CINCINNATI -- Ken Griffey Jr. would have retired this year if a hamstring injury had left him less than elite.
The Cincinnati Reds outfielder said Thursday that he wasn't sure he'd be able to play baseball at a high level after his major hamstring surgery in August 2004. Griffey tore his right hamstring from the bone and had it reattached with three screws -- an uncommon operation for an athlete.
The 35-year-old Griffey proved he's still one of the best when he's healthy, batting .301 with 35 homers and 92 RBI this season. His return from four years of serious injuries earned him the NL's comeback player of the year award Thursday in an online vote
sponsored by baseball.
"I didn't really think about trying to prove to anybody that I could still play this game," Griffey said. "It was more or less proving to myself that I could still go out and compete at a high level and help the team win.
"I felt if I couldn't do that I would just go home and not waste anybody's time. That's one of the things about me -- I'm not going to waste anybody's time and go out there and just collect a check. That will never be me," he said.
The Yankees' Jason Giambi won the AL's award for his comeback from problems including an inflamed knee, a respiratory infection, an intestinal parasite and a benign pituitary tumor.
"I am truly humbled by this award," Giambi said in a statement Thursday. "To my teammates, Joe Torre, Brian Cashman, George Steinbrenner, and the entire Yankees organization: thank you for standing by me. A special thanks to Don Mattingly for your tireless efforts in working with me to regain my hitting form. I cannot tell you how much all of your support has meant to me over the past year. I wanted nothing more than to prove to you and the people of New York that I could face adversity and come back to be the player I once was."
Since he came to his hometown team in a 2000 trade with Seattle, Griffey has been repeatedly sidelined by career-threatening injuries -- a torn hamstring, a torn knee tendon, a dislocated shoulder, torn tissue in his ankle and the severe hamstring injury
Few athletes have torn the muscle off the bone the way he did and returned strong enough to keep playing. Griffey acknowledged Thursday that he didn't know if he'd be able to beat the odds with that one.
"There's always a doubt," he said. "You don't know if the surgery is going to take. Once I was able to start doing baseball activities, I knew from there it wasn't going to be too long to get back into game shape."
Griffey wasn't fully recovered when spring training began and didn't hit his first homer until April 30, the slowest start of his career. Once he figured out what he could do with the repaired hamstring, the comeback began.
"It took me probably until the middle of May to start feeling comfortable," he said. "Offensively, I didn't have any problems. Defense worried me more than offense. I could drive in runs, I just didn't want to give any up.
"Once I got over the fear of that -- 'This is going to be OK' -- everything started to work," he said.
Griffey strained his right foot while running the bases on Sept. 4 and sat out the rest of the season as a precaution. He had minor surgery to clean out a knee that has bothered him occasionally over the last few years.
"The knee is fine," said Griffey, who has three years left on his contract. "After having the operation, I walked out and got in a car. I gave the crutches back after two days. This is a minor thing."
The All-Century outfielder thanked fans for choosing him for his latest honor.
"It's not one that you want to have, as far as the things you've had to go through to get it," he said, referring to the injuries. "But I will cherish it forever."