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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 17, 2009 at 8:10 AM

Reminiscing (thwack!) while waiting on Griffey

I’ve been led to believe that Ken Griffey’s decision will likely come this afternoon, and though he may be leaning toward the Braves, it could still go either way. We shall know soon enough. I’m hunkered down again at the Braves’ complex in Orlando waiting for Godot, er, Griffey.

Technically, I’m not sure where I am. I could swear I’m right in the middle of Orlando, but the MLB media guide lists the Braves’ stadium as being in Kissimmee. Some writers use “Lake Buena Vista” as the dateline from Braves camp. And the Braves’ official mailing address here is “Celebration City.” I’m somewhere in Florida, smack in the middle of Disney World.

Even if Griffey chooses the Braves, it’s virtually certain he won’t hold a press conference until tomorrow, at the earliest. I still have nightmares about Griffey’s press conference nine years ago when he was traded to the Reds. I flew to Florida to be there for his first day in a Reds uniform — me and about 150 other media members in Sarasota, where the Reds train. At this point in his career, remember, Griffey was about the biggest thing in baseball, and him switching teams was a huge deal.

Griffey held his press conference in the morning sitting on a folding chair on top of the dugout at Ed Smith Stadium. After his first workout, as a huge horde of reporters milled around the clubhouse, he summoned me over to his locker. There were a few things he wanted to get off his chest regarding Seattle and the Mariners. So for about 20 minutes, while the rest of the media watched from a respectful distance, Junior gave me an exclusive interview, the only one-on-one he did that day.

I

was thrilled, of course — until I got to the press room and went to transcribe my tape. Unbeknown to me, a clubhouse attendent right behind me was cleaning the mud off spikes for much of the interview. That is done by whacking the shoes with a metal pipe. I had been so intent on listening to Griffey that I hadn’t even noticed what was going on behind me. It didn’t register. But when I listened to the tape, his words kept getting smothered by the loud sound of “Thwack!” from the spike-cleaner. “The one thing I want to make perfectly clear — and this is crucial — is that THWACK!.”

Talk about panic. But fortunately, I had taken written notes while I was taping, and the clubby stopped cleaning the spikes about halfway through. I was able to piece together a pretty comprehensive interview. In fact, I looked it up today, and I’ve got to say it was pretty good stuff, some of which is still relevant. Here it is, from the Feb. 22, 2000 Seattle Times:

SARASOTA, Fla. – Only Ken Griffey Jr.’s presence in Reds camp allowed Deion Sanders to slip into the Cincinnati clubhouse unnoticed, temporarily demoted from Prime Time to Afterthought.

“Thank you, Junior,” laughed Sanders.

Reds outfielder Dmitri Young had predicted that Walter Cronkite himself would show up for this occasion, Griffey’s official unveiling as a Red. Wally C. didn’t, but Dickie V. was there, along with 150 media members from 80 different outlets, who breathlessly followed Griffey around for such momentous events as shaking hands with teammates and donning his uniform for a baseball-card photo shoot.

“This will be a circus, I’m sure, but we’re looking forward to it,” said Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

At a news conference at Ed Smith Stadium, Griffey sat on a folding chair atop the Reds dugout, as Michael Jordan had done six years earlier when he came back to baseball. He fielded questions for approximately 15 minutes, revealing little outward emotion.

“This is about as excited as I get, other than sliding into home against the Yankees,” Griffey said with a smile.

Afterward, in an exclusive interview with The Seattle Times, Griffey talked about his years in Seattle, and the three-month ordeal that began Nov. 2, when the Mariners announced they would try to trade Griffey.

He started by talking about emotional phone calls from longtime teammates Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez after the trade.

Griffey: “I’ve been around these guys for 11 years. That’s one of the things I’m going to miss most, those guys.”

Seattle Times: How do you think the team is going to do without you?

Griffey: Jay and them? Hopefully, they’ll do well.

Seattle Times: The team.

Griffey: (laughing) Umm, Jay and them?

Seattle Times: You must have some feelings.

Griffey: (still laughing) Ah, let’s get back to Jay and them. I’m going to, of course, root for the guys I know and I played with. I don’t know. I have some new guys I have to learn here, and go from there. I’ll miss going out to eat with Jay. I may catch up with him on an off day. It’s tough, because I’m so used to seeing Jay and Edgar in the locker room, Alex and Danno (Dan Wilson) . . . There are a lot of good things that happened in Seattle. A lot of things that outweighed the bad.

Seattle Times: You said yesterday you held no grudges, but most people are skeptical.

Griffey: Have I blasted the Mariners any time during this whole thing? I haven’t. I don’t have anything to say, any regrets. I don’t feel that me saying something now is going to prove anything. There’s nothing. I mean, if Chuck (Armstrong, Mariner president) wants to come play golf, he could fly down and play golf, right now. I just ain’t giving him two shots a side, like he asked for.

Seattle Times: How do you feel about Pat Gillick?

Griffey: I never got a chance to know Pat, so I can’t say anything about Pat. Chuck was there when I was a rookie. It’s going to be tough not looking at Chuck coming in the locker room, weighing himself every day. Now I’ve got my dad to do that.

Seattle Times: It seemed you held all the cards. Not only could you dictate which team you could go to, but if you didn’t like the terms of the trade, you could veto it.

Griffey: I didn’t hold the Mariners over a barrel. They could have said, “Hey, we’re not trading you.” And that’s it. And I would have come to spring training, got ready to play, like normal. That’s it. I had a job, somewhere. It just happens to be in Cincinnati now.

Seattle Times: Did you fear that Peoria would have turned into a circus if you had stayed?

Griffey: Either way, it would have been a circus. If you get traded, if you don’t get traded.

Seattle Times: But this is a positive circus.

Griffey: It would have been positive in Seattle. It’s just you guys would have been writing negative things. All I want to do is play baseball. It wasn’t like I wanted to threaten somebody, run out of here. No, I just wanted to go out there and play. I had an option of picking the team I wanted to go to, and that’s it. Some of the things I liked, some of the things I didn’t like. There’s some things both sides should have done differently.

Seattle Times: Your agent, Brian Goldberg, says the thing he regrets most is approving the press release that stated you had asked to be traded. Do you agree?

Griffey: Yeah, once the press release came out, because no one heard from me, everyone started spinning things the way they wanted to.

Seattle Times: Do you feel the Mariners began to control the spin at that point?

Griffey: Uh-huh. And then people couldn’t hear from me, and then they were really wondering what’s going on. I felt the best thing I could do was keep silent. The one thing people say is, “You make ‘X’ amount of dollars, just shut up and play.” So you can’t tell someone it’s not about the money when they’re looking at it as the money. With me signing the contract the way I did, people said, “Well, it wasn’t about the money. He just wanted to play there.”

It wasn’t like I was trying to prove people wrong, or I wanted to make a statement. I just wanted to be in a place I knew was home. Seattle was home for 11 years. I mean, John Olerud and Aaron Sele came back and said, ‘There’s no place like home.’ What’s the difference between them saying it and me saying it? People said, ‘Well, you’ve been here so long.’ Those guys have been playing major-league ball a long time, too. They wanted to come home, and everyone welcomed them, but as soon as I said I wanted to go home, everyone said, ‘He’s a whiner, he’s a baby.’ What’s wrong with having a childhood dream?

I got married in Seattle. I had two kids in Seattle. I’ll always have fond memories of being in Seattle. I just don’t play baseball there. I don’t have a problem going back to visit Seattle. It’s just at this time I thought it was best that I try to do something else and move somewhere else.

Seattle Times: If you really wanted to be close to your family in Orlando, why didn’t you seek a trade to a team in Florida – Miami or Tampa Bay?

Griffey: OK, it’s a three-hour drive to Miami. It’s a two-hour flight to Cincinnati. I live 10 minutes away from the airport in Cincinnati. And it’s an hour and 35 minutes, 40 minutes, to get to St. Pete. Plus, either you go an hour and a half drive to the Marlins’ spring training in Melbourne, or you drive to (the Devil Rays spring training), which is an hour and 15 minutes. I drove an hour and 45 minutes to get here (to Sarasota). Plus, I never played in Miami. I wasn’t born in Tampa. The logical place for me to go was Cincinnati.

I didn’t try to snowball anyone, or hold them hostage. I mean, for the first month, two months, we never heard from them. They could have done whatever they wanted. And they did. But when I said I was only going to Cincinnati, now I’m holding them hostage. Well, how long did that take, from when they had the announcement, to when I said it?

Seattle Times: Didn’t they come to you with various proposals during that time?

Griffey: Yeah, St. Louis, Pittsburgh. Both Florida teams.

Seattle Times: Was that a mistake on their part?

Griffey: From what everyone says, they just wanted me to be put in such a bad mood with Seattle that I’d say, ‘OK, just trade me anywhere, I don’t care.’ I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t try to put them in a tough situation, but they put me in a tough situation by everyone flying rumors all around – I’m going there, I’m going here. And people calling my house and asking me questions, and Brian’s phone ringing all the time.

I just said, “I want to go to Cincinnati.” I know the place, I grew up there. I always wanted to wear the same uniform my dad wore. That’s what it came down to.

Seattle Times: It seemed to bother you when Pat Gillick was quoted as saying you change your mind all the time.

Griffey: I think that’s what really got me. From what I heard, he said, “He changes his mind like the sands shift.” At least get your own opinion about that. I don’t have an opinion about him, because I don’t know him. He came down, he talked to me. It was, “Hey, how you doing, blah, blah, blah.” That’s the only opinion I have. But he let everyone else tell him how he should think. It was like, “Forget it, I’m going to Cincinnati.”

Seattle Times: Did Seattle still come with proposals after that?

Griffey: Yeah, they did. Finally, I just said, “OK, I’m doing what I normally do, and that’s get ready.” Plus I had some guys, like Dave Winfield, who I talked to for an hour and a half. He said, “You’re going to be the bad guy no matter what happens. Just accept it. You didn’t do anything wrong. There’s nothing you can do. They’re just going to make you the bad guy.” And that’s what happened.

He explained it to me. People can nitpick and write things that aren’t true. I’ve given this organization 11 years of my life, basically one third of my life. A little more than that, because I signed at 17. And I’m the bad guy. If I was the bad guy, I could have said, “I’m not going to Seattle.” When I was 17, I could have said, “No, I only get drafted by so-and-so team.”

But I signed with Seattle. I went through two chances to go through free agency, signed a year early. But I’m the bad guy. I’m the one that deferred money. I don’t see anyone in our front office, or any front office, deferring money to help their ballclub. It’s always the players that have to defer money, and it’s always at the expense of the owners getting the benefit because they deferred. We understand that. But to say we’re bad guys because we want to play in our hometown, that’s not right.

Seattle Times: OK, now that you’re gone, what did you really think of Safeco Field?

Griffey: I didn’t really have a problem with it, but I couldn’t say anything. That’s the whole thing. They asked me questions, and it would always come from a bunch of other guys, saying “I can’t see, the glare’s here, the glare’s there.” I’m like, “Aahhh, I don’t know.” Being in center field, I don’t see all that. Hitting, sometimes in day games, you have a glare off the scoreboard that reflects down. It’s not the scoreboard itself, it’s the BP sign that’s bright, because it’s angled and blocks the scoreboard. I think that’s the problem most of the guys had.

I never argued about the dimensions. When we took batting practice for the first time, how many pitchers smiled? Our whole staff. Because they knew you have to crush it to get it out. We weren’t saying bring it in to make it homer-friendly. The guys were just saying, “Hey, when you hit a ball decent, it should go out.” When you’ve got to crush it to get it out, that’s intimidating for a hitter, because you get guys trying to pull it down the line instead of just hitting it. I think that’s what the biggest concern was, guys hitting balls and knowing they hit them . . . That was one of the things about (Jim) Edmonds. When he hit it and I caught it at the warning track, he absolutely crushed that ball. And I knew it as soon as he hit it. I go, “Oops . . . Ah, I got this one.” Being that I played there, you know.

Seattle Times: Apparently, that’s why Edmonds doesn’t want to come to Seattle.

Griffey: He made that real clear, too. If other guys come into that ballpark and hit there and say bad things, why is it then that when one of the guys in that locker room says it, he’s the bad guy.

Seattle Times: So that wasn’t a factor in wanting to leave?

Griffey: I never said anything about it. Everyone assumed, because I didn’t say anything, that I was ripping the ballpark. I just didn’t have much to say. It wasn’t like I could say something and change people’s minds. I mean, it’s a beautiful ballpark.

By the way, another thing I have a problem with is, there’s some bricks outside the stadium that said, “This is the house that your daddy built,” and it says “Taryn and Trey.” They said on talk radio – because I can pick that up on my computer – “How in the world can he be that conceited and cocky that he could do something like that?” Well, my wife and I never bought those bricks. We would never do something like that.

I would never do such a thing. I mean, how many of my bats are there in the locker room that other people have? Alex and Jay and everyone else go through my bats, my batting gloves. Everything that’s mine, my teammates use. I don’t have a problem with that, except my fielding glove. If they need shoes, I order shoes, because I feel we’re a team, and on a team, that’s the way it is, you borrow other people’s stuff.

As a fan, if you go out and say, “This guy put a brick up, he’s really arrogant . . . That’s not me. I was upset and hurt that someone would say that. Those things disappointed me more than what the front office said, because these are guys coming in and watching. I would never put myself in a situation where I would hold something over a fan.

Seattle Times: That must have been torture, listening to yourself get ripped on the talk shows.

Griffey: No, I’d start laughing. Because once I signed, I’d turn it on and watch everyone say, “Well, he said it wasn’t for the money. I guess we’ve got to believe it now.”P.

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