George Kenneth Griffey, Jr., was the first overall selection in the 1987 amateur draft out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Other notables taken in the first round include Jack McDowell (5th), Kevin Appier (9th), Delino DeShields (11th), Mike Remlinger (16th), Jack Armstrong (18th), Craig Biggio (22nd), Pete Harnisch (27th), and Travis Fryman (30th). Pretty impressive class...but Griffey was clearly the best of the bunch.
Griffey skyrocketed through the minors, beating the tarnation out of A-ball teams before a short stint at AA to end his year-18 season. He skipped AAA altogether, starting instead in center field for Seattle in the 1989 season as a 19-year old. Thus began what has to be considered among the most dominant first 12 years in baseball history, and, of course, a shoe-in Hall of Fame career. He was a 13-time all-star, 10-time gold glover, 7-time silver slugger, and the 1997 MVP (five times in the top-5).
During Griffey's career, the average MLB team has gone from scoring 4.14 runs per game in 1989 to 5.14 runs per game in 2000, and back down to the current level around 4.8 runs per game. He has always clocked in as an above-average hitter. He's played his entire career in hitters' parks (the Kingdome, Cinergy Field, and Great American Ballparks), but even after adjusting for his home parks his offense has accounted for 896 runs above replacement and counting.
Fielding & Total Value
But surprisingly, even given that, Griffey doesn't come off as an overwhelmingly good fielder. In fact, compared to other center fielders, Griffey typically came out a tad below average over most of his career. The one real exception was in his first year with the Reds, 2000, when he was rated 14 runs above average. I have to wonder if there are some park effects that aren't accounted for at the Kingdome. As bad as the gold glove voters can be, I have a hard time believing that Griffey would win 10 straight gold gloves at a premier defensive position if he was a below-average fielder. While the only other fielding resource I have on hand from that era, Clay Davenport's fielding translations, show Griffey in a somewhat more positive light, he still does not come across as an exceptional defender by the numbers.
Even if we accept these data, though, it wasn't until the 2004 season--following three seasons shortened by leg injuries--that he became a genuine liability in the field. In 2005, his first year back from an experimental hamstring surgery, his defense cut his value by 35%--and those are some of the more generous numbers you'll find. The move to right field in 2007 certainly helped, but other metrics indicate that he's still a dreadful fielder in right.
Even though the fielding numbers don't help his cause, Griffey's overall numbers are still hard to match: 846 runs above replacement on his career (~85 wins), and counting. It's been a very impressive career. And the best part is, even though he's fading, he's not done yet. Add my voice to the chorus of Reds fans who hope that he not only makes it to the post-season, but gets the chance to play for his first ring.
Update: At Sky's suggestion, I checked out Sean Smith's TotalZone ratings for Griffey. Here they are (runs vs. average; year).
These ratings would also indicate that his best season was clearly his MVP year, when he was 79 runs above replacement via offense, 6 runs above average as a center fielder, and receives a +4 run bonus for playing a premium position. That's 89 runs above a replacement player, which is a spectacular season.