COOPERSTOWN, N.Y., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- It wasn't if, but when the smooth-swatting slugger with an unforgettable smile and backwards ball cap would run through the doors of Cooperstown to claim his spot among immortals.
And Wednesday the inevitable became history, when Ken Griffey Jr. received the highest percentage of votes that anyone has ever gotten while being inducted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
Griffey joined Mike Piazza as an entrant on the 2016 ballot. Griffey is the first No. 1 overall pick to be named to the Hall of Fame.
Griffey, like always, put himself in a room with the untouchables. With 99.3 percent of the vote, 'The Kid' topped Tom Seaver's 98.84 percent, Hank Aaron's 97.8 percent, Tony Gwynn's 97.6 percent, Greg Maddux's 97.2 percent, and Mike Schmidt's 96.5 percent.
"Nervous," Griffey told MLB.com about getting the call. "It's just one of those things where I can't control -- I can control how I play, how I do things -- but I can't control what other people do for you. It's just a waiting game. It was quite a ride, but to get that call, it's just unbelievable."
Sweet swings seen in big-league stadiums made their way to little league backstops, and backyards around the world, all mimicking 'Junior' throughout the 1990's and even today. That same swing gave Griffey 630 career home runs, a mark only topped in the Hall of Fame by Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
"It's truly an honor to be elected and to have the highest percentage is definitely a shock," Griffey told MLB.com. "I don't think that way. The big thing is to get into the Hall of Fame. As long as you get in, that's what it is. I was really surprised it was so high."
Griffey hit home runs off of 407 different pitchers in 44 different ballparks, according to baseball reference.
"I am really superstitious," Griffey told MLB Network. "I have played in the Hall of Fame Game three times and I've never set foot in the building, I've never even seen the front of it. I've gone directly from the field to the hotel and the hotel to the bus and never looked at the front of it because the one time I wanted to go in there, I wanted to be a member of it."
A players-strike-shortened 1994 season saw Griffey hit 40 home runs in 111 games, but that wasn't the last time fans would wonder: what if?
After a trade to Cincinnati during the 2000 season, Griffey would never play more than 145 games for the final 11 seasons of his career.
Griffey's 162-game average season projects out to 38 home runs, 111 RBI and a .284 batting average. Had Griffey played full seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2004, average numbers would have handed him 73 more homeruns, giving him 703 career long balls. Instead, Griffey suited up for 206 games in three seasons, just 42 percent of the Cincinnati Reds' contest in that timeframe. Give Griffey a full 1995 season in Seattle, instead of just 72 games, and an average season at the plate would now move him ahead of Babe Ruth with 724 career home runs.
But Griffey's 161 games played and 56 home runs in 1998 would end up being career bests. His sometimes reckless, jaw-dropping, jaunts into the centerfield fence to snare sailing home run balls would forever endear him with fans of the national pastime, but bruise his gazelle-like physique.
Griffey grabbed Gold Glove awards every year from 1990 through 1999, while compiling a career .985 fielding percentage. Ruth is the only member of baseball's top five career home run leaders with less plate appearances than the 13-time All-Star, but Griffey shined in the games he buttoned up for. After following his father, Ken Griffey Sr., into the big show in the 1987 amateur draft, Junior played 22 seasons for the Mariners, Reds and Chicago White Sox, claiming the American League's 1997 Most Valuable Player award.
On Wednesday, the 'what if' transformed to 'thank you.' Arguably the best all-around player ever was recognized for bringing baseball from ballparks to backyards, reminding grown-men why they picked up a glove and sending fans soaring and roaring with his impeccable talent in centerfield and at home plate, while remaining 'The Natural.'