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Ken Griffey Jr. sets new standard with Hall of Fame selection

It’s Griffey in a landslide

The fan indulges in the hype wallow for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s election day at his own risk. What used to be barstool amusement is now a bender of serious Sabermetrics and inscrutable Acronymity – OPS, ERA+, PEDs, LMAO (for use in discussing David Eckstein’s candidacy).

The moralizing over the druggies can be challenging, and the math clarifying. Especially when it’s boiled down the way it was Wednesday.

To the number 3.

As in how many of the 440 voters from the Baseball Writers Associa- tion of America left Ken Griffey Jr. off their ballots.

If Julian Assange can be enlisted to help with the outing, surely those treasonous slime will be strung up on Twitter within the week, providing there is no clear evidence they went off their meds. The dosages had better get straightened out before Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter are eligible, or Gotham’s rage over their heroes coming up three votes short figures to be seismic.

Griffey was named on 99.3 percent of the ballots – a record mostly due to 110 old fuds being lopped off the BBWAA voter rolls this year. But 99.3 is not 100. Election to the Hall of Fame is no longer celebration enough, as we now have to obsess that it didn’t come down just so, that it wasn’t perfect, that quirky logic or somebody’s character flaw Spoiled Our Ideal.

Not unlike what Junior ran into over the course of his baseball career, first with the Seattle Mariners and then back again.

His pass to Cooperstown was validated by the most basic numbers: the 630 home runs and the 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, the dingers he took away as majestic as the ones he hit. The combination was not unprecedented, but remains rare.

The adulation in the Northwest was as great as his game – and yet even so, it was always a little disconcerting to learn of what disconnect lingered with a small knot of baseball fans, who always seemed to expect more.

Or less. Or something else.

Maybe it was generational, maybe it was more sinister. Maybe it was because before 1995, it wasn’t enough to make the Mariners matter – or after a taste of winning, matter enough.

He took batting practice jabbering and smiling, with his cap turned backward, and some read it as disrespect toward the game, never mind that the very definition – game – implies fun. He carried it beyond BP, too. On the MLB Network’s coverage Wednesday, fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz recalled pitching to Griffey when his team put on a shift, only to see Junior push a weak grounder through the hole vacated by the shortstop. Then he stood on first, grinning, asking for the ball as if it had been a milestone home run.

He ran full tilt into outfield walls chasing fly balls, but didn’t run out every pop-up or one-hop grounder.

He was at times over-sensitive and thin-skinned, and forced a trade from Mariners management the fan base has vilified on virtually every other issue yet somehow pitied when Junior was unhappy.

Just imagine if he’d done steroids and walked that plank.

That he didn’t surely exacerbated his late-career breakdowns in Cincinnati – a production slide cited by yet even more suggesting the folly of a unanimous vote Wednesday. Because, you know, he should have kept pace with Barry Bonds, even without doing it Bonds’ way.

Perhaps I’ve overstated this. After all, when he returned to Seattle on a trip with the Reds and later for his Mariners Hall of Fame ceremony, Safeco Field was a virtual love geyser. But they always cheer at the stadium, and not always in the comments sections and checkout lines.

And it’s Edgar Martinez Drive outside Safeco Field’s front door.

That’s fine. Edgar’s a Mariners icon in a very different way, workmanlike and loyal – a baseball artisan.

Ken Griffey Jr. was an artist. Edgar’s hit drove him home in 1995, but it was Griffey’s flight around the bases and the smile underneath the pile that lit up the Northwest, just as his swing and flair captured the hearts baseball’s most important fans – the kids.

Griffey, like most all of the inductees, insisted the Hall isn’t something he aspired to or dreamed about, but that isn’t fully true. Three times he played in the Hall of Fame Game during his career, yet never even walked by the shrine because “the one time I wanted to go in there, I wanted to be a member of it.”

And the three voters who dissented?

“I can’t be upset,” he said.

On his biggest day, Ken Griffey Jr., at least, got it 100 percent right.

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