Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. become the first father-son duo to ever play together
We revisit the day both men got a hit in the same Seattle Mariners lineup — 26 years ago
In a sport as old as baseball, it had never happened before. Not once. But on Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. made history when they both played for the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Kansas City Royals.
At the time, Griffey Sr. was 40 years old, cut days earlier by the Cincinnati Reds after hitting just .206 over 46 games. Still, then-Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre knew he had a magical moment on his hands and he wanted to see it.
“Here he is a father, a veteran player ending his career,” Lefebvre said to the Los Angeles Times, “and the son is a brilliant young talent, just like his father was when he was first starting his career, and they’re both going to be out there together. Today is a great day for baseball. It’s a great day for Seattle. It’s a great day for the Mariners.”
That night against the Royals, Lefebvre penciled in his stud 20-year-old center fielder, Griffey Jr., into the No. 3 spot in the batting order. Griffey Sr. would bat No. 2.
“I’m very nervous,” Griffey Sr. said before the game to The Associated Press.
“It’s really going to be weird tonight, playing with my dad,” Griffey Jr. said.
After both men trotted out to the outfield in the top of the first inning — Griffey Jr. grinning and waving at his old man — Griffey Sr. came to bat in the bottom half of the inning. He smacked the first pitch he saw and nearly took off the head of the Royals starting pitcher Storm Davis.
Griffey Jr. came up next, wiggling his bat with all the swagger we’d come to know and love. He ripped one into right field as a Kingdome crowd of 27,166 lost its mind. Before the inning was over, both men would score.
It wasn’t the only special play of the game. In the sixth inning, Griffey Sr. threw out Royals left fielder Bo Jackson as he was trying to stretch a single into a double. Griffey Sr. caught the ball cleanly off the outfield wall and fired a bullet into Mariners second baseman Harold Reynolds. Jackson even smiled, the AP noted afterward.
“I didn’t expect a perfect bounce off the wall and to have that old guy throw me out,” Jackson said. “I’d have been mad if anyone else had thrown me out, but it was a piece of history. Those Griffeys were messing with me.”
Griffey Jr. bent down on his hands and knees in center field after the play, beaming in amazement.
“This is the pinnacle for me, something I’m very proud of,” Griffey Sr. said after the game. “You can talk about the ’76 batting race, the two World Series I played in and the All-Star games I played in. But this is No. 1. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“I wanted to cry,” Griffey Jr said. “It was his day.”
Even though the Mariners later admitted that starting Griffey Sr. initially wasn’t a baseball decision, “I don’t deny the fact that there is a marketing aspect,” Woody Woodward, then-vice president of baseball operations for the Mariners, told the Los Angeles Times after the duo’s first game. “If I told you otherwise, you wouldn’t believe it.” The fact is Griffey Sr. was helped by his placement in the lineup.
Over 21 games that season, Griffey Sr. had a ridiculous .377 batting average. But getting to play next to his hotshot son didn’t just help Griffey Sr.’s batting line, it helped his perspective about his son in general. When Griffey Jr. was inducted to the Hall of Fame earlier this year, his dad admitted he didn’t know how good his son was until he played with him in 1990.
Better yet, their relationship grew.
“We’re friends,” Griffey Jr. told the AP after they both singled against the Royals in their first game together. “We’ve become more like brothers over the last four or five years,” Griffey Sr. said. “He’s asked me for a lot more advice than he ever asked before.”