In the 29th round of the 1969 draft, the Cincinnati Reds selected Ken Griffey, from Donora Pennsylvania. In his 19 year career, he accrued more than 2,100 hits, 200 steals, and a career .296 batting average. Griffey was a 3 time All-Star and winner of 3 World Series Championships all with the Reds, and is now the manager for the Bakersfield Blaze, the High A affiliate for Cincinnati, he took some time out after batting practice to discuss his career, family, players and the continued growth of Minor League Baseball.
Chris Fee: You’re team is off to a strong start this season (20-13 at the time, winners of 4 straight), what do you credit the early success to?
Ken Griffey: Team effort. We’ve been getting real good pitching, and timely hitting and everyone is playing real well, and that’s mostly what it’s all about. Team effort, the team is doing what they are supposed to do. Pitching has really been strong though.
CF: I know that Tony Cingrani currently has an ERA below 1.00 (0.68 through 7 starts so far this season), how do you explain doing something like that, is he just dialed in?
KG: You just have to watch him pitch, you watch him pitch you’ll see why he has a below one ERA. He’s been outstanding this year; all of his pitches are being used very well, going in and out of the zone. He’s throwing the right pitches at the right time, and so yeah he’s deserving of an ERA below 1.00
CF: You’ve played under some very successful managers during your playing career, Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin just to name a couple. Do you feel that some of your managing styles are influenced by them? If so which ones?
KG: No, not really. I’m my own man, I do what I feel is right for my own club. Sparky never yelled or hollered or anything in that nature. Billy was a very different type of manager but they used their own style. I’m just going by how I would want to be treated as a person and a player. I try to treat the kids the same way, they get treated equally and make sure that they get the right work in for them.
CF: You’ve seen a lot of talent between your coaching days and you’re playing days. Who would you say the most talented player you’ve played with was and who was the most talented player you coached thus far?
KG: That I’ve played with? I’d have to say my son Junior. Being a little biased *laughs*, I played with him. Right now I’d have to say Billy Hamilton, at this point. There’s another kid that’s pretty good, his name is Donald Lutz. (.302, 10 HR 31 RBI 5 SB)
CF: What is it that stands out to you about those guys that makes them “special players”.
KG: Well, with Billy his speed. He plays the game well enough that he has a lot of fun playing. He just uses his game as a game, he doesn’t try to do too much throughout. He doesn’t think of it as pressure wise trying to get the big lead, he’s playing every day game by game. Then with Donald, he really hasn’t played much organized ball, but he really turned it around last year.
CF: Speaking of Billy Hamilton, is he the real deal? Is that speed going to progress at each level, I know right now in High A ball he’s stealing bases with ease. Are there things you see that he’s going to continue to have to work on?
KG: Well, there’s always things he’s probably going to want to work on. But the only thing that you really can’t teach in this game is speed. That’s one thing that well above everyone else is how fast he is and how quick he is. That will stand out, he will steal his bases and do those things, and other things will come along with it. He’s learning, he’s playing shortstop here and a lot of stuff he does, he works at it every day. He doesn’t slack off, he takes the ground balls and fly balls or whatever he has to do in order to get better.
CF: You spent 6 years during your playing career in the minor leagues, starting in the Gulf Coast League and working your way up to the American Association with Indianapolis, and now you’re coaching in the Cal league. How have the minors changed, or how are they different, since you were a player and now as a manager?
KG: You play the game the same way, the only difference between when I played compared to now is the fact that there are so many brand new stadiums. We played in a lot of older stadiums. I played in old Busch Stadium in Indianapolis; they’ve had a new stadium for like the past 10 years. I played in a stadium in AA that’s no longer exists I don’t think. The different stadiums, the new facilities, that’s major differences is the new facilities. I played in Sioux Falls, which was a high school field, it is just a little different in terms of that.
CF: Do you feel that is why the fan base has expanded?
KG: No, a lot of times I look at things, I know in my minor league system there was only one team that was owned by a different owner, and the Reds owned all the rest of the teams. Now just about all of the teams are owned by individuals, buying minor league teams. It makes a big difference when you’re talking about a fan base, now you’re looking at marketing to the fan base, trying to get people to come to the Ball Park and things of that nature. When I was coming through, there wasn’t any marketing. All they had was the minor leagues, we played in front of nobody in Bradenton and barely played in front of anybody in Sioux Falls. In double A we were up in the Eastern League in Canada, we drew a pretty good crowd, and we were winning too at that time, and Indianapolis was the same way. Indianapolis was probably the only team that had different owners. The Reds didn’t own that club, but they owned all the rest of them.
CF: Can you tell me a little bit about the day you were drafted? What was the feeling when you found out the Reds had drafted you, and can you compare it to when Junior was drafted by Seattle and then Craig was drafted by the Mariners in 91? How does it compare as a player and then seeing your sons drafted?
KG: Well the difference was I didn’t even expect to get drafted. All the teams that I had worked out with, the Pirates, from my freshman year to my senior year playing baseball, you know, I didn’t expect to get drafted by anyone because the Pirates said that I couldn’t hit. I was on my way to play football, I would have probably ended up playing football, going to college and playing football. So that was the difference, I didn’t even expect to get drafted. Then when I did get drafted I had promised one of the scouts from the Reds, a guy named Elmer Gray, that if I did get drafted, which I didn’t expect to, that I would sign, and I kept my promise. I was the last person drafted too though, I was drafted in the 29th round.
When Junior was drafted, he expected to get drafted. He knew he was going to get drafted by somebody, he knew he was going to go either one or two in the nation. So that’s the difference between me and him, he knew he was going to get drafted by somebody and I didn’t really know if I was going to get drafted…. I thought I was going to play football.
CF: Did you have scholarships offers from colleges for football?
KG: Yeah, I mean I had a few. University of Texas, University of West Virginia, Marshall University, and the team that I was supposed to go to was Marshall. I would have went down in the plane crash with Marshall football team.
CF: It’s amazing, being drafted by the Reds literally saved your life.
CF: Speaking of Junior, do you feel that he’s going to continue to follow in your footsteps, first going to the Reds?
KG: Well Junior right now is a special assistant with the Mariners. So he goes around with the Mariners team and helps with the younger kids, he talks to them and he’ll go take batting practice with them sometimes. He’s just being around them and talking to them about what they need to do and how to get to the big leagues.
CF: Do you feel like he’ll be a manager at some point?
KG: (Pauses) I don’t think so, he has too much to do with his kids. He’s got a daughter who’s probably going to be highly sought after in college basketball, she’s a basketball player. His son Trey is going to the University of Arizona as a football player, and then you have the younger one who is probably the star of all of them. He’s been more of a father than you can imagine, he’s there with them all the time. He’ll probably enjoy doing that more than being a manager or a coach or anything. I don’t think he wants to do that.
CF: What was it like to step foot on the field with your son, it’s something that speaks to the longevity of your career? What was it like to have one of your son is right next to you going to work?
KG: It was a little different, I didn’t expect him to be up as quick as he got there, and I didn’t expect to be playing 19 years either. That’s the difference right there, and then when I had the chance to come out on the field and play with him for that month in Seattle, it was a situation where I didn’t think he was that good until I watched him play day in and day out. I had a real taste of what people were talking about, because in front of me he didn’t get any hits, so I didn’t see that part of it.
CF: What is it like having won 3 World Series championships? Was there one that stood out more than another? Do you talk to the guys that you manage and kind of tell them “Hey, this is what you play the game for.”
KG: No, I mean the biggest thing was winning the first one that was the biggest one, in 1975. It was my first full year in the big leagues, I ended up hitting .305. That was the major one, the first one is always the sweetest. You remember that more than any other one, plus it was considered maybe the greatest World Series ever played against Boston. So that’s another feather in the cap, people thought that was one of the better World Series ever played in the history of the game. The next year was a repeat, and we kind of expected to win the next year, we knew we were that good and we played that way. We were more of a business like team, but we had fun playing, and I think that’s what the difference was. The third one I really didn’t get a chance to play because at that time, I played until the end of August with the Reds in ’90, watching Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neil, seeing how those kids developed that year gave me a real pleasure to watch them play, because they played just as well as we did in 75 and 76. That opportunity to get a ring, was a big opportunity and I enjoyed every minute of it, they were all special in their different ways, and like I said the third one was a little different because I was more of a Player/Coach, there in Cincinnati.
Special thanks to Bakersfield Media Director Dan Besbris for setting up the interview as well as providing the featured photo.