Ken Griffey Jr. didn’t become the first unanimous selection for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he came close.
Griffey received the highest voting percentage ever (99.3 percent) when this year’s balloting was announced Wednesday.
Griffey, a star slugger of the steroids era who was never tainted by accusations of drug use, appeared on all but three of 437 ballots submitted by eligible voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Pitcher Tom Seaver held the record with 98.84 percent in 1992, and former Royals star George Brett ranks sixth at 98.19 percent in 1999.
“I can’t be upset,” Griffey said when asked about not being a unanimous selection. “It’s just an honor to be elected and to have the highest percentage is definitely a shock.”
Griffey, who always seemed destined for greatness from the time he entered professional baseball as the No. 1 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1987, was elected to the Hall of Fame along with Mike Piazza, who was lightly regarded as an amateur but blossomed into one of the game’s premier power-hitting catchers. They will be enshrined Jan. 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Happy and shocked,” Griffey said when asked about his election. “Happy that I get to be in such an elite club.”
Griffey, who was known simply as “Junior” by many as a contrast to his father, three-time All-Star outfielder Ken Griffey, had a list of accomplishments that made him a lock for the hall.
Griffey’s career spanned three decades and 22 big-league seasons with three organizations — the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.
In 2,617 career games, Griffey had 2,781 hits, 630 homers (sixth most in MLB history), 1,662 runs, 1,836 RBIs and a .907 OPS. He had a lot of big hits against the Royals in his career, including the 550th homer of his career in 2006.
Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games, won 10 Gold Gloves and was the unanimous American League MVP in 1997.
It’s all but certain that he will go in as a Mariner, the team he played the majority of his games with.
It’s far less certain which cap Piazza will have on his plaque. That is chosen by the Hall of Fame with input from the player, and Piazza has said that would prefer to go in as a New York Met.
Piazza broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992 and then played with the Mets during 1998-2005. He also played briefly with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s.
“I’m under strict orders to keep it confidential until tomorrow,” Piazza said when asked about his cap. “Right now, I’m just going to enjoy the moment. But I have a special place with the fans of New York City.”
Piazza was a 12-time All-Star who hit 427 career home runs, including 396 as a catcher — more than any other player at that position. Overall, he hit .308 with a .922 OPS after getting drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft as a favor to his father, a friend of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Until now, the lowest draft pick in the Hall was pitcher John Smoltz, selected on the 22nd round in 1985 and enshrined last year.
“Incredibly special. Wow. I sat here with my mouth on the floor,” Piazza said about the moment he heard he was bound for Cooperstown.
Piazza had to wait until his fourth year of eligibility in part because of unproven rumors about performance-enhancing drug use during his career. Piazza always has denied using steroids but has admitted using some drugs that were later banned by Major League Baseball.
After about 100 writers who no longer are active lost their votes under new rules, there were significant increases for two stars accused of steroids use. Roger Clemens’ vote totals rose to 45 percent and Barry Bonds to 44 percent, both up from about 37 percent last year. Mark McGwire, who admitted using steroids, received 12 percent in his 10th and final ballot appearance.