Griffey's speed made up for a lot of his positioning gaffes, and he finished the year with 12 assists and six double plays, the latter tops among American League outfielders. He seemed to be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors until he broke a bone in his left hand in some sort of off-field mishap. There were reports that he hurt himself pounding a table after an argument with his former girlfriend, but Griffey denies that and says the accident occurred when he slipped in the shower in his hotel bathroom. Whatever, the injury put him on the disabled list from July 24 to August 20. When he returned, he was a different hitter. "He was trying to catch up with the other Rookie of the Year candidates with one swing," says Lefebvre. "Pretty typical for a 19-year-old kid, really. He lost his poise."
"I was worrying about hitting the ball 700 feet," says Griffey. "I just wanted 20 home runs."
He placed third in the Rookie of the Year balloting, finishing the season with 16 homers after hitting 13 before the All-Star break. He hit just .181 in September and October, dropping his average for the year to .264. Still, for a 19-year-old who had never played Triple A ball, his 61 RBIs, 61 runs and 16 stolen bases in 127 games made for a titillating debut.
So far this season he hasn't disappointed. If he keeps mashing the ball the way he has in the past two weeks, Griffey may eclipse his 1989 totals by July. "The difference between last year and this year is night and day," says Clines. "He's better now. More disciplined."
Disciplined? Junior? You would never know it from watching him laughing and clowning during batting practice—at least until a reporter comes around. Griffey was shell-shocked by last year's media crunch: The story of the first father-son tandem in the big leagues was done by all the major newspapers, sports magazines, morning talk shows, PEOPLE, Newsweek, Nightline. When he is interviewed, he becomes a completely different person: He is curt, vague, distracted and fidgety. It is the one part of his job that he suffers rather than enjoys. Other than that, the major leagues are a lark, and around his teammates Griffey is about as happy-go-lucky as they come. "He has so much fun out there that he completely forgets what's going on," says Clines.
Which is what happened last Thursday when the Yankees brought in rookie reliever Alan Mills to face Griffey with runners on first and second and two out in the seventh inning. As Mills warmed up, Griffey was joking in the on-deck circle with Mariners first baseman Pete O'Brien, looking around the stands, laughing. Then he strode to the plate, worked the count to 3 and 1 and smacked a fly ball to deep center, albeit into the glove of centerfielder Roberto Kelly for the third out. Says Bradley, "We had no scouting report on Mills, no one had ever faced him, and Griffey didn't even bother to check out his motion. Then he steps in and has a great at bat. One thing you know about him, he's not going to outthink himself."
"It just adds more pressure to know what a guy throws," says Griffey. "You start looking for this or that, and all of a sudden he's snuck a 37-mile-per-hour fastball by you." Consequently, Griffey eschews studying videotapes to try to pick up a pitcher's patterns and does not keep a little black book on pitchers' strengths and weaknesses. Keep a book? Good heavens. He can't even keep their names straight.
"I still can't tell you who's who," Griffey admits. "I don't know who's pitching tonight. I don't even know the schedule. How am I supposed to know who's pitching? I couldn't care less. He's still got to throw me something I can hit."
And, for Junior, that is when the fun really begins.