06/20/2004 7:10 PM ET
Griffey's special Father's Day gift
Dad, family on hand as Junior hits historic No. 500
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Ken Griffey Jr. hugs his father, Ken Griffey Sr., after hitting his 500th career home run on Sunday. (Tom Gannam/AP)
Griffey launches No. 500: 56K | 350K
Griffey launches No. 500: 56K | 350K
ST. LOUIS -- Reaching over the camera well next to the Cincinnati Reds' dugout at Busch Stadium, Ken Griffey Jr. hugged his dad Sunday afternoon and said, "Happy Father's Day." And then he told him, "I love you."
It was a moment that was at once all so poignant and all so familiar.
"It's a nice Father's Day present, but just an easy way for him to get out of getting me something," Ken Sr. said, laughing in a news conference that followed his son's 500th career home run. "He used to call me on my birthday and say, 'Happy birthday, Dad, I hit you a home run!' It doesn't work that way anymore. He has to get me something."
Following his dad to the podium, Junior said with that trademark Griffey smile that he inherited along with a father's passion for baseball: "Oh, he usually gets the same gift every year. Old Spice and underwear. He has a drawer full of that. He'll get something. It might be a favorite neon green polo shirt and a tie."
Father and son now have combined for 652 home runs, and this was more than the convenient what-a-Father's Day story. This career has been about father and son for as long as you can remember. The magical milestone, it seems, only could have happened this way.
Junior grew up around the Reds in their Big Red Machine days of the 1970s, when dad was their outfielder. In 1989, just as Junior was securing a spot in the Seattle Mariners' outfield, Ken Sr. signed a one-year deal with the Reds at age 39. It marked the first time a father-son duo had played simultaneously in the Majors. Junior doubled off Oakland's Dave Stewart in his first big-league at-bat, and Senior cried after seeing the replay.
In 1990, the Reds released Senior so he could latch on with Seattle before retiring. They made history again by becoming the first father and son to bat in the same lineup; each singled in his first at-bat. Then the following month was the moment that is so memorable now, as people look at these 500 home runs by Junior in context: The back-to-back homers off California's Kirk McCaskill.
Now it was 14 years later, and the father was sitting a few rows behind the Reds' dugout, with Junior's children Trey (10), Taryn (8) and Tevin (2). Birdie, Junior's mom, also was there. The 20th member of the 500 Home Run Club had just the right company, part of a sellout crowd of 45,620 that warmly applauded this moment.
"My dad hit 152 [homers] and that's the person I wanted to be like," Junior said. "My hero growing up. That's the person who taught me how to play and is still telling me how to play.
"When I blew out my knee, he said, 'You can come back as long as you apply yourself.' ... He's always been there when I need him -- and when I don't. He's always going to be a dad."
That included some advice on dealing with the buildup toward this milestone. It had been a week's wait since his 499th homer, and with the world seemingly watching, Senior offered counsel.
"Pick out a pitch you can hit," he told him. "Still get your base hits, and one is going to fly out."
Junior said Sunday: "That's one thing I'm proudest of: I didn't look like I was going up there flying out [of his stance] to get 500."
Griffey Sr., resplendent in a royal blue polo, said he still has many of his son's milestone baseballs, including No. 1. There are few things that he has not seen his son do in baseball, and probably the one thing
he would like to share even more than this moment is a world championship. Senior won a pair of them with the Big Red Machine, in 1975-76, the highlights during a 19-year big-league career.
"I just want the team to do well," Senior said. Then, when asked how far he thinks his son might climb on the slugging charts, he added: "After the last three years, it's nice to see this. If he stays healthy another six or seven years, there's no telling what can happen."
Senior played with or against his share of 500-club members, but he was reluctant to talk about the significance of the small fraternity today. It has grown substantially in volume in recent years, and Fred McGriff could become the 21st later this year.
"I hit [over] 150, so I couldn't tell you," Senior said. "You're going to have to ask [Junior]. When I hit 152, I thought it was almost 6,000. I know it means a whole lot to him."
It did. Especially being able to share it with his dad and his own children on the perfect Father's Day.
"For me, having my family around was great," Junior said. "They said, 'Hey, we're still here, we're going to travel with you and support you.'"
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.