(Busch Stadium) Leading off the top of the 6th inning, Ken Griffey Jr. strode to the plate and connected on pitch from Matt Morris his 500th career home run. The date was June 20, 2004. Mike Matheny remembers it well.
“Yeah, it seems like I’ve got pictures of guys hitting big home runs way too often–it’s not a real great compliment,” quipped the now St. Louis Cardinals manager, who was catching that day.
Enshrined today in the Hall of Fame, Griffey knocked out 2781 hits with 630 home runs and 1836 runs driven in over the course of his 22 seasons.
Like much of the state of Ohio, Matheny continued to pay attention to Griffey over the next couple of years.
“He was a year, I think one year, older than me in high school,” said Matheny, who went to Reynoldsburg High School about 116 miles away. “That was all the buzz, what Ken Griffey was doing down in the southern part of the state. He was a special player.”
Griffey didn’t move to the National League until 2000, when he joined the Cincinnati Reds at 30 years old. He still put together pretty solid numbers against St. Louis–batting .289 with 22 HRs and 51 RBIs in 74 games. Griffey singled against Kyle McClellan in his last at-bat in St. Louis–April 30, 2008.
“I had a great admiration,” said Matheny. “Really it was obvious what he could do at the plate, but defensively, how good he was. How much pride he took in his defense. And then as things evolved, the appreciate for a superstar player to stay above the fray and kind of out of all the nonsense when there was so much going on in that particular generation of the game. This is a guy that put up phenomenal numbers and was never really in any of the conversations that were in a negative vain. Impressive career.”