DETROIT -- CNati.com recently caught up with former Red Ken Griffey Jr., who after nine seasons in his hometown of Cincinnati, was traded to the White Sox last season and then signed with the Seattle Mariners during spring training.
I was curious about how he views Cincinnati after leaving, and what follows is the (nearly) unabridged conversation we had before a game last week.
CTR: It's been a little more than a year since you've been gone...
CTR: It seems like it's been even longer than that.
KG: That's because you're in Cincinnati... You've seen how quiet that locker room became.
CTR: Last year I went in there one day and was talking to someone and said, 'I don't know who any of these guys are.' And he said to me, 'Me either.' But yeah, you and Dunn were the problem.
KG: Yeah, we were always the problem. We were the culprits.
CTR: Because once they got rid of you, it's World Series.
KG: That's what they said...
CTR: Was it weird that it ended so abruptly and acrimoniously?
CTR: Was it time?
KG: I didn't even worry about it. They felt they wanted to move me. I told Dusty before the season started that they were going to trade me. He said, 'There's no way.' I told him I was getting traded before the season's over with.
CTR: You knew because of the contract, the option and everything?
CTR: Did you think Dunn was going to get traded?
KG: Yeah, I told (Baker) that too. I've been around this game way too long to not know what's going on.
CTR: It seems like everyone I've talked to seems to say you're enjoying where you are now. Are you enjoying being back in Seattle?
KG: Yeah, it's different.
CTR: How's it different from when you left?
KG: I was that young kid doing on-the-job training, now I'm the veteran who has to give advice.
CTR: But you're not the only one here, I'd think Mike Sweeney helps with that as well...
KG: Yeah, we do a good job of tag-teaming everybody. The biggest thing is coming in here, enjoy yourself, but play hard. It's not just me, it's the whole organization that needed to change and not go through what they went through last year. You hear the things about certain people in the locker room - that wasn't going to happen because I think you know I'm a firm believer in everyone deserves to be in this locker room. Because one person does something different, it doesn't mean you get all over that person. If you do your job perfectly, then you can have a reason, but ain't nobody perfect. So to say that one person divided a locker room, that's your fault.
CTR: It's funny, some people said that about you in Cincinnati
KG: That I was the divider? Yeah. What can I possibly divide? I'm the one trying to get everyone to hang out and go play golf and things like that and be a team. The funny thing is, have you heard a player say something bad about me?
CTR: Only one...
CTR: Brandon Phillips...
KG: He said something about me?
CTR: Two years ago in Milwaukee, when he said the thing about not wanting to be known as someone who didn't run hard all the time "like other people on this team."
KG: Well, it's a little different. I think he understands now better than anybody that it takes a lot to be the man of the team.
CTR: You got used to it, but you knew that whatever happened in Cincinnati, it was going to be your fault...
KG: Oh yeah...
CTR: Did you find it weird that it fell on Adam, too, and that he was so vilified as well?
KG: Was it weird? No. No. Because they were going to blame somebody. And somebody's going to get to play, I was going to get it...
CTR: You knew you were going to get it because you were expected to bring World Series titles to Cincinnati - Jim Bowden said that off the bat.
KG: The problem that Cincinnati has is that they compare every team to the Big Red Machine and that team will never be duplicated. There will never be a team like that again. For anybody to think that's going to happen in this day and age? It's just never going to happen in Cincinnati. But that's what they have to live on. I had a friend give me a hat, it said, 'My dad played for the Big Red Machine, I'm the engineer of the little Red caboose.' It was a bright red hat, too. In reality, that's what it was. They said some things, that they were going to spend money, they were going to put a team around Barry Larkin and me. Then it was Barry's fault and then Barry left and it was my fault. A couple of years ago, it became Ken and Adam's fault.
CTR: Now it's Dusty's ...
KG: It's Dusty because you can't blame anyone else.
CTR: There are people blaming Walt and Bob.
KG: Nobody said anything about what I did to help that team. I deferred 57 percent of my contract for that team, but it's my fault. But if they look at the actual contract and how I tried to help sign other players by deferring even more money... they don't see that, they just see the bad things or the semi-questionable things I've done. One of them was that I got hurt. But I did it on the field trying to make a play to help the team win.
CTR: It's a place you grew up. Does it hurt...
CTR: Do those eight, nine years change your feelings toward the city at all?
KG: Do I have to answer that?
CTR: You don't have to answer anything you don't want to answer, I'm not going to force you to answer anything
KG: OK, I'd rather defer that.
CTR: It must be odd.
CTR: They always say you can't go home again, but you're doing it a second time.
KG: But it's a little different. You know... on the Cincinnati thing, I live in Florida. I'll leave it that way.
CTR: I saw something on MLB Network the other day and they were showing you at Moeller, and man, did you have a great curl.
KG: Hey, Dad had it, I had to have it. The curl was in then. But I wasn't in the top 10 curls of all-time.
KG: Eric Dickerson.
CTR: Dickerson's was great.
KG: A.C. Green.
CTR: And it didn't even get him laid...
KG: Then you go to the worst curls, Lester Hayes.
CTR: Eriq La Salle in Coming to America.
KG: Yeah, we can go Michael Cage. You can throw out some names. We did it all the time. Who was the best white guy's curls?
CTR: Hal McCoy had it back in the day.
KG: Gary Carter!
KG: We had to put Deion in a two categories , because he had the best two-sport curl. Then we had the most money in a curl?
CTR: That wasn't Deion?
KG: No, no, no, that was Michael (Jackson). And then we put Michael in the white and black categories. Then we had the best duet curl, which was Ashford and Simpson. The best group curl was a tie between Full Force and Ready for the World. As you can see, we put a lot of thought into this. We were on vacation and we came up with the lists. We had to write the **** down because we were laughing so hard.
CTR: How often you talk to Adam?
KG: We talk to each other all the time. He has a nice game, he hit the home run against Cincinnati, I said, "Nice ho-mer, Ad-am." He texts back, "Thanks Ken."
CTR: They took three-out-of- four from them. There are still people talking about how many wins the Nats have and will Dunn have more homers than they have wins.
KG: Well, that's the line in Vegas, and it's getting close.
CTR: I'll take the Nats. Think about it, the record for losses is what, 120? That's still 42 wins. He hits 40 every year.
KG: He could get hot. If he gets hot...
CTR: No, you know what he does. He hits 40, drives in 100, scores 100, walks 100 - it's what he does.
KG: What's the one thing everyone complained about Adam?
CTR: Defense? Strikeouts? Average with runners in scoring position?
KG: Strikeouts. He also had 100 walks. You don't just have those guys sitting in your minor league system. You just don't have that. That's just the way it is. You just don't have that type of person just sitting there. They found that out this year. Joey's a great guy and you can't say anything bad about him, but he's not the threat Adam is. Those pitchers who are now losing 2-1 games...
CTR: Yeah, poor Harang.
KG: Well, that started last year.
CTR: How much do you watch?
CTR: Do you look at the standings?
KG: No. At 4 p.m., we're on the field and it's not like I'm watching them. And then their game's over by the time we start, it's not like I'm going to watch them then.
CTR: When you were deciding between Atlanta and Seattle, how difficult was that and how close were you to going to Atlanta?
KG: Atlanta was an opportunity to be close to home, and I think people understand how I feel about that. The situation that I said I'd like to retire a Mariner, those two things were there and you always tell your kids if you say something, try to live by it. It was tough.
CTR: Has Seattle been what you'd hoped?
CTR: I mean, besides...
KG: My batting average?
CTR: No, I was going to go with the record.
KG: But you know what? The whole organization is moving in the right direction. They tell me I'm a big part of it, but I consider myself a part of the piece that's helping the organization, not that I've done anything I've never done before. They've never asked me to come in here and be the jump-up-and-down-rah-rah guy, they've just told me to be me in the clubhouse and go out and play. That's it. I don't care who you are on this team, you're going to get ragged. You're going to do something in the course of the year that I can pick on.
I've had a few things... our manager decided he wanted professionalism, so he told everyone that they have to wear ties. I put his face on a tie and we all wore it - everyone on the team. It was a situation where I was trying to break the ice. These guys didn't know how I was. They may have thought, "A Hall of Fame-type player, he may come in and demand things." I've never looked at it that way. I just rag everyone. I've got another tie that said I'm the World's Greatest Teammate and had a picture of me. I've got a few other things that are coming out in the next couple of weeks. I've got both of them (pointing toward Ichiro and Kenj Johjima) they're my Japanese connection.
What's up pimp? (toward Ichiro - to which Ichiro responds, "What's up George?" Griffey's full name, of course, is George Kenneth Griffey Jr.)
You can't write this... (and then Griffey tells me his plans to punk his teammates, which are pretty funny)
CTR: Basically, you're having fun.
KG: Yeah, I always have fun. Our third baseman is out after getting hit in the nuts. When he comes back next week, his first at-bat, his theme music is going to be the Nutcracker Suite.
CTR: That's just wrong.
KG: But good.
CTR: Just wrong.
KG: Oh yeah. The thing is, I try to keep everyone loose, like I did in Cincinnati. When your reporters and other people come up to you and say you're doing a great job in here... I've been playing golf with the bullpen, I went to dinner with Ich, I mess with Jo-Jo, I'm always on our starters. I'm just being me. The coaching staff, I get on them too. Especially since Lee and I got drafted the same year, I call him Coach Tinsley. I'll never call him Lee.
CTR: How much longer are you going to do this?
KG: I don't know.
CTR: I mean, you've said you feel like you're starting something. Do you want to stick around to see it out?
KG: Yeah. But, like I said, I've never forced myself on anyone. If they tell me they don't want me anymore, that's fine. I've had a chance to do something I've wanted to do, and that's come back to Seattle. I haven't wavered on that at all. I've gotten a chance to do it and I'm thankful to the organization for giving me a chance to do it. They could have said no. It wasn't owed to me to come here. It wasn't owed to me to have Atlanta offer me a contract. They thought enough of me to think I can help the organization and reached out to me - that means a lot.
The same thing happened in Seattle. A couple of people said, "Ken would be a good fit here."
That's how I look at it. I don't look at it as 28 other teams didn't want me, because I don't know their situations. Sometimes it's just not a fit in other organizations. I was able to come here and help as much as I could. We'll see how it is at the end of the year and we'll go from there. I'm having the time of my life.