You see the number ’24’ and instantly think of this no-brainer, first-ballot Hall of Famer.
After all, he owned the 1990s, helping to usher his sport into the mainstream, newfound digital age while carrying a certain degree of coolness everywhere he went.
Not to mention he could hit a baseball into the upper deck at any stadium he walked into with a swing so pretty you’d buy a ticket just to get a peek at batting practice.
No, not Jeff Gordon — but Ken Griffey Jr.
Following the four-time champion Gordon’s near-unanimous election to NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday evening, the two long-time pals are both now the highest vote-getters of any inductee in their respective sport’s history.
Griffey had been seen as one of the most likely players to receive 100 percent of the vote when called upon for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Class of 2016 inductee fell just short, receiving 437 of 440 votes — 99.32 percent. Gordon, of course, also fell just short, receiving 96 percent of the vote.
And the similarities between them don’t stop there.
The rainbow paint scheme and fire suit. The backward hat. From a strictly visual standpoint, each of these two athletes had their iconic “look” that was unprecedented at the time, and has been unmatched since.
For even the most fringe of sports fans, if you didn’t pay attention to a lick of stock car racing or baseball — you knew damn well who Jeff Gordon and Ken Griffey Jr. were.
And it’s because — despite the prime of their careers coming in an age of physical newspapers, magazines and dial-up internet — they managed to break through the ceiling of stardom within their sport to where they became a fixture of American pop culture.
A quick glance at their IMDB pages reveals a whopping 156 credits combined, and on some of the most-watched programming of the era. Gordon hosted Saturday Night Live, appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, showed up on Arli$$ and Spin City — the list goes on. Griffey’s resume includes a lineup of Arli$$ as well, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Little Big League, Summer Catch (hey, remember Freddie Prinze Jr.?) and even The Simpsons.
Along with the TV and film credits — if you’d taken a casual perusal around the aisles of your local Blockbuster back in the day (hey, remember Blockbuster?), there’s a great chance you would’ve spotted their mugs. Gordon and Griffey both graced the covers of multiple video game franchises, from NASCAR 98 and Jeff Gordon XS Racing to Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest.
They even shared a soft-drink sponsor, and you may recall being greeted by life-sized, cardboard cutouts of them as you entered your local supermarket, as I do.
They even shared a foursome with Tiger Woods back in 1997, participating in the golf legend’s Tiger & Friends match at Isleworth Country Club (along with Chris O’Donnell, remember him?)
You get the gist by now.
Their careers have followed eerily-similar trajectories all the way down to Wednesday, when their Hall of Fame voting percentages were nearly identical — but equally incredible.
The eeriness continued even after both had retired. Having just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame weeks earlier, Griffey Jr. was named the honorary starter for the 2016 Daytona 500. The first car to pass under the flag stand as the home run legend waved the green flag for the Great American Race?
The No. 24 Chevrolet.
“I got a chance to play golf (in 1997) with a certain race car number, driver No. 24,” Griffey said at the time, according to FOX Sports. “I’m really superstitious about certain things. He’s no longer racing, but I hear he’s in the building so I’m going to definitely go visit him, but waving the green flag, 24 will be the first car coming by, which is pretty cool, too.”
With Gordon’s induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame set to take place next January ahead of the 2019 season, perhaps we’ll see Griffey Jr. there to see his friend honored on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
After all, Gordon made sure to give the longtime Seattle Mariners center fielder props following his induction, appearing on the jumbotron at Safeco Field with fellow No. 24 and likely future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.
“Hey Ken, Jeff Gordon here. Been a long time, man. We’ve been friends for quite awhile and I’ve gotta say — it’s a big debate of who represented that 24 the best. Was it Kobe? Was it me? Was it you? That’s a debate that I think will go on forever and all I can say is I’m really proud to be your friend and I’m really proud of what you’ve done on the field and off the field.”
While neither was able to come up with the golden goose of a unanimous, 100 percent of a Hall of Fame election there’s only one number that matters to two of the all-time greats and it’s the one that will bind them together forever — 24.