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June 18, 2010

Talkin' Baseball With Ken Griffey Sr.

Two weeks after his sudden retirement announcement, Ken Griffey Jr. is still making headlines.

Whether it is sharing memories of the guy C.J. Wilson calls “the Willie Mays of his generation” or weighing whether or not he should be an All-Star, people are still talking about Junior.

Last week, before his Dayton Dragons took on the Beloit Snappers, Senior Griffey took questions from the media about his new role as a minor league hitting coach, Pete Rose’s bat and, of course, his son.

The Hall of Very Good was along for the ride…here’s how it all shook out.

MEDIA: After baseball, is coaching what you wanted to do?

SENIOR: I went right into it…I didn’t hesitate at all. I retired in 1991 and in 1992, I was the hitting coach for the Mariners.

MEDIA: How far do you want to go…do you want to manage the Cincinnati Reds one of these days?

SENIOR: No, I went that route. (Laughs) I got interviewed for dozens of clubs three or four times and when you get interviewed for six or seven hours, you figure you might have the job. It just didn’t work out. Right here, working with the kids is where I want to be.

MEDIA: What led you to riding the buses in the Minor Leagues?

SENIOR: First of all…I started here. I played five years in the Minor Leagues, so riding the buses never really bothered me. I enjoy the sightseeing and all that.

MEDIA: What were you doing before you became a Minor League coach?

SENIOR: I was scouting for the Reds. I got out of the big leagues in ’02 or 2000, I can’t remember which one it was…there was just too much politics for me. It was easier for me to get into scouting.

MEDIA: What’s the most enjoyable part of working with these kids?

SENIOR: Just watching them progress…watching them day in and day out. You can watch them progress and you can see how they make adjustments. That’s the pleasure I get.

MEDIA: It’s your first year as the hitting coach in Dayton, do you ever just pop in a tape of Junior and show them the sweetest swing in baseball?

SENIOR: Not yet. (Laughs) I’ll show them at the end of the year probably. (Laughs) I try to get them to watch some of the big league players…(Albert) Pujols, Jay Bruce. When they’re playing, just watch them hit. They’re doing the same thing these guys are doing and I just tell them that the man difference between the Majors and here is consistency.

MEDIA: Not everyone can be a home run hitter these days. Are you working with the guys that are batting second like you did and telling them “this is not the time to hit home runs ”?

SENIOR: When we’re out there working, each player has a different swing and I just try to get them to understand that if they can make good contact every time, they’ve got a chance. If you make good contact and you have enough power, you’re going to hit it out of the park. If they can make good contact eight out of ten times, they’ve got a good chance at getting two or three hits. That’s what we work on.

MEDIA: In your career, the most you struck out was 84 times, now strikeouts are like a way of life in the Majors…how did that happen? Are you trying to do something about that?

SENIOR: When I came through (with the Reds), I was hitting second in the lineup so I wasn’t supposed to strike out at all. I was supposed to get on base. Now, over the last ten years, it’s been about home runs and in order for you to hit home runs, you’ve got to have a longer swing and go for it. You’re going to miss a lot of balls and I guess that’s what the higher strikeout ratio is all about. I’m just here trying to help these kids try to continue their career, go up higher and just be consistent.

MEDIA: Do you still have some contact with most of your old teammates?

SENIOR: I talk to all of them all time. George Foster, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose…of course. Davey (Concepcion) and (Cesar) Geronimo are really the only two that are out of communication. I’m not going to Venezuela and I’m not going to the Dominican. Tony Perez is in Miami…George, Joe, Pete and Johnny Bench I see a lot too.

MEDIA: What do you think about the latest report of some guy having Pete Rose’s bat having a little something inside?

SENIOR: I have no idea what that’s about. (Laughs) I’ve never heard of that.

MEDIA: What’s Junior’s next move going to be? Have you talked to him at all? Is he going to stay in the game like you have?

SENIOR: You know…I don’t know. I haven’t really sat down and talked to him about any of that. I know one thing…he’s making plans for me to go hunting with him sometime this winter, but that’s about it right now.

MEDIA: He seems like he was pretty pleased with retiring. Does he have any regrets?

SENIOR: He was happy about everything. When I first talked to him, it was two o’clock in the morning on the day he decided to call it quits. He was driving through Sioux Falls, South Dakota and he seemed pretty happy about the decision he made. He wasn’t going to play very much and he knew it. There wasn’t any reason for him to stay around and be a distraction.

MEDIA: What does it say about him doing this compared to some other options that were available?

SENIOR: I’ll put it this way…his mother raised him right. She’s the one that put all the knots on his head. Seeing that he did things the way they were supposed to be done, I am very proud of him.

MEDIA: When you look at his numbers and the 630 homers, do you think it will be even more staggering when the look at the era, the fact that he couldn’t stay healthy, yet he put up the big numbers?

SENIOR: I don’t know if anyone is going to worry about that. All I know is that people will talk about the steroid era and all the home runs. But I tell you what, it’s going to be hard enough to get him to Cooperstown. He doesn’t like to make speeches. (Laughs) He wants me to introduce him, but I don’t know…we’ll have to wait and see.

Ken Griffey Sr. played 19 years in the Majors and retired in 1991 with a career .296 batting average and 2143 hits. He was the starting rightfielder for the back-to-back World Champion Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and 1976.

In 1990, with Seattle, he and his son, Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father-and-son tandem to play on the same team. They played their first game together against the Kansas City Royals on August 31 and a month later, the two hit back-to-back home runs.

In 2010, Senior was hired as the batting coach for the Dayton Dragons, the Reds' Single-A affiliate.

***Special thanks to Marcus Jacobs of the Beloit Snappers for making this possible and friends of The Hall Andy Gannon and Adam Warner (among others) for asking some questions.***

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