Friends, family at Kid's forefront
By Hal McCoy
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Trying to get Ken Griffey Jr. to talk about himself is like trying to get Rickey Henderson NOT to talk about himself. The 38-year-old Cincinnati Reds outfielder will talk about his family until the cows come home and go back out again.
So it was out of character for him to answer pointed questions about how he feels about his future with or without the Reds, whether he will be traded or have his $16.5 million option picked up, how he feels about fans, how he feels about current athletes surrounded by shady characters, how he views steroids and HGH, and his thinking as he approaches 600 home runs.
Griffey sat on his black travel trunk in the Reds' clubhouse at their spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., last week and talked uninterrupted for nearly an hour after an exhibition game. The highlights:
Q How long do you want to continue playing?
A As long as I'm having fun, as I still am. That's the most important thing. I'm not going to be a burden to any organization by being miserable. If you enjoy what you're doing — and if you can still do it. I think I can still do it. There will come a point when I have to change my priorities, but not right now.
Q Do you think you will be with the Reds next year, will they pick up your option ($16.5 million option with a $4 million buyout) or might you be traded?
A I don't really worry about that. As for the option, it is all up to the organization. I just have to make it tough on them and their decision. That's the key for me, to have a good year. And if they don't want to keep me, if I'm having a good year, another team might want me down the stretch this year. It's not something you look forward to happening, but you take the challenge when it comes.
Q You always talk about your family and how you love to spend time with them. Will that enter into your decision to retire?
A They still like coming to the ballpark. My sons, Trey and Tevyn, have relationships with people they see at the ballpark. It's tough that way, but I take my family into all my decisions, big or small.
Q What is your thinking regarding the fans, most of whom still identify with you and wear your jersey and cheer for you?
A I know I have fans, but there are those who don't like me for one reason or another. There isn't one guy in this room who doesn't take pride in what they do. We're not out there trying to mess up and act the fool. We're embarrassed for messing up. This is what we do. I don't go up to bat purposely thinking, 'This don't count.' No, I take pride in it whether it be offense or defense or baserunning. With me, people don't know a whole lot about me, and that's fine. I take a lot of shots because I do say things that other players won't say. That's part of my job because I can handle it and have done it for years. People will say and write what they want, but they can't take away anything I've done on the field, so I don't worry about it.
Q Do you consider yourself 'old school,' a guy who doesn't have a posse, doesn't surround himself with shady characters, is more concerned with family than fame, never has his name in headlines for off-the-field troubles?
A I have the same couple of friends I hung around with when I first started in the game. I try not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't judge other people, but when you have 10 or 15 people with you, that draws more attention than walking someplace by yourself. If somebody in that group gets in trouble, they are always going to mention the most popular and well-known person in the group. It wouldn't be, 'Such-and-such got in trouble,' it would be, 'Somebody in Ken Griffey Jr.'s group got in trouble,' whether I did anything or not. The headlines would have my name in it, and I might not have even been there. I've always stayed away from those situations. My best friend the day I signed was Frank King, and he is still my best friend. He's like family, like my brother.
Q With this being the era of steroids and HGH, your name never surfaces, not even in a whispered rumor. What does that mean to you?
A It comes from the sense of pride when my dad (Ken Griffey Sr.) played. The biggest thing was that my dad wasn't a superstar. He was an all-star, but not a superstar. And that helped because he always told me, 'I'm going to work hard, my name is never going to be mentioned with doing anything wrong. I go out there and play and do it right.' He told me I'd never be the biggest guy on the team, never be the strongest on the team, never be the fastest on the team. But he said, 'Guess what, you can have the most heart on the team, and that means doing everything the right way.' That's what he taught me as a kid, that the team comes first. When I was young, he always asked me first if my team won, not how I did. And he instilled in me a team-first attitude and doing things right, and that means doing it within the rules and within your conscience.
Q What is it like to play all these years without winning a World Series ring, and is it something that either bothers you or drives you?
A My dad has three and he never lets me forget it. Sure, I'd love to have one. I've always said that. I want a World Series ring. As a kid, you never thought about, 'Hey, I'm going to hit a home run in the All-Star game or win the Home Run Derby.' You always think about the Joe Carter home run for Toronto that won a World Series. That is the icing on the cake of a career. If it happens, it happens, but it is not going to define my career as a player. I just had a run of bad luck, but it will never take away from the long and great memories that go with this game — so many friends and teammates that you grow with.
Q What will hitting 600 home runs do for you personally and for your legacy, and does that drive you?
A I have never, ever thought about it as my career unfolded. Going back to my dad, I would have been extremely happy to have his career — 2,200 hits, .297 lifetime average, 152 homers, 200 stolen bases. Most people look at all the big things and I've done most of the big things in baseball. For me, now, it is trying to show the guys on this team the little things, the things that don't show in the box score and help you win. If I move a guy over from second to third and he scores twice, that's as good as hitting two solo home runs. Maybe not for the fans, but for the team. Fans will say, 'He didn't drive 'em in,' but I say, 'The next guy did and we won the game.' The home runs come, and 600 is just another number.