Junior ready to mint his Hall of Fame status

With induction Sunday, Griffey will become 1st Mariners player in Cooperstown

Junior ready to mint his Hall of Fame status

SEATTLE -- He's not "The Kid" anymore. He's 46, the father of three and the owner of 630 career home runs, not to mention the highest voting percentage into the National Baseball Hall of Fame of any player in Major League history.

But if there's one thing that can still make Ken Griffey Jr. feel like he's still the little guy running around the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse as he did growing up when his dad played for the Big Red Machine, it's about to happen in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, when he becomes the first Mariners player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Coverage begins on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 a.m. PT Sunday, with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies getting underway live at 10:30 a.m.

Put Griffey in a room with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax and the like and, well, he's ready to feel like a rookie all over again as he and Mike Piazza become the 311th and 312th members of baseball's most exclusive club.

"Most of these guys played with my dad, so he'll be able to slide in there and maybe I'll just stand behind him," Griffey said with a laugh. "I've got Willie's phone number, but still, you're thinking, 'OK, do I put 'Mr. Mays' on my [contacts list]? 'Say Hey Kid'? 'No. 24'? What do you want me to call you?

"I still remember the last time I walked through the doors in San Francisco and [Willie] McCovey and Willie were sitting in the room, and they said, 'Hey, come here.' And I'm thinking, 'Can I go in there?' They said, 'Yeah, you've got enough home runs to sit in this room.' But you still tiptoe. So I probably won't say much the first year, other than when they talk to me. I'll shake a few hands, maybe take a couple pictures."

Of course, everyone knows Griffey belongs smack in the middle of the Hall of Fame group, and he'll quickly add his large personality and presence to baseball's elite.

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In truth, Griffey seemingly was born for just this moment. He grew up surrounded by greatness. His father, Ken Griffey Sr., was a three-time All-Star who spent 19 years in the Majors. And young Ken was raised around players like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Tony Perez before becoming the first player selected in the 1987 MLB Draft by Seattle as a 17-year-old out of Cincinnati's Archbishop Moeller High.

Griffey Sr. on his son in HOF

Bench, who was inducted into the Hall in 1989, said Junior's education began in those early days.

"The way we played defense, and talked about defense, he saw us go out there every day and play with a certain level of professionalism and greatness," Bench said. "He just assumed that was the way to play, because that's what he learned from baby steps."

Yet no one could have foreseen what Griffey did after reaching the Majors at age 19. The lanky teenager caught on so quickly that after his rookie season, he made 10 straight American League All-Star teams and won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards over the next decade with Seattle.

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"He could do anything," said longtime teammate Edgar Martinez. "Run, hit for average, power, throw. But the one thing about Junior, he not only had all five tools, the instinct was there, too. Which is amazing, having all the tools and also the instinct."

Though injuries slowed his production in later years after he was traded to Cincinnati, Griffey retired as the fifth-leading home run hitter in MLB history (he's now sixth), as well as 13th in total bases, 15th in RBIs, 32nd in runs, 44th in doubles and 51st in hits.

Add in his outstanding defense in center field and it's no wonder Griffey was the youngest player named to the All-Century Team in 1999, and this year, he was named on 99.3 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots, breaking Tom Seaver's record for highest percentage (98.84).

Griffey says his induction speech is "still a work in progress," though those who know him best expect he'll speak from the heart and captivate the Cooperstown audience on Sunday. He'll become the first inductee to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mariners cap. And when he goes inside to see that plaque installed, it will be the first time he's set foot in the museum.

Griffey Jr. on HOF induction

That's just another part of the Griffey legacy. Though the Mariners participated in two exhibition games in Cooperstown during his playing days, he never ventured into the Hall of Fame and declined this year to take part in the indoctrination ceremony that is always offered to inductees several months before the ceremonies.

For Griffey, it goes back to not wanting to assume he's one of "the guys" with the likes of Mays and Aaron until the invitation is actually extended.

"If my kids asked me to go and were interested, then I would have gone," he said. "But since they play football, they never really asked. And I just didn't know if I belonged. It's one of those things where anybody can go, but as a player, to have that acceptance of now I'm going in, it means more to me than had I just visited.

"I went to the Negro Leagues Museum, but the only reason was I wanted to make sure Buck O'Neil gave me a tour."

That time is now here. The Kid has come full circle, blossoming into one of baseball's biggest stars, and he's now ready to become the rookie again among the legends of the game. And while Griffey undoubtedly will fit right in with those all-time greats, he does have one request as the first Mariners player inducted.

"Hopefully next year, Edgar makes it," Griffey said. "When you have the designated-hitter trophy named after you, you should be in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully next year, we can have another member so I don't feel so lonely there."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.