The cleanest 600th home run since 1971 was hit in South Florida Monday night. Having covered Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime in Seattle in the late 1990s, that’s the lasting impression I’ll take out of seeing from afar what should have been heralded as a more historic accomplishment – muddled and confused as it has been by the era in which it occurred.
Forget the injuries that might have prevented Griffey from bearing down on 700 or 800 home runs by now. The bigger shame is that in the wake of Bonds’ tainted record and Sosa’s tainted 600 – both of which came last season – the few true greats from the Steroid Era who appear to have played the game without becoming drug cheats get a diminished place in their time than they rightly deserve.
The hope here is that history finds higher ground and brighter spotlights for the guys who, according to the limited evidence we have now, did it right – such as Griffey, Frank Thomas and a few others.
Meanwhile, here are the thoughts of Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who managed Griffey during his best years, on Griffey’s 600th:
``I’m really proud of Junior. Just a great achievement. He’s a wonderful young man, and I’m so happy for him. I really enjoyed the years I spent with him in Seattle. Let’s just hope he sticks around and gets another 100.’’
On whether Griffey would have challenged the all-time record without the injuries that cost him such huge parts of several seasons: ``There’s no question in my mind that he would have. Just in the period of time he was with me, he suffered a couple of really serious injuries. It was amazing to me how he bounced back. They took their toll on him. There’s no question if he’d have stayed healthy we’d be talking about his 700th home run now as opposed to 600.
``When I had him in Seattle, he was the best payer in baseball, in my opinion. And that was when Barry Bonds was in his prime also, so that’s a pretty strong statement. Junior was a special player.’’