Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ken Griffey Jr.

Wow. You know time is really passing quickly when “the Kid” retires.

Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement after 22 magnificent seasons in the big leagues. I was privileged to be with him for three of those years when I broadcast for the Seattle Mariners in the early 90s.

Back then the only reason anyone bothered to follow the Mariners was to thrill to the exploits of Ken Griffey Jr. How bad were we when we routinely lost 90+ games WITH Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime?

His nickname was “the Kid” but we just called him Junior. I’d go up to him in batting practice and say I was working on a new home run call so could he please hit two that night? I wanted to hear how it sounded. Damned if he didn’t a couple a nights. That’s the kind of accommodating guy he is.

He finishes with 630 homers -- fifth on the all-time list -- and 1,836 RBIs. And those totals would have been far greater were it not for numerous injuries – injuries sustained because he played so hard. Junior would routinely crash into walls chasing down fly balls. If he played the outfield like Manny Ramirez he’d probably have 800 home runs by now.

More than anything else, he loved playing the game, had FUN playing the game and that enthusiasm and spirit was infectious. He’s very genuine. When you saw him clowning around with his teammates or talking to kids in the stands there was nothing remotely calculated about it. That was him. He had a great smile (HAS a great smile – I don’t want to make it seem like he’s dead) and the kind of positive attitude you wish rubbed off on everybody.

He gave shitty hot foots though. He once set my shoe on fire. That’s not how you do it! But there was that electric smile as I frantically tried to put it out before my leg was engulfed in flames.

My son Matt was just 10 when I started working for the M’s and needles to say, Junior was his favorite player. A couple of years ago when Junior was with the White Sox Matt bumped into him in the clubhouse. (Matt does stringer work for one of the sports networks). Junior recognized him, even though it had been years. And they sat for about fifteen minutes.

When my broadcast partner, Dave Niehaus got word that he had been selected for the Hall of Fame one of the first calls of congratulation came from Junior. Hell, Junior called before me.

You’ll notice you never heard his name associated with any scandals, any steroid use, any incidents involving strippers in Toronto. Junior truly is a devoted family man. The main reason he wanted to be traded from Seattle to Cincinnati was because that’s where he grew up and he felt it was an ideal place to raise his kids. Getting a World Series ring is nice, bringing up your children right is nicer.

I wish him the very best in whatever he now does. Here’s looking at you, Kid.

22 comments:

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

As a fan that listened to you call games back in the 90s, you summed up Junior perfectly.

By the way, one of my fondest Ken Levine memories occurred when the team was playing in Boston and you noted how much you enjoyed saying the name "Bob Zupcic".

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Ken. Junior really is a class act. I don't think Cincinnati fans appreciated him enough for that.

Max Clarke said...

Some milestones and retirements take you by surprise. I just found out Caddyshack is 30 years old. I've got the 20 anniversary DVD, but the idea that it's 30 years old is hard to believe.

Junior should be a unanimous selection. Not sure if that's ever happened, aside from the 1945 picks.

Mike Barer said...

Actually two of Seattle's greatest athletes have hung it up. All Pro Left Tackle Waler Jones of the Seahawks and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I like your home run story better than Babe Ruth and the kid in the hospital.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken...When my son, Kelle, was about 10 or 11 years old, we took him to a Dodgers/Reds game at Dodger Stadium just so he could see 'Junior' play. We sat in the left field pavilion just in case he decided to unload for one of his 600+ home runs. He was always Kelle's favorite player so he wore a red 'Griffey' jersey. Everyone else in the pavilion kept booing at Griffey (for reasons I have yet to understand). Kelle was the ONLY one who was cheering for him and finally got his attention. Griffey looked over at us and saw Kelle's jersey and waved at him. Wouldn't you know it, in the very next inning he hit a home run exactly where we were sitting. Like he knew where his fan was. That baseball is still a treasure in my son's collection.

dodoy said...

he is such a the best player of all time, and considering as a super MVP.
i hope i can play as he do.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

I'm a lifelong Yankees fan, but there are some players you have to root for, whatever team they're on. Junior was one of them. (Likewise I rooted just as hard against Roger Clemens when he wore pinstripes as red sox.)

Kelle Leonard said...

I'm here to expand upon my dad's telling of the story, since he saw the article before I did. They were booing Griffey for the game winning home run he hit the night before. Right after the inning where Griffey had turned and given me a nod, in response to my endless support throughout the first few innings, I had made my way to one of the Dodgers' lovely pavilion bathrooms. I remember Ross Porter announcing he had come up to bat, right as I was making my way to the sinks. How I didn't know he was coming up is beyond me. Blame the brain of a kid. So I'm washing my hands as the first couple pitches are announced. And then it happens. "It's a long fly ball..." I can still hear it. And I bolt. I ran as fast as I could out of the bathroom, through the crowds of people waiting on Dodger dogs and nachos, and up the steps back toward my seat. As I hit the top of the stairs, I see it making it's descent. It's a race between me and the ball, and it comes down no more than three seats from where I've been the whole game. I was not first to the ball, of course, and I'll leave out the details, but let's just say I ended up with the HR ball not because I'm a little kid, who's a die-hard Griffey fan, but because I offered $25, and another guy was only willing to go $20. Got to love capitalism. To sum it up. It was his 555th home run. This is why I have never stopped being a Griffey fan. I was 9 when this all happened. I'm now 19, going into my second year of college, and I just moved into my own place. I feel old, but that memory is as fresh as it was ten years ago. That ball is getting a prime spot on my desk.

Long Live Junior!

Mike said...

I call BS. Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 555th home run four years ago (not ten years ago) on 7/13/2006 at a Cincinnati home game (not away) against the Colorado Rockies (not the Dodgers) to right field (not left).

WV: whoogia - like a whopper, only bigger.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

He was a stellar player, all right, but he may have stayed a year or two beyond his abilities. It was sad to watch him this season, unable to hit. I think he should have been hired as a third base coach. God knows the guy they have there now sends more runner to die at home than Dr. Kivorkian.

Kelle Leonard said...

In reply to Mike, I'm sorry that I must have the home run number incorrect. However, to call BS on a story that is one of my fondest memories from growing up, is not only rude, but offensive. I moved out for college and that ball was placed in a box for storage until I had a place to call my own. I now have that place, but have yet to find the box. Being that I have not seen the ball in over a year, I thought that was the home run, but was merely going based on memory.

So, no, my story is not BS. In fact, why would I take the time to come up with such an elaborate story in honor of one the greatest players from the past two decades? I could have just said I was fan. Maybe next time you should just state that the number is incorrect, instead of calling someone's childhood memory a lie. I'm sure you have plenty of memories that have taken on variations with age. It's just what happens.

Jeff said...

Ken, listening to you (and Dave Niehaus) on the radio and watching Junior were about the only things to keep us M's fans going in those lean years before 1995.

One small correction though: Junior is #4 on the all-time HR list (at least the non-steroid-enhanced list).


WV: preashin -- what a preacher does when he's had too much liquor

carlae said...

I was in at the Kingdome the night that Griffey Sr and Griffey Jr, hit back to back home runs. That was so cool!
I unfortunately lived in Cincinnati in 1995 and distracted myself from the very recent death of my father, by going from bar to bar to watch the games. This was also the year all the play off games were on at the same time. But no Mariners on TV in Ohio, the Reds and the Indians were also in the play offs, so the Mariners got bumped. Good times!

Jeff said...

They didn't hit back-to-back homers at the Kingdome. That happened in Anaheim.

FlipYrWhig said...

For the Leonards:

Griffey hit HRs on back to back days, while playing for Cincy, in LA, on 8/1 and 8/2/2001. He also homered @ LA on 5/23/2000.

I'm working from a list of every Griffey HR, posted at http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/griffey600/index.jsp

One of those is probably the occasion you remember.

WV: dicateri. Um, the Danceteria is to dancing as the Dicateri is to...

Mike said...

Yes Kelle, you're right. I'm sorry you perceived my post as attacking the credibility of your story. I only meant to call BS on the HR number. I don't doubt the veracity of the rest of your story. Thanks for sharing.

The Leonards said...

To Flip YrWhig...THANK YOU very much for clarifying the games that Griffey hit home runs against the Dodgers in 2001. It is very much appreciated.

Kelle Leonard said...

FlipYrWhig...Thanks for that link, I had searched all over for a complete list. It was indeed home run 448 on August 2nd. I knew it had repeated numbers in it.

And thanks Mike. There's the real number. Home runs on back-to-back days, hit to left field.

I also guess I had turned 10 by this game.

Nevertheless, one of my greatest childhood memories.

Kelle Leonard said...

FlipYrWhig...Thanks for that link, I had searched all over for a complete list. It was indeed home run 448 on August 2nd. I knew it had repeated numbers in it.

And thanks Mike. There's the real number. Home runs on back-to-back days, hit to left field.

I also guess I had turned 10 by this game.

Nevertheless, one of my greatest childhood memories.

GMJ said...

The first MLB game I attended this season was May 31, 2010. The Minnesota Twins played the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. If I knew that the game was gonna be Griffey's last at bat, I would've taken a few pictures.

Thank you for your personal memories.