I just got off the phone with Willie Mays — man, I like the sound of that; sorry about the name-dropping, BUT I JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE WITH WILLIE MAYS. He’s one person that still causes a little chill to go through you.
Willie expanded a bit on his Wednesday call to Ken Griffey Jr. that is being credited with helping Junior make his decision to sign with Seattle. Turns out that Hank Aaron also called Griffey, to lobby for the Braves. But according to Mariners’ president Chuck Armstrong, Mays helped Griffey cement the idea of culminating his legacy in Seattle.
“Kenny made his own decision,” Mays told me. “I just talked to him about different things. What I got out of it, he wanted to take care of his family. I’m sure the Seattle ballclub is trying to do that to bring Kenny back. It was his decision, not mine.”
As for the topic of Griffey’s Seattle legacy, Mays said, “That’s a good thing, but I didn’t say anything about legacy. He brought that up. I think he realized I was with the Giants, and got traded to the Mets, and then came back to San Francisco.”
Mays, who is 78, is heading this week to Scottsdale, Ariz., where the Giants train. Mays has a lifetime contract with the Giants, so advicing a player about another club is a bit of a sensitive area.
“I don’t get involved in things not involving the Giants. Kenny’s a good friend,” he said. “So is his dad. I played against Ken Sr. quite a few times. Good hitter. Kenny’s a really nice kid. I think he made the decision he wanted to come back to Seattle and be part of the club. It might be the right decision, I don’t know.”
Mays confirmed he agreed to call Junior at the behest of Harold Reynolds.
“Harold called me,” he said. “Any time it comes to Kenny, I like to help as much as I can. But everything that happened, it came from him. I heard he was going to Atlanta. When I talked to him, I said, ‘You make your own decision.’ The way I understand it, they’re going to take care of his family. That’s his first priority. Again, it was Kenny’s decision. Kenny’s his own man.”
According to this ESPN.com article from the excellent Jerry Crasnick, it might have been Junior’s teenage daughter, Taryn, that sealed the deal. As Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, tells it to Crasnick, “She told him, ‘Dad, I really think you should go back to the Mariners and not have any regrets about how you finished.’ That kind of put it over the top.”
But a good word from Willie Mays couldn’t have hurt. I mean, it’s WILLIE MAYS. I’ll bet even Ken Griffey Jr. gets a little chill when he calls. But maybe the Aaron chill balanced it out, and Taryn broke the tie.
(Photo by Jose Luis Villegas, McClatchy Newspapers)