- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Senior grinned at this manchild he had begotten. "Hey, that was not a bad...." But he thought better of it. Any more praise and his son's head might explode like a hormone-fed pumpkin. "Oh, I'm not even going to tell him," he laughed, turning away.
The Griffeys became the first father and son to play in the major leagues at the same time when Junior made the Mariners last season at 19—a year ahead of the team's timetable and a year behind his own. Junior, the first player selected in the 1987 amateur draft, used to tell his Bellingham (Wash.) teammates in Class A, short season, "I'll be here one week, then move to San Bernardino [Class A, full season], then Double A the week after that. I gotta be in the Show when I'm 18, because I got no money left."
"That was when I was young and dumb," says Griffey, whose rise through the minors was only slightly less meteoric than he had boasted it would be. After playing 53 games in Bellingham, he split the 1988 season between San Bernardino and the Mariners' Double A team in Vermont.
Griffey was expected to spend the '89 season playing Triple A ball in Calgary, but he hit .359 in spring training last year, setting Mariners' records with 33 hits and 21 RBIs. He stole bases, played great defense and generally gave the team no choice but to keep him. When Lefebvre told Griffey, "You're my starting center-fielder," Griffey tried to put the moment in perspective for Seattle reporters. "Those probably are the best words I've ever heard," he said. "At least in the top three." The other two? " 'You can keep the BMW,' and my parents telling me, 'I love you.' "
You can keep the BMW? "He's a teenager, and I don't want him to lose that," Lefebvre said. "He relates more to the batboys than to the players."
Once he stepped onto the field, though, the kid seemed to relate best to destiny. From the start he showed an almost preposterous flair for the dramatic. He doubled in his first official big league at bat. He hit an opposite-field homer on his first swing before the hometown fans in the Kingdome. He hit a game-winning two-run homer in his first pinch-hitting appearance in May. And on Ken Griffey Jr. Poster Day, June 4, the Boy Wonder hit a game-winning home run against Charlie Hough of Texas, the first time he had faced a knuckleballer. One Seattle columnist suggested that the Ken Griffey Jr. candy bar, of which some 800,000 were sold last year, was hardly enough for the lad. Boeing, he wrote, should name a plane after him.
Growing up as the son of a major league star obviously didn't hurt Junior's development. "When he was a kid, he wasn't hanging around with just any baseball team," says Bradley, who, like the rest of the Mariners, watched Griffey's progress with wonderment. "He was hanging around one of the best teams of all time: The Big Red Machine. Pete Rose. Tony Perez. Johnny Bench. So when he comes to the Seattle Mariners, he's supposed to feel like he doesn't belong?"
The remarkable thing was that Griffey was burning up the major leagues without the vaguest knowledge of the pitchers he was facing, or even what pitches they were throwing him. The first time Griffey went to bat against Bert Blyleven, one of his teammates warned him about Blyleven's backdoor curve. "Thanks," Junior said, walking away. Then he came back. "Is Blyleven a lefty or a righty?" he asked.
Some of the writers asked him one day if he figured he would be in the lineup against the Tigers' lefthander, Frank Tanana, a 17-year big leaguer. Griffey, who batted only .212 last year against lefties, replied, "Why wouldn't I play? Who's Tanana, some rookie?"
Mariners outfield coach Rusty Kuntz remembers going over the Orioles' lineup with Griffey, instructing him to play certain hitters to pull and other hitters away. "I told him to play [Cal] Ripken here, [Craig] Worthington here," Kuntz recalls. "And he said, 'O.K.' Then he comes back a minute later and asks, 'Which guy's Ripken again?' To this day, he probably doesn't know who Cal Ripken Jr. is. So I thought, Hmmm. O.K., we'll try it this way. Play all the white guys to pull, and all the black guys away. That seemed to work. He's not stupid, he's just not a student of the game."