Ken Griffey Jr. was honored Sunday with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, which recognizes achievements and contributions of historical significance in Major League Baseball.
Commissioner Bud Selig presented the award to Griffey in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday night in a ceremony before Game 4 of the World Series, reports MLB.com.
Griffey, who played for the Seattle Mariners from 1989-99 and again from 2009 until June 2010, thrilled baseball fans throughout his 22-year career -- making 13 All-Star teams, earning 10 Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess in center field, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1997 and hitting 630 home runs, fifth all-time. He was named to Major League Baseball's All-Century Team in 1999, a month shy of turning 30.
Griffey drew a record 50,044,176 All-Star votes; off the field, he devoted considerable time to numerous charities.
With virtually every endeavor, Griffey said his love of the game is what drove him.
"I came in this game just wanting to play baseball," Griffey told MLB.com. "It wasn't because I thought I was going to win an award. It was because of the guys that I watched on TV, not necessarily my dad, but everybody else, the smiles on their face."
Griffey's father also had an impressive 19-year Major League career as an outfielder. Griffy recounts how many notable baseball greats, such as Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Willie Stargellsuch - would visit the family home in Cincinnati. Griffey said he and his boyhood friends were especially impressed by Mays.
"We were like little kids when he came to the house," Griffey said. He said Mays would discuss "the respect that he had for the game and the things that he went through to play this game, that a lot of us will never know and could never fathom what he had to deal with day in and day out. And from that point on, it was just go out and play. He said, 'We did all the hard work. It's time for you to just go out and play and have fun,' and that's the attitude that we all took."
Many credit Griffey's popularity to Major League Baseball's survival in Seattle, where he began his career. The presence of Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and his wife, Susan, at Sunday's ceremony attested to this.
"He is Seattle sports history," said former Mariners catcher Dave Valle, now an MLB Network analyst. "Whenever you talk about the Northwest, he's front and center, beyond all the people who played there. His legacy there, over the period of time that he played there, he had the biggest impact in that area. He put us on the map."
Griffey -- who played for the Mariners (1989-99, 2009-10), Reds (2000-08) and White Sox ('08) -- is the 12th person to earn the award, which was created in '98. He is the first recipient to receive the award since Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, was honored in 2007 for sustaining her husband's legacy.