Ken Griffey Jr. was the closest thing baseball had to Michael Jordan, and while his Swingman line will never surpass the Air Jordan line in terms of sales and popularity, it does have a special place in sneaker culture.
The Nike Air Griffey Max 1 was the first shoe of its kind in baseball. Before Griffey, baseball players rarely marketed shoes. You had Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, of course, but their sneakers were geared for the football field more than the diamond. Frank Thomas had the Big Hurt with Reebok, but he didn’t have the same level of marketability as Junior. Griffey was different, and he inspired a whole generation, thanks to being the complete marketing package. He had the backward cap, the beautiful swing, the charisma, the home runs and the shoes! He showcased that a Black baseball player could be the face of a league that still struggles to market to them.
At the height of his powers in 1996, Nike invited Griffey to join its exclusive signature roster, which was reserved for the best of the best: Jordan, Andre Agassi, Jackson and Sanders to name a few.
Signature sneaker lines are successful not because of talent but because of a player’s personality. Baseball has always been a tough sport to build around a single player. Players wear cleats and are expected to have this clean-cut image (see Yankees beard rules). Then Griffey showed up and stole the show. Personality sales. Charisma sales. Jordan had it. Kobe had it. LeBron has it. Griffey was the answer for baseball.
There are a few players in today’s game with their own signature shoes – Mike Trout (Nike), Bryce Harper (Under Armour), Francisco Lindor (New Balance), but no one has come close to what Griffey has done. We are starting to see more young stars like Mookie Betts, Tim Anderson and Fernando Tatis Jr. become household names that transcend the sport. Could they be the next signature stars in baseball?
On the 25th anniversary of Griffey’s signature line, Foot Locker and Nike released a four-sneaker collection honoring one of the greatest to ever play the game. Here are a couple of reasons why Griffey’s sneaker line remains relevant today.
Ken Griffey Jr.s “Sweetest Swing” Collection
The Cool Factor
Griffey was everywhere at a certain point in time: making an appearance on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the film Little Big League and various video games such as Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest.
Would also like to point out that MJ asked for Griffey Jr.’s autograph at the 1993 MLB All-Star game.
Griffey’s sneaker line helped introduce many young Black kids to the game of baseball. It was the first time for many seeing someone like him in the sport, and he looked cool doing it.
Rapper and fashion guru ASAP Ferg, who attended Griffey’s Legacy celebrity game in Brooklyn, spoke about Griffey’s legacy and what it meant for a kid from Harlem to watch him play.
“I grew up wearing Griffey sneakers. Seeing everyone with their outfits—you know that was my favorite part because I like to get fresh. Griffeys were super big because of the design. We got introduced to baseball through the shoes.”
Griffey’s sneaker journey started with the Nike Air Diamond Fury 96 (which did not bear his name).
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Courtesy of Nike
The Nike Air Griffey Max 1—designed by former Nike designer Tracy Teague—was made out of carbon fiber and featured an ankle strap along with visible Max Air throughout the midsole. It was a gamechanger and a sneaker that baseball had never seen before. The sneaker took on the color scheme from the Mariners that made it stand out.
Here is a list of the rest of the sneakers in Griffey’s line: Nike Air Griffey Max 2, Nike Air Max 360 Diamond Griffey, Nike Air Max Griffey Fury, Nike Air Max Jr. and Nike Total Griffey Max 99.
Commercials and campaigns
Like Jordan, Griffey has some iconic Nike commercials that helped elevate his marketability to new heights. Here are just a few:
“I Got it” (1995)
“Ken Griffey Jr. For President” (1996)
“Hit It Here”
Goodbye Baseball (2010)
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