Griffey caps humbling day in own unique way

Newly inducted Hall of Famer dons backward hat to close emotional speech

Griffey caps humbling day in own unique way

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Ken Griffey Jr.'s Hall of Fame plaque shows a beaming Junior proudly wearing a Mariners cap. But leave it to The Kid to close out his speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday by pulling out a backward cap and flashing his trademark grin.

"I want to thank my family, my friends, the fans, the Reds, White Sox and Mariners for making this kid's dream come true," Griffey told a crowd of 50,000 gathered to see he and Mike Piazza become the 311th and 312th members of baseball's exclusive fraternity.

Griffey said the decision to flash the backward hat came from Hall of Famer Frank Thomas after he arrived at the Clark Sports Center site on Sunday morning. He liked the idea so much that he called his wife, Melissa, and had her get a cap from his youngest son, Tevin.

"Frank was like, 'You've got to do it, you've got to do it,'" Griffey said. "You've got to end it like that."

And why not? Griffey always has had a flair for the dramatic and he understood well the impact of being bestowed baseball's ultimate honor with 50 fellow Hall of Famers sitting behind on the stage.

"I stand up here humbled and overwhelmed," Griffey said as he began and his emotions welled close to the surface from start to finish.

He feigned surprise when asked at a post-ceremony press conference about breaking into tears just 20 seconds into his speech.

Hall of Family: Griffeys soak up induction

"That was 20 seconds? I thought it was more like 24," he said, a hat tip to the playing number he wore his two tours with Seattle during his 22-year playing career.

Griffey Jr. enters Hall of Fame

The Mariners have had other Hall of Fame inductees with some history with the club. Randy Johnson, one of last year's arrivals, spent 10 of his 22 seasons in Seattle. Fellow Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Goose Gossage played for the Mariners at the tail end of their careers. Pat Gillick was a general manager with the Mariners and Dick Williams ended his managing career in Seattle, while Paul Molitor spent a year as Seattle's hitting coach.

But Griffey is the first who'll wear the Mariners cap on his plaque, fitting for a player nearly all agree is the best who has ever worn the jersey and a man credited for helping save the game in Seattle by igniting the region in 1995 when the city elected to build Safeco Field and spurned Florida suitors for local ownership.

Griffey Jr. on Mariners career

"Thirteen years with the Seattle Mariners," he said. "From the day I got drafted to my first at-bat in the Kingdome to the '95 playoffs, my first trip back to Seattle as a member of the Reds and my return to Seattle in 2009 to my retirement in 2010, Seattle, Wash., has been a big part of my life.

"There are so many great things I could talk about, but we'd be here all day. But I am going to leave you with one thing. Out of my 22 years, I learned that only one team will treat you the best and that's your first team. I'm damn proud to be a Seattle Mariner."

Griffey acknowledged that seeing his plaque unveiled was a chilling moment, even on a humid 84-degree day.

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"Awesome. Awesome. What else can you say about it?" he said. "They captured the Denzel Washington 'Training Day' me. When you see it the first time you're looking down and going, 'Wow.' As the Commissioner was reading everything, I was looking over his shoulder going, 'I did that? Wow.' They even got all my nicknames in there except Swingman. Other than that, we're good. I'm happy with it. It's been an unbelievable experience from when I got here Wednesday to now."

And now his plaque will be installed on the wall at the Hall of Fame museum, alongside all the other greats. The cap will face forward, something he said was important to respect the game and to show the Mariners logo that carries so much importance to him.

The image in the mind of fans will remain the backward hat, the huge grin and his youthful joy of the game. But how exactly does Griffey want to be remembered?

Piazza's first memory of Griffey Jr: Getting 'robbed' of a hit

"As a guy that gave everything he had," he said. "If you look at the greatest center fielders to ever play this game, we've probably got a shelf life of 12 years because we run into walls and we just have a different mentality than anybody else on the field."

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That all-out style in his first dozen seasons led to considerable time on the disabled list in his time with the Reds. He still wound up sixth on the all-time home run list with 630 and was a 13-time All-Star, but it's fair to wonder how high his numbers might have gone had he stayed healthy.

"I wanted to be out there from the first pitch to the last," he said. "I didn't ever want to come out of the game. I know injuries are part of it. But would I do it all over? Absolutely because that's what made me, me."

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.