NEW YORK (AP) — On their first full day as Hall of Famers, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza talked about their dads.
Los Angeles drafted Piazza at the recommendation of then-manager Tommy Lasorda, a friend of Piazza’s father, Vince. Mike credited his dad for getting him to the majors, for forcing him to get into a batting cage every day.
“My dad made a joke last night,” Piazza said Thursday. “‘Man, I could have been arrested. It could have been child abuse.’ … He was probably closer to going over the top than most parents today.”
Griffey acknowledged Ken Griffey Sr., a three-time All-Star who won a pair of World Series titles with Cincinnati. Playing together with the Mariners, they hit back-to-back home runs at the California Angels against Kirk McCaskill on Sept. 14, 1990.
“Being 20, when I shook his hand, he was like, ‘You know what we did?'” Griffey Jr. recalled. “I was like, Yeah, we went back-to-back. Like every other 20-year-old, it was like no big deal. He was like, ‘Yeah, we just went back-to-back. Nobody’s ever done that. Now let’s do it again.’ He understood the history of the game, being 38, 39, where I was just like, I’m ready to play every day.
“As I got older, I finally understood, you know, what I’ve accomplished and what I had a potential to be. Now it’s paid off.”
Junior also praised his mom, Birdie, who was at home while her husband played and drove Junior to his youth games.
“My dad would say something. She had a way of saying it much differently than my dad would say it. You know how dads can be sometimes,” Junior reminisced. “So she knew my swing. She knew if I was fielding right. … She watched enough baseball to be able to tell what I was doing wrong. She even told him what he was doing wrong. I thought I’d throw that in, Dad. Sorry.”
Sitting in the audience at the New York Athletic Club for Thursday’s news conference, Ken Griffey Sr. had a quick response.
“You have no idea,” he said.
Last year’s inductions featured a contrast in heights: 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson and 5-foot-11 Pedro Martinez.
This year’s will highlight a difference in paths: Griffey is the first No. 1 overall pick in the Hall and Piazza, taken on the 62nd round with the 1,390th pick, is the lowest elected to Cooperstown.
“I was able to sneak into this game, kind of limp in, if you will,” Piazza said. “Through a lot of hard work and determination, some luck, some timing, was able to build a pretty good career.”
When they started off their professional careers, Junior and Piazza carried different burdens.
Piazza began at Salem, Oregon, in the Northwest League, earning $850 a month. He thought of times he’d run to the backstop to retrieve pitches he failed to catch.
“Pitchers that came from good colleges, they’re like: ‘Who is this guy catching? He’s terrible. We need to get another guy back there,'” he said. “Fortunately I was able to get better and work harder and, at least, as I said, improve to where I was able to be a pretty good major league catcher.”
Griffey received a $160,000 signing bonus and started with a $700 monthly salary at Bellingham, Washington, also in the Northwest League.
“Wow, I just remember those bus rides. You touched it all with having roommates and things like that, people you don’t know,” he said, thinking about the attitude of his teammates, managers and coaches. “You’re No.1 pick. So what? You still got to go out there and play like everybody else. We’re not going to treat you any different.”
That team was managed by Rick Sweet, who made it to the major leagues for just three seasons.
“He actually fined me for missing curfew,” Griffey said. “Only reason I missed curfew is I’m allergic to fish, I went to eat after a seven-hour bus ride. He doesn’t care. ‘You missed curfew. Here is a hundred.’ When I got to Cincinnati, I asked for my money back. He said he didn’t have it.”
The two played in the same game 30 times. In the first, Griffey hit a 422-foot home run to right-center that landed in the second deck of Seattle’s Kingdome. An inning later on June 14, 1997, Piazza hit a two-run drive, part of a 4-for-4 night in the Dodgers’ 9-8 loss to Seattle.
“I’m starting to remember,” Piazza said. “The first year of interleague play. Fun to hit the ball to right there.”
“It’s not fun to go get it,” Griffey responded.
Piazza thought about the pitch from Tom Candiotti.
“Pitcher shook me off,” he said.
After the game that night, Piazza told reporters: “He’s light years ahead of me.”
Not anymore. They’re headed to Cooperstown together.