Tracy Ringolsby

Griffey's path toward Hall started as wunderkind

Griffey's path toward Hall started as wunderkind

Ken Griffey Jr. was one of those eye-catching high school talents.

"What you saw were the tools for him to be a great player," said Dick Balderson, the general manager of the Mariners at the time. "But you can say that about a lot of 17-year-olds you see, they have the tools to be a very good player."

There was a difference between Griffey and a lot of 17-year-olds.

"He proved to be a Hall of Famer," said Balderson. "He was that legitimate five-tool guy, but even more than that. He had the instinct. I'd say he was a six-tool player. He was not in awe of any situation. He really enjoyed the game."

People around the game -- players, executives, scouts, fans and media -- enjoyed Griffey's game.

And just how much they enjoyed it should become evident on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET when the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 is announced on MLB Network and On a crowded ballot, Griffey is the one player who stands out as a virtual lock to be elected to the Hall of Fame by the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in his first year of eligibility.

It's a no-brainer.

A look at the 2016 HOF ballot

Griffey finished a 22-year big league career sixth on the all-time home run list with 630 and 15th in RBIs with 1,836. A career .284 hitter, he was a 13-time All-Star, finished in the top 10 in Most Valuable Player Award voting six times, and won the AL MVP in 1997. Griffey was a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and he won seven Silver Slugger Awards. Oh, and he played center field.

Griffey was in the big leagues at the age of 19, having played only 129 games in the Minor Leagues. It wasn't how the Mariners planned it. In his first full pro season, 1988, he was limited to 75 Minor League games because of back issues. He was invited to big league camp the following spring as a courtesy.

Griffey, however, forced the Mariners to keep him.

Each week that spring, longtime Mariners scout Bob Harrison said in the past, the staff would meet, and when Griffey's name was brought up, the point would be made that Griffey was going to be sent back to the Minors. Finally, with Griffey having dominated during the spring, at the final meeting, the discussion turned to Griffey and the fact he was going back to the Minor Leagues, and the question was raised, "Who's going to tell him?"

The answer was nobody. Griffey was only 19, but he was ready, and he never looked back.

Griffey Jr.'s first MLB homer

"The first impression of him was about his athleticism," said Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. "He could run and he had great body control. He threw well. He was such a complete player. As he matured not only was he a really good hitter, but he was such a power hitter, too.

"He was the most complete player I had seen in a long time. You always thought of him as a Hall of Fame caliber player. It was going to come to do whether something was going to derail his career."

Nothing did.

Funny thing is, the biggest challenge in Griffey's career was convincing then-Mariners owner George Argyros that Griffey was the right player to draft. Tom Mooney, a third-year scout whose area included Ohio, was in awe from the start.

"You'd watch him and he was a man against boys, and he was a 17-year-old high school senior," said Mooney, now a pro scout with Milwaukee. "The game was just so easy for him. No matter when you saw him, he did something each game that reinforced how good he was. He dominated the games. It was not just with his bat, but he threw out runners, played great center field, stole bases and could even bunt."

Argyros, however, lived in Southern California, and he had a fondness for college players. He was caught up in pitcher Mike Harkey of Cal State Fullerton, which was close to Argyros' office in Orange County.

"Tom was sold on [Griffey] and so was Roger [Jongewaard, the Mariners' scouting director at the time]," said Balderson. "Roger was so experienced and such a good evaluator. And really, there was no comparison between Griffey and the other players in that Draft."

Griffey Jr. candidate for HOF

Six of the top 20 picks that year never got to the big leagues, including Mark Merchant, who went to Pittsburgh with the second overall selection.

Out of the 1,263 players who were selected in the Draft that year, only five of the position players appeared in as many as 2,000 games, led by Griffey with 2,671. Only two pitchers won more than 150 games -- Mike Mussina (270), the 273rd player taken in the Draft, and Kevin Appier (169 wins), selected ninth overall.

The Griffeys go back-to-back

But there was the Argyros factor, and it became a concern several times.

Griffey's score on a standardized psychological test came back among the lowest ever recorded, which set off an alarm with the front office. Mooney checked with the Griffey family, and discovered that Griffey didn't realize the value of the test, and had allowed a younger brother to take it. Given the test a second time, Griffey scored well.

"George [Argyros] finally agreed, but he told me, `This one is on you. You better be right,'" remembered Balderson. "To us, it was a no-brainer. I'm not going to say we knew he would be a Hall of Famer, but we knew he was the most talented player in the Draft."

And before long, everybody around baseball knew that, too.

Griffey made his presence felt in the Majors at the age of 19, and in the next couple of days, just how much of a presence he had will be reinforced by his anticipated election into the Hall of Fame.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.