Baseball's greatest father-son duo ham it up during our exclusive interview
The greatest father-son duo in baseball, Ken Griffey Sr., 66, and Ken Griffey Jr., 46, have teamed up again to raise awareness for prostate cancer with MenWhoSpeakUp.com. But anytime the two get together, stories start flying out of the park as far and fast as the 782 home runs they combined to hit during two remarkable baseball careers that spanned from 1973 to 2010.
Talk about your experience with prostate cancer…
Senior: I had four uncles that passed with prostate cancer, and there were four brothers and myself in my family. We knew we had a family history of prostate cancer, and my mother made sure we were aware of it, and we talked about it constantly in my house.
I didn’t get to chemo and all of that because I was diagnosed early. But it’s something when you go to your doctor, you have to talk about. A lot of men do not talk about prostate cancer. It’s a macho-type thing, they don’t want to talk about it because it’s embarrassing. We have to get men to the point where they speak up about prostate cancer.
How difficult was it to speak with your family about your diagnosis?
Senior: My wife and I were both diagnosed with cancer the same week, and she was diagnosed with colon cancer and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was upset because she had gotten diagnosed, and she felt the same way when she found out I had been diagnosed with cancer.
How did you deal with the news of your mother and father being diagnosed?
Junior: It was tough. You have one mom and one dad and they both get diagnosed. It’s your parents, and you hear the word “cancer” and it makes it tough. During that time, baseball wasn’t high on my priorities list.
On a brighter note, you are going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. Have you worked on your speech at all?
Junior: Well, I haven’t started yet, but I think I may have to start writing something down. My friends think I should recite Prince — “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” (from 1984’s “Let’s Go Crazy”) — to start off my speech.
One of my friends I grew up with, he was like, “I’ll write your speech, and you’ll be done in 15 minutes.” It’s been fun listening to the guys that I’m close to talk about, “This is what you need to say,” like they’re up there with me. “You’re gonna start off with Prince, and then go into Earth, Wind and Fire.”
Senior: You’re going with the greats of the music industry.
You received a record 99.3 percent, or 437 of 440 possible votes, for the Hall of Fame. Should you have gotten 100 percent of the vote?
Junior: I worry about the 437 who did vote and not the three that didn’t. It isn’t that big of a deal. Everybody is putting emphasis on the negative, and I try to focus on the positive, that 437 guys said okay. I think that’s more important to me than the three that didn’t.
You still broke the record.
Senior: Yeah. It was one of my teammates who he took the record from too, Tom Seaver.
People have joked that you’re going to wear your cap backwards on your Hall of Fame plaque, what’s your reaction to that?
Junior: No it’ll be forward.
Senior: It’ll be backwards.
Junior: Eh, it’ll be backwards. Because I wore it so much backwards that backwards is forward.
Senior: He’s not sure, so it’ll be forward and backward and in between, he’ll figure it out one way or another. But I think it’ll be backward.
Senior, you had a unique perspective being a big league ballplayer and being on Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine,” a team chock full of Hall of Famers. When did you know that Junior would be, maybe not a Hall of Famer, but a big league regular and potential star?
Senior: When I couldn’t strike him out at age 14, that’s when I found out he had something special. I threw batting practice with him a lot in Yankee Stadium, on weekends he would fly up and I threw a lot of batting practice. When he told me when he was 12 that he wanted to be a major league player, then we looked at doing something different in terms of batting practice and how I threw it to him. I did everything I could possibly do to strike him out and when he hit 14 I couldn’t do it, so I knew he had something special.
You won two World Series with Pete Rose in Cincinnati. Should he be in the Hall of Fame?
Senior: Pete should be in the Hall of Fame no matter what. He had more hits than anybody. What he did out on the field is what he should be voted into the Hall of Fame for.
Junior, what was it like coming up to the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners and being on your dad’s team?
Senior: I was on his team, you gotta understand.
Junior: He made it easy. He made it real easy.
Senior: He was the man.
Junior: He said, “This is your team, I’m just happy to be here.” When he said that, that was all I needed to hear. And I had to cover his side of the outfield along with mine.
Senior: I covered every bit of three square feet in the outfield. I don’t care what he’s saying; I covered my portion of left field. The rest of it was on him.
Well, Junior had range…
Senior: He had a little bit of range. My range was good too. I covered three square feet; my range was excellent.
Junior: What he’s trying to say is he was Sabermetrics before Sabermetrics was even popular.
Senior: Watch your mouth, boy. Watch your mouth.
Maybe the coolest father-son moment in sports history came in 1990, when you two hit back-to-back home runs as teammates. What do you remember about that night?
Senior: The back-to-back homers was a situation where I already hit mine first. Harold Reynolds was on first base, and I’m rounding third base and I see (Junior) congratulating Harold and I come up and (Junior) congratulates me, but I knew his concentration level just changed. It went from one extreme to the highest level. You could see it in his eyes. I figured he was gonna try to do something a little different. I didn’t think that much of it because Harold and I were talking as we went back to the dugout. But Harold says, “You know if he hits a home run it’ll be the first time a father and son ever hit a home run together.” I said, “You gotta be kidding.” I wasn’t thinking that way.
Then I thought it would be impossible when he had a 3-0 count. I figured (Angels pitcher) Kirk McCaskill was gonna walk him, but then he takes a sinker and hits it out of left field and the rest is history. He was so excited when he got to me, he was probably more excited about that home run than all of the other home runs he hit his whole career.
We had a great time with it. I enjoyed myself playing with him. I found out what type of player he really was, because of the fact I didn’t see him play that much. All I heard from Seattle was, “this kid, this kid, this kid,” and when I got a chance to play with him I understood what they were talking about.
What’s your memory of that night?
Junior: Not embarrassed to say, as a son you always want to get validation from your dad. He touched home plate and he said, “That’s how you do it, son.” As he gets older his story seems to vary and change.
Senior: My story stays consistent. With everything I said. He knows that (my home run) went further. He knows that. I hit mine to left centerfield, his just went down the line.
Junior: His went further. Mine went out faster.
Senior: Because you hit it to the shortest side of the field! You only hit it 310. Mine went over 450.
Junior: C’mon man! It didn’t go 450.
Senior: What do you mean it didn’t go 450?
Junior: It didn’t go 450.
Senior: You’re trying to tell me I’m telling a fib, man.
Junior: You have fabricated this story.
Senior: Being 66, I can say anything I want and it’ll be the truth.