 home runs.
So next time the Reds or A’s are in town do your best to make it out to the stadium. It may take a bite out of your wallet to fill up the gas tank but you will at least have the pleasure of introducing your young ones to two of the greatest of this era. If you are lucky, you may see a flash of greatness from your two favorites one last time.