Griffey nervous on eve of Mariners HOF induction
Seattle legend discusses historic career at team luncheon day before ceremony
SEATTLE -- Ken Griffey Jr. insists he's nervous about getting inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame, an honor that will be completed in a 5:30 p.m. PT ceremony prior to Saturday night's game against the Brewers at Safeco Field.
Speaking in front of 40,000 fans, he says, is a lot more nerve-wracking than playing center field or stepping into the batters' box. So, there will be jitters amid the jokes as he's regaled by former teammates like Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson before being officially inducted as the seventh member of the Mariners Hall.
But let's be honest. There never was any doubt that Griffey would join the company of Alvin Davis (1997), Dave Niehaus (2000), Buhner ('04), Edgar Martinez ('07), Johnson ('12) and Dan Wilson ('12). Nor is there any doubt Griffey will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2016, the first year he becomes eligible for Cooperstown.
Griffey takes none of this for granted, though. And getting inducted into the Mariners Hall is an honor that humbled a man who ranks sixth among baseball's all-time home run leaders with 630, has 13 All-Star games to his credit and won 10 Gold Glove Awards, seven Silver Slugger Awards, four American League home run titles and one American League Most Valuable Player honor ('97).
"I understand what I've done throughout my career," Griffey said, "but this is a joint effort between 25 guys, day in and day out, to have something like this happen."
Those who played with him know better, though. Griffey was one of a kind, on and off the field.
"He was the best center fielder I ever played with," said Johnson, who teamed with Griffey in the mid-90s to put Seattle on the baseball map. "I was just glad I had a part in his highlight films, because I was the guy throwing the pitches that he was saving out there."
"Every time he stepped to the plate, we expected a human highlight," Buhner said. "And he lived up to that."
"To me, he's the greatest player I've ever seen," said current Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, who played with Griffey for the first four years of his career in Seattle. "I haven't seen anybody come close to the things I've witnessed him do."
None of this is breaking news, of course. Griffey's accolades are such a part of Mariners lore that he's widely credited with saving baseball in Seattle for his role in the '95 playoff run when the club was threatening to move to Tampa Bay if a new stadium wasn't built.
Griffey shakes off that notion.
"Jay and Edgar were the heart and soul of that team. I just happened to be that cute face," he said, flashing his trademark grin. "But everybody did their part. It wasn't one person. We just wanted to play baseball. Did we want to move? No. We wanted to be right here."
Griffey, 43, now lives in Orlando, Fla., but remains part of the Mariners organization as a special consultant, working with the Minor League teams on occasion, advising young players and offering his thoughts to management, as well.
But Seattle remains a special place in Griffey's heart, which was why he was moved by Friday's luncheon that precluded Saturday's induction.
"This was my first organization," Griffey said. "They believed in a 17-year-old kid to play baseball. That's what it comes down to. They believed I could change the outfield, change the way things were. And that belief means a lot."
So, too, does the friendship and camaraderie with his former teammates, several of whom precluded him into the Mariners Hall.
"Playing with these guys, growing up with them, they're all my brothers," Griffey said.
One of his former teammates was more than that. Griffey played with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., in '90 and they hit back-to-back home runs against the Angels on Sept. 14, 1990.
The elder Griffey, 63, was in attendance Friday and laughed about grounding his son once in the middle of a game after Junior cut in front of him to make a catch and then said, "Let the sure hands get it." But there was no doubt about the unique bond the two shared.
"Playing with him was a joy," Griffey Sr. said. "The strangest thing I've ever heard was coming to bat the first time we played together against Kansas City and hearing the guy on the on-deck circle say: 'C'mon Dad. Get a hit.' That blew me away."
Griffey was only 20 at the time, but in the ensuing years, as he's become a father himself, those moments have only become more crystallized.
"It's pretty special," Griffey Jr. said. "All the credit goes to him. He's gone through strikes, lockouts, pay cuts and everything else to play the game he loves. I tell everybody, I learned more about hitting in six weeks of watching him than I did actually living in that house, because I could see it firsthand. He batted second and I batted third. … I got to watch him set up pitchers and things I was able to use throughout my career."
His father had one other impact on his life that isn't as well known. Griffey Jr. acknowledged Friday that the reason he wore his hat backward traced back to his dad, as well, though not because his old-school father ever would have worn his cap that way.
"The only reason I wore my hat backward was because my dad had an Afro," Griffey Jr. said. "I couldn't wear his hat without it bouncing in my face, so I just turned it around and wore it backward. From that point on, I just started wearing my hat backward. It wasn't like I was trying to make a fashion statement or anything else. Like every other kid, I just wanted to wear my dad's hat and pants and shoes. He just had a size eight hat and I had like a 5 3/4."
And the rest, as they will be saying a lot at this weekend's festivities, is history.