A Tale of Two Griffeys: One Very Good, One Dominant

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi

There have been nearly 250 father-son combinations to play in Major League Baseball. History shows that it’s pretty rare for both the father and the son to excel on the diamond at a high level comprising leadership in batting or pitching categories, all-star selections, and post-season appearances.

Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Tony Perez, and Earl Averill had major-league sons with marginal success as big-leaguers themselves, while Joe Wood and Ed Walsh’s sons were in the majors only long enough for the proverbial “cup of coffee.” Pete Rose’s son spent 21 years in the minors, but managed to get into only 11 games in the Big Show. The sons of Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle never made it out of the low minor leagues.

On the other hand, there are a few good examples of father and son careers that were both highly successful. One of those was Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. was simply one of the best players in baseball history. In 1998 The Sporting News came up with their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of all time which included Griffey Jr. who was then only 28 years old.  He joined legendary players such as Ruth, Aaron, Cobb, Williams, Mays, Musial, and DiMaggio.  The ultimate honor for a baseball player is his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Griffey Jr. came closest of any player to being a unanimous Hall of Fame inductee in 2016, garnering 99.3% of the baseball writers’ votes.

Griffey Jr. had the distinction of being the first player in history to appear with his father in the same major-league game. 19-year-old Griffey Jr. and his 40-year-old father, Ken Sr., were teammates with the Seattle Mariners in 1990 when they first played together on August 21.  Three weeks later they hit back-to-back home runs in the same game.

While the Mariners’ roster featuring both Griffeys may have been somewhat of a publicity stunt at the time, Griffey Sr.’s own career was nothing to sneeze at. His performance is often overshadowed by his son’s superstardom.  Even though he wasn’t a Hall of Famer like his son (Griffey Sr. received a meager 4.7% of the votes in his only year of eligibility in 1999), Griffey Sr. did manage to log a few All-Star seasons and claim two World Series rings.

Here is more background and comparison of the careers of the two outstanding players.

Both Griffeys were born in Denora, PA, which was also the birthplace of Stan Musial. Griffey Jr. shares the same birthday as Musial.

Griffey Sr. began his professional career at age 19 in 1969, being drafted in the 29th round by the Cincinnati Reds.  However, he didn’t make his major-league debut until August 25, 1973 at age 23.  Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 MLB Draft by Seattle when he was 17 years old and made his major-league debut on April 3, 1989.  Griffey Jr. went on to play in 22 big-league seasons, while his dad recorded 19 seasons.  Both were outfielders.

Griffey Sr.’s career slash line (Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) was .296/.359/.431 compared to Junior’s .284/.370/.538. The biggest contributor to their difference in Slugging Percentage was Junior’s 630 career home runs, currently sixth on the all-time leader list.  Griffey Sr.’s highest season was 21 home runs, as he managed to hit only 152 during his career.  Junior led the American League in round-trippers in four seasons and hit 40 or more in seven seasons.  Griffey Sr. had the edge over his father in Batting Average, as he compiled nine seasons with .300 or better.

Griffey Jr. was selected to 13 All-Star teams while his father appeared on three, including an All-Star Game MVP Award in 1980. Griffey Jr. also captured the award in 1992.

In addition to Junior, Griffey Sr. had another son, Craig, who took up a pro baseball career from 1991 to 1997. Craig appeared in seven minor-league seasons in the Mariners and Reds organizations but managed to reach the Triple-A level for only a handful of games.  Griffey Jr.’s son, Trey (Ken Griffey III), pursued football over baseball as his sport of choice.  He wound up playing wide receiver for the University of Arizona for four seasons, had tryouts with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, but has yet to make an active NFL team roster.  With no expectation of pursuing a pro baseball career, Trey was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 24th round of the 2016 MLB Draft as a tribute to his father (Griffey Jr.’s uniform number with the Mariners was 24.).

Griffey Sr.’s biggest claim to fame, and perhaps his most significant accomplishment over his son, came as a member of the fabled Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” teams in the early-to-mid 1970s. He helped the Reds win the World Series in 1975 and 1976.  Junior played on three post-season teams, two with Seattle and one with the Chicago White Sox, but his teams reached the American League Championship Series only once.

Griffey Jr. attained a peak salary of $12.5 million in four seasons with Cincinnati. He earned a total of $151.7 million during his career.  Of course the economics of baseball were different when Griffey Sr. was playing.  He collected a little over $10 million during his entire career, with his highest annual salary being $1.15 million for Atlanta in 1987.

The Griffeys rank among the top major-league father-son duos for combined career performances. They lead all pairs in career hits, and rank second all-time behind Barry and Bobby Bonds in games played, runs scored, home runs, and RBI.

In addition to the Bondses, other successful major-league father-son combos include Felipe and Moises Alou, George and Dick Sisler, Gus and Buddy Bell, and Mel and Todd Stottlemyre.

Former big-league stars Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Craig Biggio and Dante Bichette currently have sons in the low minors trying to follow in their father’s footsteps. Perhaps one of these will be successful in forming the next great MLB father-son duo.