NEW YORK — Ken Griffey Jr. was considered Mr. Clean during 22 years in the major leagues, untainted by accusations of drug use as he climbed the home-run list during the height of the Steroids Era.
He nearly made a clean sweep in Hall of Fame voting.
Griffey received 437 of 440 votes in his first appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, a record 99.3 percent.
“It’s real simple,” he explained after Wednesday’s announcement. “I’ve always said that I’ve got to look my kids in the eyes and you want to play fair.”
Mike Piazza, the top offensive catcher in baseball history, was elected, too, and will be inducted along with Griffey in Cooperstown on July 24. Among the many muscled sluggers whose accomplishments were questioned during a time when chemists preyed on clubhouses, Piazza was made to wait until his fourth appearance on the ballot. After falling 28 votes shy last year, he was selected on 365 (83 percent).
He wouldn’t say whether he was upset about being sullied by suspicions.
“That’s the freedom we have,” Piazza maintained. “You can say these things, and that’s the country we live in.”
Griffey topped the previous high percentage of 98.84, set when Tom Seaver appeared on 425 of 430 ballots in 1992. The identities of the three writers who did not vote for Griffey was not immediately known.
“I can’t be upset,” he said. “It’s just an honor to be elected, and to have the highest percentage is definitely a shock.”
A player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots to gain election. Jeff Bagwell missed by 15 votes and Tim Raines by 23. Trevor Hoffman, second on the career saves list and appearing on the ballot for the first time, was 34 short.
Total ballots dropped by 109 from last year after writers who have not been active for 10 years were eliminated under a rules change by the Hall’s board of directors. With a younger average electorate, Roger Clemens rose to 45 percent and Barry Bonds to 44 percent, both up from about 37 percent last year. Clemens has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and Bonds said he never knowingly took any banned substances.
“They were Hall of Famers before all this stuff started,” Griffey said.
Mark McGwire, who admitted using steroids, received 12 percent in his 10th and final ballot appearance.
Half of baseball’s top 10 home run hitters are not in the Hall: Bonds (762), Alex Rodriguez (654), Jim Thome (612), Sammy Sosa (609) and McGwire (583). Rodriguez, who served a yearlong drug suspension in 2014, remains active. Thome’s first appearance on the ballot will be in 2018.
Griffey believes drug-testing, which began in baseball in 2003, should eliminate the possibility of stigma for the current generation of players.
“There won’t be any questions and you’ll know from here on out,” he said.
Some players who admitted using steroids claimed they chose the needle because of pressure to compete. Griffey said he never was tempted.
“I also had a dad that said you’re never going to be the biggest, you’re never going to be the strongest and you’re never going to be the fastest,” he said. “There’s always going to be someone in each of those categories, but the one thing they can’t do is outwork you.”
“I never really worried about what somebody else was doing, because it was out of my control,” he added. “I was already popular. It wasn’t that I needed to jump out and surprise people.”
Griffey and Piazza had contrasting treks to stardom. Griffey was selected first in the 1987 amateur draft and became the first No. 1 to make the Hall. Piazza was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 1,390th pick on the 62nd round in 1998; since the draft started in 1965, the lowest draft pick elected to the Hall had been John Smoltz, taken with selection 574 on the 22nd round in 1985.
“It crystalizes how special this game is,” Piazza said. “It separates it from other sports. Athletic talent definitely helps, but it’s not the only thing that can make you successful.”
Griffey was known simply as “Junior” by many as a contrast to his father, three-time All-Star outfielder Ken Griffey, who played alongside him in Seattle during 1990 and ’91. The younger Griffey became a 13-time All-Star outfielder and finished with 630 homers, sixth on the career list. After reaching the major leagues in 1989, he was selected for 11 consecutive All-Star Games in 1990.
Wanting to play closer to his home in Florida, he pushed for a trade to Cincinnati – his father’s old team and the area he grew up in- after the 1999 season. But slowed by injuries, he never reached 100 RBIs again after his first season with the Reds, and he moved on to the Chicago White Sox in 2008 before spending his last season-plus with the Mariners.
Griffey is likely to become the first player in the Hall with a Mariners cap. He wouldn’t say whether his bronze plaque should portray the look he’s most known for.
“I haven’t really thought about the hat backwards,” he said.
Piazza said he was directed not to speak about the hat on his plaque, which ultimately is decided by the Hall. After reaching the major leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992, Piazza was dealt to Florida in May 1998 before he could become a free agent, then traded eight days later to the Mets.
He played for the Mets’ 2000 National League champions and remained with New York through 2005, hitting a memorable go-ahead home run in the first game in the city following the 2001 terrorist attacks. During a career that ended with San Diego in 2006 and Oakland the following year, he hit better than .300 in nine straight seasons and finishing with 427 home runs, including a record 396 when he was in the game behind the plate. A 12-time All-Star, Piazza had a .308 career batting average.
While 6-foot-3, Piazza claims to not have a distinctive athletic body.
“When you see a basketball guy out there or a football guy, you kind of know it,” he said. “And baseball guys, I think that’s why the public relates to us.”