It takes two minutes for MLB Network to remind you why you’re here. The instant Bo Jackson calls Ken Griffey Jr. “the baddest man in the land,” you know the next hour of your life is going to be fun.
The latest release from MLB Network Presents — titled “Junior” — focuses on Griffey’s exceptional Hall of Fame career. The 69-minute documentary relives Griffey’s biggest on-field moments and explores the importance family played in Griffey’s life — both on and off the field. The documentary will air Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
The film opens on Griffey, 50, giving viewers a tutorial on how he taped his bats. Griffey — who said he learned the method from his father — methodically wraps the handle on his bat, detailing exactly how to do it if you want to be like him. From any other player, this would come off as mundane. But this is Ken Griffey Jr., undoubtedly the coolest baseball player in recent memory, and one who inspired thousands of kids to pick up a bat, turn their caps around and imitate his swing.
From that point, the action picks up considerably, and you’re reminded how dynamic Griffey was on the field, and the impact he made away from the game. The documentary follows Griffey’s early career, from getting drafted by the Seattle Mariners to his exciting debut to saving baseball in Seattle following the Mariners’ playoff run in 1995.
Longtime fans of Griffey get to see everything they were hoping for in the first 47 minutes. Griffey mashes home runs, makes highlight-reel catches and blazes around the base paths with the Mariners. He does all of it effortlessly and with a huge smile on his face. At one point, Griffey’s former teammate Jay Buhner says, “He played a different game. It’s not fair.”
Buhner is one of many guests who provide insight on Griffey’s greatness, along with Ken Griffey Sr., Nick Lachey, Macklemore, Gary Payton, Lou Piniella and Harold Reynolds. The most interesting cameo, however, comes from Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who is one of the few people on the planet who can relate to Griffey’s experience. The 35-year-old James is easily the best interview of the documentary. Nearly everything he says carries significant weight, because James experienced stardom the same way.
Around the 47-minute mark, the documentary shifts to Griffey’s time with the Cincinnati Reds. That portion of Griffey’s career could have made for the most interesting part of “Junior,” but Griffey doesn’t offer up many thoughts on his time with the Reds.
Griffey’s stint in Cincinnati was marred by injuries. At one point as the documentary is listing all of Griffey’s ailments, a clip is shown in which Reds fans boo Griffey as he’s walking off the field after rupturing a tendon in his ankle. It’s a moment that would have benefited from Griffey talking about the incident, and addressing the toll those injuries took on his career, but he doesn’t. Griffey eventually reflects on the injuries later in the film, but not that specific moment.
A similar thing happens when steroids are invoked. A number of personalities comment on Griffey being clean throughout his entire career, but Griffey doesn’t offer up any thoughts on the matter.
Overall, though, the documentary succeeds in the right places. Like ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” fans familiar with Griffey’s story will get that hit of nostalgia they desire, while those who were too young to experience Griffey’s career will walk away understanding why Griffey’s dominance and personality shaped an entire generation of baseball fans.
While much of the documentary covers familiar ground, Griffey’s interactions with his family stand out in a major way. The importance of family played a major role in Griffey’s career, from playing with his father to forcing a trade to Cincinnati so he wouldn’t miss his kids growing up.
One of the best moments of the documentary features Griffey talking to his wife, Melissa, and their children about his Hall of Fame induction. It’s in this moment you realize Griffey is also a dorky dad whose kids tease him about making too many Prince references in his Hall of Fame speech. Fatherhood humbles the best of us.
You quickly push that thought out of your mind as Griffey begins his Hall of Fame speech. By the time Griffey’s emotional speech ends and he starts to talk about legacy, you find yourself believing Griffey could come out of retirement today, hit .105 and still be the coolest player in the game.
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