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On This Date in Sports September 7, 1997: Junior 50

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners hits his 50th home run of the season during the fourth inning against Bob Tewksbury of the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome. Junior would finish the season with a career-best 56 home runs and 147 RBI to lead the league as the Mariners won the American League West, with Ken Griffey Jr. earning MVP honors.

Ken Griffey Jr. was a certain star player from the start of his career as the Seattle Mariners chose him with the first overall pick in the 1987 draft. The son of a former All-Star MVP, Griffey quickly reached the majors at the age of 19 two years later. For a franchise that lacked star power for its first 12 years, the arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. finally gave baseball fans something to cheer for. As the Mariners began to find legitimacy, Junior developed into the premier star in baseball. Alongside his father, Ken Griffey Sr., who finished his career playing alongside Junior in the Mariners outfield.

With the future of baseball in Seattle hanging in the balance, Ken Griffey Jr. coming off the disabled list led the Mariners to a late-season surge that resulted in the team’s first-ever playoff appearance. The Mariners would go on to beat the New York Yankees in the first ever ALDS, with Griffey scoring a double by Edgar Martinez to win the decisive fifth game in ten innings. The Mariners would lose the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians, but their run had helped secure funding for a much-needed new stadium.

After narrowly missing 50 home runs in 1996, Ken Griffey Jr. finally reached the magic number in 1997. While the Mariners lost that afternoon to the Twins 9-6, Junior’s MVP credentials were secure. The Mariners would go on to win the American League West with a record of 90-72. However, in the playoffs, Seattle suffered a letdown as they lost their Division Series matchup against the Baltimore Orioles in four games. Despite the postseason letdown, Ken Griffey Jr. would be the unanimous choice for MVP in the American League, finishing the season with a .304 average with a career-high 56 home runs and 147 RBI, both of which led the league.

Ken Griffey Jr. would put up similar numbers in 1998 but failed to repeat as MVP. He would win a third straight American League Home Run crown in 1999 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds. After the trade, Griffey would deal with a series of frustrating injuries that prevented him from ever reaching the heights he had in Seattle. However, he still hit 630 career home runs and is considered by many to be the best player of the 90s. In 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Hall of Fame nearly unanimously in his first year of eligibility.