(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the program saluting Ken Griffey Jr.’s induction into the Mariners’ Hall of Fame on Saturday, August 10. The Mariners organization gave Golferswest.com permission to use it.)
(Italics) The best seasons of Ken Griffey Sr.’s MLB career occurred in the mid-1970s, when he was an integral part of Cincinnati’s World Series champion Big Red Machine. But before he reached the big-leagues, he produced a son, named him George Kenneth Griffey Jr., and big-league history would be made almost 20 years later when they became Mariners teammates — in August, 1990. Less than a month later, on Sept. 14, they made history again. To this day, Senior, who currently manages the Reds’ minor league team in Bakersfield, Calif., remembers it well, and what led up to that most memorable game against the Angels in Anaheim.
How I became a Mariner, and Junior’s teammate, is a story in itself. I was in my second stint with the Cincinnati Reds when, on August 26, Lou (manager Lou Piniella) called me into his office. He told me the team needed a roster spot and I had one of three choices – go to Triple-A and be re-called on Sept. 1, when rosters were expanded, retire, or get released.
I told him in a nice way that I had nothing to prove in the minors, I wouldn’t get paid the rest of my salary if I retired, and if I got released some of my Reds teammates would be upset. Lou assured me that I would get my money so I met with the players and told them I was retiring. I went home and was watching a game on TV when Tim McCarver started talking about my retirement. He said, ‘That’s a shame because it would be a great story if he could go to Seattle and play with his son. The only problem is once you retire, you have to wait 60 days before you can be reinstated and there are only 30-some days left in the (regular) season.’
Bill White (the National League President) called me and asked me if I really wanted to retire. I told him I didn’t, but didn’t think I had a better choice. He told not to do or say anything until he got back to me. It turned out that he called Marge (Reds owner Marge Schott) and Woody (Mariners GM Woody Woodward) and arranged for me to be released by the Reds and sign with the Mariners. Junior didn’t even know about it until I got to Seattle. I don’t recall us ever talking about someday becoming teammates, but when it happened, it was a highlight in both of our careers.
The first time Junior and I played in the same game was on August 31 against the Royals at the Kingdome. We hit bat-to-back singles off Storm Davis in the first inning, becoming the first father-son to get back-to-back hits in a (MLB) game. A week later (Sept. 7), we were in Boston and I hit a home run in the first inning off Mike Boddicker.
When I approached home plate, I made eye contact with Junior and it seemed like his mind was somewhere else. He was kind of preoccupied by something else and I didn’t even think about what it might be. I never thought that if he hit a home run, it would be the first time in (MLB) history that it had been done. Junior walked.
I never gave back-to-back home runs by a father and son any thought and we never talked about it. But Junior and Harold Reynolds were very aware that it never had been done before. I think Harold was the first one to mention it to Junior, or vice versa.
In most of the games we were in the same lineup, (Mariners manager) Jim Lefebvre batted me second and Junior third. Our next chance to hit back-to-back jacks came at home (Sept. 10) against the Oakland A’s. I hit a three-run homer off Bob Welch in the fourth inning and when Junior met me on the way to the dugout he had the same expression that he had in Boston. He grounded out.
I honestly think he was trying too hard to hit a home run both times.
A few days later, we were in Anaheim for a series against the Angels. I didn’t play in the first game of the series because the Angels started left-hander Chuck Finley. We lost that game and I was back in the lineup the next night, batting second, against right-hander Kirk McCaskill. Junior batted third.
I fell behind the in the count 0-and-2 in the first inning and then hit a ball over the fence in left-center for my third home run as a Mariner. Again, Junior was the first one to greet me (at home plate) and this time, he was a little more relaxed. I could see something was different. He was just relaxed. I asked him if he was alright and he said he was fine. As soon as I sat down, Harold came up to me and said, ‘If he hits a home run, it will be the first time a father and son hit back-to-back home runs in the major leagues.’ And sure enough, Junior hit one to left-center, in almost the exact same place I did.
McCaskill did not want to throw him a strike. The count was 3-0 when Junior hit the home run — a line-drive pea. He was smiling as he ran around the bases. See, he already knew what was going on. I really didn’t think about it. He was really excited. When came into the dugout, he immediately looked for me. I usually went to the far end of the dugout, but I had walked all the way up and was standing by Lefebvre. Junior found me and that’s when he hugged me and said, ‘Congratulations dad, we did it.’
I told him, ‘no, you did it.’ Mine was the easy one, the first one. We didn’t really celebrate after the game. I don’t know where Junior went, but I went back to my hotel room and made some calls.
It has been almost 23 years since it happened and I’m not sure it will ever happen again. If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t, that would be just as great.
(Note: The Griffeys had one other chance to hit back-to-back home runs – on May 22, 1991, when Junior, batting ahead of Senior, hit a two-out solo home run in the ninth inning against the Royals in Kansas City. Senior Griffey flied out to left field to end the game. A car accident during spring training in 1992 ended Senior’s playing career.)
Jim Street covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (1986-98) and MLB.com (2001-10). His recently-published book “Life From the Press Box” is available at Mariners Team Stores, MLB Store and Amazon.com.