Ken Griffey Sr. talks Big Red Machine, Pete Rose, Junior, and prostate cancer
By Editorial Staff
Ken Griffey Sr. took the time to talk baseball and the fight against prostate cancer with me Tuesday. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a baseball legend and enjoyed his insights on a variety of topics. Griffey was a three-time All-Star and batted .296 in his 19-year career. He was a major contributor to the success of the Big Red Machine teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. He has remained active in baseball over the years as a scout and most recently as a hitting instructor for the Reds Class A affiliate in Dayton. Griffey was a part of some of the greatest teams of all-time, but sharing the final years of his career with his son Ken Griffey Jr. topped it all. Hearing Griffey Sr. talk about playing with his son was also the highlight of the interview. I could hear the joy and the pride in his voice as he recalled the best moments with his son. Their relationship is certainly special.
Griffey Sr. also talked about the 2010 Reds and their expectations going into the playoffs. He said he thought the team was doing a great job. He pointed to manager Dusty Baker’s leadership and the rise of young stars like Joey Votto as the keys for their success. The Reds clinched the NL Central title Tuesday night with walk-off home run from Jay Bruce for a 3-2 victory over Houston. Cincinnati could feel some of the magic it felt during Griffey’s days with the Big Red Machine.
Check out what else Griffey had to say in the full interview. […]
What was it like being the hitting coach in Dayton this past summer?
"It was fun. I had the most enjoyable time working with the young kids up in Dayton. They learned a lot, hopefully I learned a lot, you know just by dealing with them – I haven’t seen them or dealt with young kids in a long time, but it was a great time for me. Everyone would ask me about the travel and the furthest trip was like six hours, so it wasn’t that bad traveling in the Midwest League. It was a lot of fun."
What was the biggest piece of advice you gave the players on hitting?
"Well, actually to keep their poise, you know don’t get overly excited because when you’re dealing with young kids a lot of times they’re anxious and when you get them too anxious then they’re pitch selection is not very good. So what I try to do is calm them down and make sure they understand just you know, see the ball and then get a good pitch to hit so that makes a big difference in how they understand themselves a lot of times because if you’re anxious in situations, 95 percent of the time (it will be harder to succeed)."
What do you enjoy most about coaching?
"Getting the opportunity to coach the young kids. I mean I had tried to explain that to the Reds years ago when I was scouting that I get more out of coaching younger kids and trying to help them and instill some knowledge on them on how to hit, how to play the outfield and mainly just how to understand themselves more than anything so I have an enjoyable time doing that."
Going back to your playing days, what was the atmosphere like during the Big Red Machine days?
"Big Red Machine days, that was great. We were a businesslike club but we had a lot of fun. In other words, once we got out on the field, we knew we had to do a job. So each of us understood our jobs, what we needed to do in order to win ballgames. And you know, no one talks about our pitching staff and our pitching staff was a big plus for us. I mean, they kept us close and gave us opportunities to win games late in the ballgame so I think all together, like I said before, we understood each other’s position and what we had to do and our jobs in order to win games."
What do you think made those teams so special?
"Well, what made the team so special was I think the consistency – what we did day-in day-out every day. We did the same thing. We understood what we had to do every day in order to win ballgames. We may win them in different levels – there may be a home run this night or a single or whatever but everyone understood their job in order to do … and we manufactured a lot of runs. We didn’t really break out and beat teams real bad. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t, but most of the time we understood how to manufacture runs and with Sparky (Anderson), he let everybody play so that was one of the important things."
One of your former teammates on that team, Pete Rose, you participated in the celebration for him – what was it like playing with Pete?
"You know, Pete was special anyway but all the things that are going on right now, you didn’t see those things. To me, playing with Pete was just a tremendous feeling in terms of just getting an opportunity to play with a guy like Pete Rose who was a great motivator. He was the catalyst for our ballclub and he made things happen and I just enjoyed playing with him."
Where do you stand on him getting reinstated in baseball and the Hall of Fame?
"Well, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know who’s going to get into it now or in years to come, but yeah I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. I mean there’s nobody who has more hits than Pete Rose."
At the end of your career, you got to play with your son out in Seattle. Could you just describe what that was like getting to play with him?
"I had to pretend that Junior was 12 years old in order to play in Seattle. I mean – playing in the backyard, having a good time just tossing back and forth, I think that was the only way I could (get myself to even attempt to play). It was a situation where I just didn’t think he was going to get there at 19. I thought maybe 20, 21, (but he made it) at 19. Now I’m looking at playing with him, which was a totally different aspect of the game … I was at the plate and it was against Kansas City and I heard somebody on the on-deck circle say, ‘Come on dad.’ And that shocked me right there, so I had to get out of the batter’s box and rethink everything and then think and say, ‘Well, I’m in the backyard playing with him, having a good time, he’s only 12.’"
He just retired this year, how’s he handling retirement?
"This is his first year of retirement. He’s doing good. He’s the football coach right now for the little league team, so he’s enjoying himself."
How would you sum up his career and everything he accomplished?
"I’d sum his career and say he had a great career. Even though he didn’t get a chance or an opportunity to play in the World Series, he did everything possible in his powers to try to help ballclubs win World Series but I think he had a tremendous career. He hit 630 home runs, I mean he’s only five behind or fifth all-time in home runs or whatever and you know, that’s a great career for me."
What is your best memory in your whole baseball career?
"Best memory would probably be back-to-back home runs with him (Ken Griffey, Jr.). I don’t think it will ever probably be done again so that’s the memory I have."
You were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. What was your first reaction when you got that news?
"Devastating when he (the doctor) told me. The important thing was that I had a doctor who was very aggressive and I had four uncles that passed from prostate cancer so he was going to look out for every aspect. I was going to get the PSA test done and all the things that are necessary in order to find out if you have prostate cancer and he found it early. And we worked from there. When they found it early, like I said, prostate cancer can be treated and is curable. I’ve been working with depend for the last three years and we do have a website, depend.com. And all the information you want to know about prostate cancer is right on the website. And guys 50 or older, you have to talk to your doctor about prostate health and try to get as many answers as possible to combat it. We just as men don’t talk about prostate cancer at all. It’s an African American type scenario where more African Americans get prostate cancer than anyone so like I said, I had four uncles who passed from prostate cancer so I’m working very hard to have Depend and working on doing this campaign."
What advice would you give to people fighting cancer or people diagnosed with prostate cancer?
"The biggest thing is just make sure you see your doctor, make sure you understand what you’re fighting against. I’ve had a few friends that waited too long to get themselves tested and screens for prostate cancer. Once you wait long, it’s a tough and hard process and you may or may not be able to get cured. But if you do it early enough and you get screened early enough, you’re chances of survival are like 95 percent so those are the things you want to talk about. All the other things combined is just that you have to be screened and take care of everything early."
Learn more about the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer and Ken Griffey Sr.’s story on his profile at depend.com.