March Item: Ken Griffey Remembers

I recently spoke with my old Donora High School classmate, Ken Griffey Sr. who had some interesting stories to share.

Griffey related a time he was in left field for the Yankees and fellow speedster Rickey Henderson was in center (probably in 1995). “The ball was hit in the gap by Damaso Garcia,” began Griffey, and I’m backing Rickey up, going behind him. Rickey threw the ball, but he threw it behind him, right at me. When he went back to cock his arm, it just came out of his hand and went right over my head. I thought he was throwing at me. I’m wondering, ‘Where the heck you throwing the ball.’ He fell on the ground laughing, couldn’t even get up—I had to help him up he was laughing so hard.

“After the game, [Yankee manager] Yogi Berra comes in to me and he says, ‘You gotta’ come in tomorrow and take ground balls and [make] throws back into the infield.’ I said, ‘For what?!’ He said, ‘That throw you made out there.’” Griffey reminded him that he had not made the wild throw and he said, “To be honest with you, I didn’t go in because it wasn’t me that threw it. I told him, ‘You need to go talk to Rickey.’”

Merv Rettenmund, who was a teammate of Griffey’s in Cincinnati, said he believed the Big Red Machine’s lineup would have been somewhat improved if Griffey, and not Pete Rose, had been the leadoff hitter. In that spot Griffey’s blazing speed would have better been utilized. As it was, Griffey wound up with 200 career stolen bases for a lofty success rate of 71%. He enjoyed a single season high of 34 in 1976, the year his Reds won their second consecutive World Series–this one with a sweep of the Yankees. In that four-game set, Griffey hit a lusty .385. When Griffey hit in front of Joe Morgan, he rarely got the green light to steal because Morgan found it distracting to have runners in motion while he was at the plate. Who knows how many additional bases Griffey would have stolen if he hadn’t been shackled at times.

Griffey also felt he could have wound up with a lifetime batting average of .300 (he ended his long career at .296) if he hadn’t been required to hit against some of the toughest left-handed pitchers around at one point when he was with the Yanks. Instead of having a right-handed hitter face the likes of Mike Flanagan, Bob Ojeda, Tippy Martinez, and Scott McGregor, Berra inked the left-handed hitting Griffey into the lineup. Conventional baseball thinking would have had fellow Yankee outfielder Omar Moreno face such pitchers.

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