The day I was pranked by Junior
Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player I’ve ever covered regularly as a reporter to enter Baseball’s Hall of Fame. I got to see him up close when he was past the prime of his great career, but he still often displayed that incredible, perfect swing and some dazzling plays and moments. He also could hold court in the clubhouse with people better than anyone I’ve seen before or since.
My professional relationship with Griffey got off to an interesting start to say the least. At Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., before the 2006 season and my first covering the Reds for MLB.com after five seasons in Minnesota, I made my introductions to as many players as I could. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about meeting Junior, who I had heard could sometimes be tough to approach. He was perfectly cordial and professional, however.
A couple of days later, I received an email from Reds media relations that any reporter who wished to interview Griffey must give at least 48 hours notice and make the request in writing with an explanation about the topic included. A blank form was attached for filling out and printing.
Of course, I was incensed. I was furious. I said some words that can’t printed here. But I didn’t do anything about it. Maybe a day or two later after a Spring Training workout, I attempted to talk to Griffey as part of a group interview that was already ongoing when I arrived.
Griffey stopped talking.
“Where’s your paper?” he said.
“I don’t have it,” I replied. “Did they [the other reporters] fill out the form?”
Griffey told me they had filled out the form and reached into his locker and handed me one that was already printed. I scribbled my name and information on the form hurriedly and handed it back to him.
“Thanks,” Griffey said. “See you in two days.”
I turned and walked out of the clubhouse, feeling defeated. Once again, I was incensed. I was furious. I said some more words that can’t printed here. This time, I marched upstairs to the office of Rob Butcher, the Reds’ media relations director.
I told Rob what had happened. He immediately got up from his desk and angrily said he’d deal with this right away.
I followed Rob back into the clubhouse. I found Griffey standing at his locker with a huge smile on his face. And I noticed reporters John Fay, Marc Lancaster and Hal McCoy, and Butcher as well, were all smiling too.
Griffey gave me the look that said “gotcha.” This new guy had been had by one of the best who ever played the game.
I couldn’t help but laugh as I put the pieces together and was a good sport about the conspiracy to prank me.
At his locker afterwards, Griffey and I talked for a little bit.
“You heard some things about me before you started here, didn’t you?” I recall him saying.
I told him I had heard some things but that I had an open mind.
During the nearly three seasons that followed, Griffey was often at his locker sitting on top of a giant blank trunk that kept his equipment. He didn’t like talking about himself much, but would always discuss his three kids or football. If he talked baseball, it was usually about other players or issues that didn’t involve him. Of course, he had no problem making fun of teammates and needling reporters for a laugh.
But most of the time, when you needed a quote where had to talk about himself, Griffey would eventually talk. Sometimes he could be prickly, as advertised, but no one could say he wasn’t a good person.
Even if his quote wasn’t great, Griffey was usually professional. He was a great ambassador for Major League Baseball.
And now, Griffey is a Hall of Famer too. It was a privilege to watch him work.