WASHINGTON — Even though he played his first game three years before Bryce Harper was born, and hung up his cleats for the last time two years before Harper made it to the big leagues, Ken Griffey Jr. had a profound impact on the Washington Nationals star.
Through the first three-plus years of their respective careers, Harper and Griffey Jr. actually have pretty similar statistical tracks. The scary thing to remember, is that no matter how good Harper may be, Griffey was arguably better.
Griffey Jr.: .301/.366/.494, 21.3 WAR, 1.13 hits/game, 0.54 runs/game, 0.6 RBI/game, 0.04 home runs/at bat
Harper: .289/.384/.517, 19.8 WAR, 1.04 hits/game, 0.64 runs/game, 0.47 RBI/game, 0.05 home runs/at bat.
Sunday, on the day of his induction into the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the baseball world reflected on how much Griffey Jr. meant to the game.
It wasn’t just his sweet swing, phantom-like defense or physics-defying hustle; for Harper it was also Griffey’s demeanor that set him apart.
“As somebody that changed the game for the better, always smiling, always laughing, hat backward,” Harper told the media about Griffey Jr. “It was always his swing that you wanted to admire or wanted to use.
“He just enjoyed himself every day.”
This meshes well with Harper’s image of what baseball should be, as part of his Make Baseball Fun Again campaign. Griffey Jr. was a divergence from the stodgy formality of the 1980s and 90’s, showing that baseball can have both style and grace.
It can also have raw power and family legacy.
Harper wasn’t even born when the Griffey Jr. went back-to-back with his dad,, Ken Griffey Sr., but the magnitude of the moment is not lost on Harper, who saw the play years later.
“I don’t think that’ll ever happen again,” Harper said. “One of the coolest things that’s ever happened in baseball.”