The last blog featured some info on Ken Griffey Sr. This one begins with a story about a young Ken Griffey Jr. from an interview I did with Seattle sportswriter Larry Stone, a man who did a piece on Griffey and Donora, Pa. some years back.
Stone covered the Mariners when Ken Griffey Jr. was a rookie. “He was 19-years-old and fighting to make the team. At first the Mariners didn’t want him to make the ball club because they thought he needed more seasoning, but he was the best player in all of Arizona. So he was going to make the team.
“The manager, Jim Lefebvre, called him into his office on the last day of spring and told him that the Mariners had just traded for Dale Murphy and he was going to play centerfield. He said he was sorry to tell him this, but he had to go back down to the minor leagues. Junior was crushed, almost in tears.
“Lefebvre said, ‘Do you know what day it is today?’ Griffey goes, ‘No,’ so Lefebvre said, ‘Open the door.’ When he opened the door to the office, the entire team was out there. They yelled, ‘April Fools.’”
Quick item about Senior from a recent interview: Western Pennsylvanians who were around in 1960 remember that as a landmark season for the Pirates and most of us still remember where we were when they clinched the World Series versus the dynastic Yankees.
Griffey Sr. is no exception. He was in sixth grade (along with me) at Sixth Street School in Donora when Maz ended the Series. He recalled, “I was walking back home. I remember either our principal Miss Kelly or one of the teachers said that Mazeroski won the game on a home run. I wasn’t really into baseball all that much in ’60 except for [playing youth ball].”
How could he have known that 15 years later he’d be on a World Series winning team. That clash versus Boston went the full seven games and featured one of, if not THE most exciting Series games ever. Furthermore, the year after that, he helped propel his Reds into another World Series, one that they’d also win (this time in a sweep of the Yankees) by hitting .385 in the NLCS versus the Phillies.
Ichiro: This next story is fitting in that Ichiro retired just the other day: Stone has covered the Mariners for decades now. He said Ichiro, a man he feels is highly intelligent, had “some memorable quotes. There was one, my all-time favorite, actually, about the first time he was going to face Dice-K [Boston pitcher and fellow Japan native Daisuke Matsuzaka]. Through a translator he said, ‘I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the inner-most recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.’” Hardly a quote bandied around in most locker rooms. stone said look up other funny quotes on line
Stone added that “on the list of unique players that I’ve covered, he’s probably at the top. I mean, he could hit a ground ball to second base and beat it out. He believed that his bat had, like a soul, a spirit, so he treated his bats and equipment with more care and respect than anyone I’ve ever seen. He also had like a velvet bat case that he carried his bat around in—almost like a humidor type thing that a lot of the players sort of copied after him.” That’s not unlike a great pool player with a special case for his cue.
“He got mad at a Mariners coach who inadvertently sat on one of his gloves because that was just sacrilege to him. He would clean up after himself in the dugout and he just had a different ability and hitting style than anyone else I’ve ever covered.”