Ken Griffey Jr., a 13-time All-Star who retired with 630 career home runs, was honoured with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award prior to Game Four of the World Series on Sunday.
It marked only the 12th time that Major League Baseball has bestowed the award, established in 1998 to recognize achievements and contributions of historical significance.
"You can't measure Ken Griffey Jr.'s impact on his impressive numbers alone," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
"The manner in which he carried himself made him among the most popular players for this past generation. He played the game with a smile and with an enthusiasm that showed how much he loved playing baseball.
"From his knack for stealing home runs (with a spectacular catch) to his swing, which was one of the smoothest, most beautiful that I have ever seen, his ability made him electric to watch."
Griffey guided the Seattle Mariners to their first two postseason berths (1995 and 1997), was the youngest member of MLB's All-Century Team unveiled in 1999, was the unanimous American League MVP in 1997 (.304, 56 home runs, 147 RBIs) and stands fifth on the all-time home run list.
The 10-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder was the first recipient of the award since 2007, when Rachel Robinson was honoured for continuing the legacy of her late husband, Jackie Robinson.
Griffey, the son of former major leaguer Ken Griffey, said he learned respect for the game from the stream of big leaguers who came through his house when he was young, including Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
"Willie is the godfather to all of us, so when he says something, we all just sat there and listened. We were like little kids when he came to the house," Griffey said.
"He would talk to us and we would all sit there like, okay, this is him. The respect that he had for the game, and the things that he went through to play this game, that a lot of us will never know and could never fathom what he had to deal with day in and day out."
Griffey said the message was that the trailblazers for blacks in Major League Baseball had paved the way.
"And from that point on, it was just go out and play. He said, 'We did all the hard work. It's time for you to just go out and play and have fun.' And that's the attitude that we all took."