Ken Griffey Jr.’s legacy shaped by idolization of Hank Aaron: “Hank was the number one guy I looked up to growing up.”
Examine The Kid’s baseball DNA, and you’ll find plenty of Hammerin’ Hank.
Heading into an MLB All-Star Game that’s honoring the legacy of Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr. left no question as to his primary baseball influence while growing up with a major league father.
“Hank was the number one guy talked about at my house growing up,” Griffey said. “With my dad being from Pennsylvania and with Willie (Mays playing) out west, Hank was the number one guy I looked up to.”
Griffey spoke Monday afternoon at the Play Ball Park inside the Colorado Convention Center as part of “Unfiltered: Legends and Legacies,” a panel highlighting key moments by Black players in the game and Black baseball players’ impact on the sport, dating back to the Negro Leagues.
The panel also featured former major leaguers Fergie Jenkins, CC Sabathia and LaTroy Hawkins, an ex-Rockie. Hawkins asserted that the majors’ Black baseball players today are “all direct descendants of the Negro League baseball players” — a sentiment Griffey echoed as well.
The former Mariners star and 1998 Home Run Derby champion recalled his first trip to the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where Buck O’Neil gave him a private, and emotional, tour.
“To see all the struggles, and the barnstorming they had to do all over (to get attention), and all the bus rides (compared to) the luxuries that ballplayers take for granted now — I never forgot that,” Griffey said.
Now, Griffey is in a place to give back to the game through his role as senior advisor to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Part of that role includes an emphasis on baseball operations and youth baseball development, particularly on improving diversity in the lowest levels of the sport.
“Now, it’s my turn to give back to the younger generation,” Griffey said.
Griffey said that as a kid growing up in major league clubhouses, three particular Yankees — Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph, and Ricky Henderson, with whom Griffey’s dad played with in the 1980s — and Orioles great Eddie Murray had a personal impact on shaping his perception of the modern Black ballplayer.
“Those guys took me under their wing and treated me like I was their son,” Griffey said. “They showed me the ins and outs of being a player and they showed me how to conduct myself as a professional once I got to that level.”