This is the transcript, as provided by Major League Baseball, of the press conference Sunday in which Ken Griffey Jr. was given the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award in Arlington, Texas, before Game 4 of the World Series.
Harold Reynolds, who was Griffey's teammate in Seattle, moderated the event.
HAROLD REYNOLDS: Thank you for coming. My name is Harold Reynolds and I'm with MLB Network. It's my honor to host this. Today this is a very special presentation. We're presenting the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, which was created in 1998, and has recognized achievements and accomplishments and contributions of historical significance in baseball. There have only been 11 recipients of this prestigious award, and it was last given in 2007 when the Commissioner honored Rachel Robinson for her continued legacy of her late husband Jackie Robinson, and her service to Major League Baseball. I'd like it turn it over to Commissioner Selig and he'll tell you about his special guest and his special presentation.
COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG: Thank you, Harold. I'm honored to be here today to present the Commissioner's Award for Historic Achievement to Ken Griffey, Jr. It's been four years, as Harold said, since I've had the privilege to bestow this award, and frankly I can't think of anyone more deserving. Ken's retirement came quickly, and he never got the send off that I felt and many felt he so richly deserved.
I think this award is a fitting way for Major League Baseball, as an institution, to say thank you to one of its all time really great players. His career is obviously Hall of Fame worthy, there is no doubt about that. If you look at his accomplishments, it is clear that he was one of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field.
He was a 13 time All Star, ten time Gold Glove Award winner. He was, and how well I remember this, the youngest member of Major League Baseball's All Century Team. He ranks fifth all time with 630 home runs, was the unanimous winner of the 1997 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
But you can't measure Ken Griffey, Jr.'s, impact on his impressive numbers alone. The manner in which he carried himself made him among the most popular players for this past generation. He played the game with a smile and with an enthusiasm that showed how much he loved playing baseball. From his knack for stealing home runs (from opposing batters) to his swing, which was one of the smoothest, most beautiful that I have ever seen, his ability made him electric to watch.
All of you know how much I love history, and there are little things that happen in a sport, and I remember him racing around the bases to score the winning run against the Yankees in 1995, sending the Mariners to the American League Championship Series for the first time in their history. It was a Sunday night call, I remember, I was just walking in the house, my phone was ringing. Ken called me, and it was his idea to wear No. 42 as a tribute to Jackie Robinson on the day commemorating his historic achievement.
He asked my permission to do that, and I of course granted it. It told me a lot, however, about Ken, about how much he understood the history, how much he understood the impact of Jackie Robinson, and so I've often gotten credit for something, but really he made a phone call to me on a Sunday night at home that I'll never forget.
So with Ken leading the way, it began to catch on with other players. Eventually it led to all on field personnel throughout baseball wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, a tradition that continues to this day and will continue at least as long as I'm around.
Ken, I'm grateful for your contributions to our national pastime. You were a joy to watch and your highlights and accomplishments will be appreciated for decades to come. And for a myriad of reasons: Staying out of controversy, playing the game the way it was supposed to be played and should be played, this is a pleasure to award the Commissioner's Award for Historic Achievement. Congratulations. (Applause).
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: First of all, thank you. This is truly an honor. Just to have my name even brought up in the conversation about getting this award means a lot, and to actually be able to take it home is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. There's a lot of people that I'd like to thank. You know, first it would be my mom and dad, my family, my wife, my three kids, for letting me continue to play baseball after they were born. If you listen to my oldest, he was like, you should have stopped a long time ago so you could hang out with me. The Mariners for drafting me, giving me a chance to go out there and fulfill my dream of playing Major League Baseball. Then I'd go to Cincinnati for letting me come home, where I grew up, and even Chicago for rejuvenating me as a baseball player and my beliefs in the game.
You know, I had ups and downs like everybody, but I can tell you that this is...everything that I've done in this game I wouldn't change. I came in this game just wanting to play baseball, my love for baseball. It wasn't because I thought I was going to win an award. It was because of the guys that I watched on TV, not necessarily my dad but everybody else, the smiles on their face. Willie Randolph, Kirby Puckett, all these guys were a big part of...Rickey Henderson, all these guys were there when I was just about that age to say what do I want to do, do I want to play football or do I want to play baseball? They said, you can play baseball and have fun. Look at us and stuff like that. When I finally talked to my dad about playing baseball, he was like, just go out there and give it your best shot and see what happens. You're going to be bigger, stronger. He didn't say faster. He just said bigger and stronger. He said, you're going to hit more home runs. I was like, yeah, okay. Just like any other son, not believing their dad, until it actually happens.
You know, I give a lot of credit to the guys, all my teammates who pushed me, especially the guy to my right, Harold. As a kid coming up there, he was my big brother. He was the guy, hey, we're going to do this. We've got to do this. This is how you act like a Major Leaguer. These are things you're going to have to do if you want to be successful. I learned that at an early age. 19 year old kid being in the Big Leagues, you're just free range on everything. You're just running around, and like I said, I had guys who really took care of me. A lot of this award also goes to them because without them, I wouldn't be me.
I mean and I can't say enough for the guys in the organization and my family and Bud for, of course, even thinking about me. With that, I want to thank everybody. It's humbling.
HAROLD REYNOLDS: Well said. I often was asked when Ken was 19 what I thought about him, and I said, well, he skipped three years in the Big Leagues by going to high school. (Laughter). He was that great. At 19, he was that great. We are going to open it up for questions.
Q. Commissioner Selig mentioned that your retirement was quick, and I'm wondering if you felt at all that you didn't get to enjoy your retirement as many perhaps other great players did?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: No, not really. I've always said when it's time for me to go, I'm going to go. I mean, it's not that I want to have a cross country tour and get a rocking chair. I got called a fossil a couple times from a couple teammates.
No, I just felt it was time, and I'm a firm believer that I didn't want to have that added pressure of my teammates asking and getting asked all the questions. I made the decision and stuck to it.
Q. Now that you've had a couple of years or a year and a half or so to reflect on your career, what do you want people to most remember you for?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: That I enjoyed baseball. I went out there and played hard and enjoyed it, had a smile and that I cared a lot about the game itself.
Q. Just building off that point about the swift exit, does receiving this award, coming here to the World Series, does it feel like any kind of closure in some way, the closure you maybe didn't get a year ago?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: Yeah and no. I mean, when I made up my mind on the retirement, I didn't...I think everybody knows, I didn't like a whole lot of press. I just wanted to be me. I didn't want to have to have my teammates put in a situation, and I think that was the biggest thing. But having the award, yeah, it's some closure to...not a whole lot of people, 11 other people have gotten this award. So it's definitely the closure that I needed.
Q. The stats are impressive and your game is impressive but I think one of the things most impressive is your respect for the game. You touched on it briefly, but were you taught to respect the game and did you realize at a young age that you did respect the game?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: I had guys like Chuck Harmon, Sr., Joe Black, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, all these guys came to my house as a kid, and all these guys talked about baseball and what it meant to me. I'm still really close with Mr. Harmon, Sr., and of course Willie. Willie is the godfather to all of us, so when he says something, we all just sat there and listened. We were like little kids when he came to the house. I've got, you know, from Lee May, Jr., to Frank Fields, to Cornelius, all these guys were at my house, and he would come in and he would talk to us and we would all sit there like, okay, this is him. He was just like, the respect that he had for the game and the things that he went through to play this game, that a lot of us will never know and could never fathom what he had to deal with day in and day out.
And from that point on, it was just go out and play. He said, we did all the hard work. It's time for you to just go out and play and have fun, and that's the attitude that we all took.
Q. Do you have a favorite game or moment, looking back? And Commissioner, did you have a moment where you saw Junior play and you were like, this kid is going to be a star?
COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG: Well, I talked about '95, so I'll never forget that. I mean, it was...Chuck Armstrong knows this better than I do, but the season was so critical because it really kept the Mariners in Seattle. I mean, it was really amazing. You talk about in history how little things happen, and here's this remarkable performance by a great young player. You knew he was something very special.
I guess, look, having...there are certain times in a long career where you see...I remember when Hank Aaron came to the Braves because I was there, and you knew from the first time you saw him there was something special. The first time I saw him, I said to myself, this is another instance; this guy is really special. And he was.
Mariners president CHUCK ARMSTRONG: I remember when we drafted Kenny back in 1987. We were actually in trust then as our owner then George Argyros was trying to buy the Padres.
COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG: How well I remember. If that isn't called one of the great memories.
CHUCK ARMSTRONG: So it was about 3:00 in the morning, and Ken and Brian (Goldberg, Griffey's agent) were in Cincinnati and Dick Balderson was our GM, Roger Jongewaard was our scouting director. And we had settled on Ken, and I said because we were in a situation, we wanted to make him our No. 1. And never regretted it. As Harold said, I do view Ken like a surrogate son and almost like a member of our extended family, and I do.
It's been an honor and a pleasure to watch him grow up and be a Seattle Mariner, and to have him come back and work for us now that he's retired from the game.
Q. You obviously tore up a lot of parks in your career, but at this particular place your numbers were pretty outrageous. And I was wondering if you had any recollections or anything that got your juices going here?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: Friends and family who live here. There are some parks that when family comes to visit you, you don't want them to talk about you when they drive you home (laughter). So I have some friends, like I said, and family who live here and would travel up here, if it's a place where a lot of the families came on the trip. I remember we would have eight to ten of the families here in Texas, especially the Buhners. They'd bring out the whole...and I didn't want to hear them the next day at the pool talk about me or the walk, when the ballpark was just across the street, talk about me on that walk. It was like the walk of death coming to the hotel.
It was a little easier to get focused when you have some people getting on you.
And to answer your question, probably playing with my dad. Playing with my dad was probably one of the biggest things. I tell everybody, and I told him, I said, for 17 years you protected me. For the next six weeks I get to protect you. He laughed, and I learned a lot about hitting in that time. With him, if he got the fastball, I knew I wasn't going to get it the first pitch, and when he got a curveball, I was like, yes, finally. I watched him set up pitchers. It was somebody who looked like me that I had total trust in, and it was just one of those things that actually helped me out because I'd see him swing at a change up and the guy would never throw it again. And I said, that don't ever happen to me. If I swing at a change up, he's throwing it right back. He can miss it by a foot and they would never throw it. He said, if you swing hard enough, they'll never throw it again. I said, okay. Towards the end of my career it started working out, but early in the career it didn't work out so well.
But playing with him was probably the biggest thing, because it's not that me getting up, it was a combination of me getting up fast and him hanging around and playing through a couple work stoppages and things like that. We won't have no problems with that no more, please. (Laughter).
But it was definitely playing with him.
Q. Aside from the obvious, what was the inspiration behind you starting the movement to wear Jackie's number and your call to the Commissioner?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: The things that he did. I mean, if he didn't play, you never know how long it's going to take for another African American to play, and would my dad have played, and would I have the love for the game if my dad didn't play.
So he was the start of it all for not just African Americans but everybody else to play. It was my way of respecting him for what he did, for him wearing that uniform allowed me to wear my uniform, and you have to give thanks in a certain way, and it was my way of saying thank you to him for allowing that to happen.
Q. This was the first year we went through, in about four decades, we didn't have a Griffey in the boxscores. How long will it be before we get to see another Griffey in the boxscores?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: It might be in a different box. (Laughter).
He's more of a football person. My little guy, I've got a chance there. But my oldest is like, no. My dad let me pick my sport, and I let him pick his. The guys who have seen him, he actually swings like me, just like me. He has a little more pop than I did at that age. But he just doesn't like baseball. You know, that's fine.
COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG: We'll have to talk to him.
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: I tried, and his grandfather tried.
Now, my youngest, he likes baseball. He's your Rickey Henderson, throws left, hits right. I had to stick him at third base one game because he wasn't getting enough ground balls, and then I made him catch. A left handed catcher, imagine that.
But it's one of those things that, like I said, my dad let me choose what I wanted to do, and I have great respect for Trey saying, this is what I want to do. You guys did what you want to do, this is what I want to do. And as a dad, I've got to support that and try to help him out as much as possible.
I have some great friends who have been there, Ricky Watters and Thurman Thomas, who were there who help him out, so I don't have to answer all those tough questions because he'll ask something and I'll go, and I'll look at them and they'll answer and I'll say, thank you. Hopefully in a couple years my youngest will decide which one he wants to play, and maybe it'll be baseball.
HAROLD REYNOLDS: Junior, what are you doing today?
KEN GRIFFEY, JR.: I'm the assistant head coach for a nine year old high powered offensive football team. My daughter plays basketball and Trey is football, so I spend most of my days going to practice. And when I'm not at practice, I go around still working with the Mariners. I go around to all the Minor League affiliates and help out the young kids, and get inside their head and have them ask me all the tough questions that they really don't want to ask somebody that's a coach. It goes a long way trying to help those guys out. You know, it's my way of giving back to them. I don't have to sit there and make the decisions who goes where. I help out everybody, just call me in the middle of the night, I'll talk to you if you've got a problem. You're not seeing the ball, you're pulling the ball. I'm not offensive, defensive specialist, I'm an organization guy. Pitchers come, hey, how do I get this guy out? What is he doing?
So I really enjoy traveling to the Minor Leagues. I drive my bus around. My friends call it the Mad Mobile, which is fine, but I really love what I'm doing. Maybe I'll go a little further and do a little more, but right now it's watching the kids grow up and helping other kids try to achieve their goal.
HAROLD REYNOLDS: I learned a lot time ago, you give the Commissioner the last word. So when he's finished, we're finished.
COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG: And there are some that thought you were finished years ago. (Laughter).Harold is one of my favorites. I want to say, as we talk about this award, whoever wins it, you always look back on each generation and say to yourself, if the next wave, the next great generation of players will watch somebody, they'll learn not only to respect the game, how to play the game, how to act. I hope the next generation of players emulates Ken Griffey, Jr., because they'll have done a remarkable job. Thank you. (Applause).