Beyond Golf — 23 July 2016 by Jim Street
Sr. knew in ’90 that Jr. had HOF talent

COOPERSTOWN, NY — It wasn’t until they played side-by-side in the Mariners outfield during the final six weeks of the 1990 season that Ken Griffey Sr., realized that the player on his left had Hall of Fame potential.

That player was his oldest son — George Kenneth Griffey Jr.

“I really didn’t find out how good he was until I ended up playing left field in Seattle and found out how much ground he could cover, what kind of player he was on offense and all the home runs,” Senior said. “I played with the Yankees from ’82 to ’86, and I had Don Baylor, Don Mattingly, (Dave) Winfield hitting behind me, and when I went to Seattle and I had my 20-year-old kid hitting behind me, I never saw so many fastballs in my life. That tells you how good he was.”

From playing catch in their backyard in Cincinnati through Friday, it has been quite a trip for the senior Griffey, who watches his son take center stage on Sunday when he’s officially inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

“It’s been an amazing trip,” Senior said while standing outside the Hall of Fame building. “Watching him grow and watching him get better every year.”

Although injuries robbed of Junior Griffey of many games during his career, including a shattered wrist while making one of his sensational catches, he ended his Hall of Fame career with 630 home runs, 13 All-Star Games, 10 Gold Gloves and one MVP Award.

But he might be known more for the way he wore his baseball cap when he wasn’t on the field.

“We used to play catch all the time, and he always wanted to wear my hat,” Senior said, “but it would always fall down over his face. One time he almost got hit because of it. So his best option was to turn it around backwards so he could see. He started doing that as a kid when he was five, six or seven (years old). He’s been doing it for a long time.”

It has been a great ride for the Griffey’s. Both of them were All-Stars. The best family stats belong to Junior, but dad has three World Series rings — two with the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-70s and another with the Yankees.

I have talked to Junior a few times in the past two months and each time I ask him about his induction speech he says it’s still a work in progress. He apparently didn’t ask dad for any assistance.

“I haven’t given him any tips, because most of the time he’s talking off the cuff anyway,” Senior said. “You aren’t sure what’s going to come out of his mouth, and most of you know that. He hasn’t told me anything. He’ll have something really off the cuff about the family. He’ll have plenty to say about me. Once he gets to joking about his dad he doesn’t stop.

“He didn’t ask any for advice, and I wasn’t going to give him any,” he added. “I haven’t been in that situation. The only thing I can tell him is that I’ve got three World Series rings, and he doesn’t have any. But I told him he has the big ring now.”

“I’m just a dad,” he told reporters Friday in Cooperstown, N.Y. “I’m here to support him and smile and grin. Hopefully, I don’t break down.”

“I’m just a dad,” he told reporters Friday in Cooperstown, N.Y. “I’m here to support him and smile and grin. Hopefully, I don’t break down.”

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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