Thursday, January 07, 2016

Congrats to Ken Griffey Jr.

I’m thrilled that Ken Griffey Jr. has been (almost unanimously) elected to join baseball’s Hall of Fame. It was my honor to call his exploits in the early ‘90s when he was really in his prime.

He was an exceptional ballplayer (duh!), had an infectious presence, was terrific with kids (he’s still friends with my son, Matt), and the only flaw I can think of is he was terrible at giving hot foots. Jesus, he set my shoe on fire.

As a practical joker he needed work. But otherwise, he was great fun to be around and easily the most electric ballplayer I ever covered. So many impossible catches and Ruthian line drive home runs that would still be airborne if it weren’t for the Kingdome roof. Thanks to Junior (we always called him “Junior”) I got my voice on ESPN every other night calling one of his highlights.

During my era broadcasting for the Seattle Mariners we had a warm relationship built on mutual respect and merciless teasing. On radio broadcasts I used to relieve Dave Niehaus and do the play-by-play for the third, sixth, and seventh innings. Early in my first season I noted that the Mariners never scored in the third. I began calling it the “Third inning of death” on the air. One day during batting practice Junior gave me shit about that. I said, “Then score some runs and I won’t say it.” He vowed they would score six runs in the third inning that night, but if they did, I had to shave my head. I of course agreed but got Ken to record on-air promos for it.

That night, wouldn’t you know, the M’s got the first two men on. Junior stuck his head out of the dugout, pointed to me, and mimed shaving someone’s head. The next batter struck out, followed by a guy hitting into a double-play. No runs. He ran out to his position shaking his fist at me. But with a huge smile on his face.  And it made for great radio for the listeners. 

He was always available for an interview if I needed him. He signed baseballs for every kid who asked. He made himself available to mentor young players. He would always pay for lunch if we went out. When my partner Dave Niehaus passed away five years ago, Junior flew across the country to attend his memorial service. More than just one of the greatest baseball players of any era, Ken Griffey Jr. is a total mensch. And like I said, I couldn’t be more delighted with his selection to the Hall of Fame. Just keep him away from matches.

31 comments:

Bill Avena said...

Griffey's all right but you have to make allowances for his gigantism, which has plagued him since he played for the Isotopes in the 90s.

Peter said...

I'm one of the readers who isn't into baseball I'm afraid, but I did want to comment just to say you look cool in shades.

Mark said...

That's when I first heard of you, listening to the M's on the radio while I ran around Green Lake! Or driving around, or working at home. It pretty special having a player of that caliber in Seattle. It helped to have broadcasters of such high quality as well, you and Niehaus were great and fun.

How do we get Edgar in?

Mike Barer said...

What a great tribute to Griffey! I only wish he could have stayed here for his entire career.

Matt said...

I now live in Seattle but wasn't a baseball fan and lived someplace in the 90s. When KG Jr came back when he was old I was a bit surprised at the love for him and the hatred for A-Rod. Jr forced his way out of Seattle in a trade for Pookie Reece. A-Rod left as a free agent for $100M. Yet everybody here loves Jr and hates A-Rod.

ally said...

Adding a link to your Dave Niehaus remembrance, because I'm sure he'd be thrilled about Junior.

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2010/11/dave-niehaus-1935-2010.html

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Everyone that loves Baseball, loved Junior.
It was impossible to not respect him.
Not just the way he hit, fielded, threw, ran...
That's talent.

It was the way he played. The way he smiled on field. off field.
The way he handled himself.

I only got to watch him play in person when he came play with Cincinnati. (being an NL fan in NY).
still the smile, still the sweetest swing.

Congrats!

Congrats to Mike Piazza too.
Once I waited online in the heat to get his autograph. He was 30 minutes late. But, He stay almost an hour and a half longer than he was supposed. Until everyone on line got what they needed. And unlike most, he posed for photos.

NOTHING beats his game winningHR against the Braves at Shea, the first day of Baseball in NY after Sept 11.
Still gives me goosebumps.

iain said...

The 3(?) writers who didn't vote for him should have their HOF credentials revoked.

Cliff said...

I've had the great fortune to be a Seattle native, and was able to watch, and listen to the broadcasts during the time Junior was playing for the M's. One note that always made me smile was the first game that Senior played with his son. Junior was heard encouraging his dad when he went up to bat. Nice reversal from the 'normal' parent cheering on the youngster.

And oh yes, I was in the Kingdome that day, or maybe one of the days, when Junior set fire to Ken's shoe. Ken wanted to change Juniors nickname to the Arsonist! Lots of laugh's among us with radio headphones on that day.

Cliff

Unknown said...

Fun years Ken, thanks for helping bring the game to us.

blinky said...

Wow what an awesome human being! I never met him but I did meet a bunch of big stars in the 70's. I worked with Tim McCarver when he was just starting his broadcast career at WPHL in Philly. He was super nice. But most memorable was Reggie Jackson in Ft Lauderdale Spring Training when I was shooting head shots for the lineups on ABC Monday Night Baseball. I asked him if I could take his picture and he said "I don't give a F#%@ what you do, man!" Class act.

LouOCNY said...

Donora,PA now has two Hall of Famers born there on November 21...the other, of course being Stan Musial; who played with Junior's grandfather Buddy Griffey in high school.

Bryan said...

One of the great gags in Mariners history involved Junior losing some sort of bet with Lou Piniella such that Junior owed Lou a steak dinner. So he had a live cow put in Lou's office. The chemistry of that era was electric. And the team was great fun to watch. It all revolved around the Kid.

Sam said...

I grew up in Atlanta during the 90's and even among a number of great players at the time - including half the hometown Braves - there was something really special about the Kid. He always had a smile on his face and it made it fun to love baseball. A great player, it's wonderful to hear personal anecdotes of what a great guy he is too. Congrats!

blinky said...

Ken Griffey sounds like one great human. I hear in general baseball players are nicer then football players. At least they don't do a little dance every time they make a play. I met a lot of baseball stars in the late 70's when I was shooting head shots for ABC Monday Night Baseball in Florida Spring training including Ken Griffey Sr and Pete Rose. Shot a commercial with Tug McGraw who was very cool. Reggie Jackson was the one I remember most. I asked him if he would mind if I took his picture and he said " I don't give a F%$# what you do man!"

Michael said...

As trite as it is to say it, Ken Griffey, Jr., played the game the way it's supposed to be played. As Wilver Stargell once said, "They don't say work ball. They say play ball." And Junior's relationship with The Veteran Spieler is all you really need to know about him, isn't it?

Funny, though: he's still the second greatest player to come out of Donora, Pennsylvania. He's Junior, but only one will ever be The Man.

Unknown said...

I was at the Tigers game when he hit a 103 or 104 (there's some difference about which it was, apparently) Joel Zumaya fastball way out in the seats in right-center for a grand-slam home run.

Anonymous said...

Matt Morris of the Cardinals gave up Junior's 500th home run. It was in St. Louis and most fans anywhere would applaud, the ovation he got gives me goosebumps everytime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug4gEWeaKLw



Yeah, St. Louis is a shit town.

Pam, St. Louis

Igor said...

I'm a middling sports fan. True fans would say I'm no fan at all. But I know this: Some of the best stuff ever written, the best stories ever told, are about baseball. Great one today, Ken.

Nixon said...

As we can see from the comments, Ken Griffey Jr is one of those rare players who was so good at his sport that we can clearly remember individual things that he did. They included performances in the field as well as at bat. There are very few players that we can say that about.
The one I remember was when he and his father hit back-to-back home runs in a game. We'll probably never see that again.

Diane D. said...

Beautiful post, Ken! I didn't know he was such a great person; just a great baseball player.

Unknown, whoever you are, I can't believe you got to see him hit a grand slam home-run! I only saw one of those in my life, but it was hit by my 9 year old little boy, so I couldn't have been more excited if any major league star had hit it!

Leo L. said...

I was lucky enough to get to see KGJr. play his entire Mariner career, 1st and 2nd acts. I've been around a while and have seen lots and lots of players. Nobody is Griffey's equal. He was the definition of the 5-tool player. Mariner fans waited a long, long time for their team to come together, and when Griffey came up in 89, along with Little O and Edgar started to get substantial playing time, they turned the corner. It took a couple of years and the addition of Sweet Lou, but then I felt we finally had a major league team.

FRIDAY QUESTION: What's with Piazza's continuing animosity toward the Dodgers? He's always struck me as a good and decent man, as well as a hell of hitter, but he seems to take that grudge to a nuclear level. I'm glad to see him in the HOF too, but just curious about his anti-LA posture.

Frank Beans said...

Did he ever recover from his bout of gigantism in the early 90s from drinking too much of Mr. Burns's brain & nerve health tonic?

John in Ohio said...

Jr was one of the few that opposing fans seemed to universally respect. It is always good to see good things happen to good people
@blinky
I remember a quote many years ago from
Dion sanders where he talked about carrying himself differently when he played baseball as opposed to football.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great post. I count myself fortunate to have seen Junior when he played against the Cardinals in Saint Louis. Unfortunatly for St. Louis fans Junior owned the Cardinals.

The only thing I don't understand is what the three who didn't vote for him were thinking and what there standards for admission are to be in the Hall?

Congratulations Junior and Mike Piazza too!

Kyle Burress said...

I only got the pleasure of seeing him play once. It was towards in end of his career when he played in Cincinnati. It was 2004 and they were playing the Giants. He hit two homers and Bonds hit zero. It was awesome. I believe it was also the day Ronald Reagan died.

I'm a Tigers fan now, but at the time I really didn't have an allegiance. I have the utmost respect for Junior and am so happy for him. I'm even more honored to have gotten the chance to see him play.

Mike Barer said...

The trade for Griffey was instrumental in the later success of the Mariners. Ex Red Mike Cameron filled in quite nicely at center field and a couple of other players acquired in the trade, filled in quite nicely. On the other hand, the Reds, who were contenders, started sputtering, probably a consequence of losing some very good role players.

Unknown said...

I gave up following baseball during the strike many years ago. Difficult to take sides when billionaires are battling millionaires, and the peanut/beer vendors are the ones that suffer(tip your beer guy, you carry that much up and down stairs).
But your description Jr, which I have heard other says, just speaks 1 word. Class. Why didn't you ever have him do a guest spot on Frazier since it was Seattle?

Roger Owen Green said...

Do you have a ballot for the BB HOF? If not, if you had had a ballot,who would you have voted for this year?

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

At least he overcame that period when he suffered from gigantism.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/rapgenius/1359552005_griffey.simpsons.jpg

Mike Doran said...

"The 3 guys who didn't vote for Ken Griffey ..."
... most likely were older writers who assumed that Griffey was going to get in on the first ballot anyway, and meanwhile their old buddy Joe Shlabotnik was in his final year of eligibility ...

I remember how Chicago was forever up in arms - and ready to take up arms - because Ron Santo kept missing out by a handful of votes ...