Not because I wanted Junior to keep playing -- clearly, his skills had diminished to a
I'm sad about Junior's departure because, in the cliché-stuffed, sheep-mentality world of Major League Baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. was different.
When I picture Junior, I don't think about 630 home runs or 10 Gold Gloves or the backward cap or his slide across home plate to defeat the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS. No, I think about
Then I approached Griffey. He was taken aback by the questioning, but not for the reasons one might think. "Wouldn't bother me at all," he said. "Not at all." He elaborated. "If I had a gay teammates, I wouldn't care even remotely," he said. "In fact, I'd embrace it. One of my closest friends in the world is gay; he comes and goes from my house without even knocking. It's just not a big deal to me."
I've been told by many that the 19-year-old Junior who broke in with Seattle in 1989 was an awkward pain in the rear; a loudmouth egomaniac who needed to be the center of attention and was prone to slinging hurtful verbal insults. As
Griffey, however, defied the odds by genuinely evolving. Playing in the mid-major markets of Seattle and Cincinnati, he never openly pined for neither endorsements or more publicity. When steroid-enhanced cheaters like Bonds,
Junior was guarded, but also extremely funny. I was covering the Mariners 12 or 13 years ago when a man walked through the clubhouse with free sunglasses. Most guys accepted one pair -- Junior excused himself from a mini-press session, reached his hand into box and snagged a bunch. Then he looked at us, smiled and cracked, "If it's free, it's for me, and I'll take three!"
Back in the day I used to wear a sinfully ugly Kangol while covering baseball; my idea so ballplayers would remember me when I came back to town. The first time I met Griffey, during a spring training in the mid-1990s, he glanced my way and said, "Nice hat, guy." One year later, having not seen each other since, we walked past one another in a hallway. I had forgotten my beret at the hotel. "Hey," he said, "where's the hat?" I was stunned. Most ballplayers, any scribe will tell you, struggle to retain the names of the beat writers who cover them on a daily basis. Griffey met me once and recalled my hat.
I'd say 50 percent of the time I saw Griffey, he was with his children. Or talking to his children on the phone. Or telling funny stories about his children. Once, during a conversation at his locker at the Reds' old spring training compound in Sarasota, Fla., he whipped out a copy of the
It was, in fact, his son,
There was an awkward pause, and then Griffey smiled. "No," he said, "that's my boy. He might wind up even better than me."
I laughed. "I doubt that," I said.
I doubt that.