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.



HOF Inductee Griffey One of the “Sons of the Big Red Machine”

Contributed by Richard Cuicchi, 07/24/2016 

In his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, Ken Griffey Jr. mentioned his father’s Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s, known as the “The Big Red Machine.” as some of the best in baseball history. Griffey acknowledged his father’s role in his development as a player and as a person.  It’s likely some of Junior’s fondest memories are hanging out in a major league clubhouse with his father.

In a related story about the prevalence of children of Reds players from those teams who went on to play professional baseball, following is a chapter excerpted from my book “Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives” published in 2012.

Sons of the “Big Red Machine”

The Cincinnati Reds teams of the early-to-mid-1970s are noted as one of the more famous teams in baseball history. The “Big Red Machine,” led by Sparky Anderson, was comprised of some of the game’s best individual players of that era: Rose, Bench, Morgan, Foster, Perez, Griffey, and Concepcion. They went to the World Series in 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976, winning back-to-back world championships in 1975 and 1976.

Little did anyone know that these teams would produce a bevy of future professional baseball players. Sixteen players (fathers) on those teams had sons who would later play professional baseball at some level. Five of the sons were first-round draft picks by major league clubs: Brian McRae (1985), Lee May, Jr. (1988), Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987), Ed Sprague (1988), and Eduardo Perez (1991).

The sons were sometimes referred to as “Little Red Machine.” Tony Perez once commented, “They were wild. You had to keep after them. But they were good kids.” In any case, they learned the winning feeling hanging around the clubhouse of their famous fathers. This situation is a prime illustration of the sons of major leaguers excelling because of the environment in which they were raised.

Marty Brennaman (himself the progenitor of a baseball broadcasting family) was the Reds broadcaster during those years and some of his most endearing memories revolve around the players’ kids, who would congregate around the Reds’ clubhouse. They added to the excitement the Reds team was generating. “Little Pete was about as obnoxious a kid as you’d find,” Brennaman said. “But he grew up to be as fine a young man as I’ve ever known. They were all like that: loud and running around like water bugs. They were so brash it was incredible. But you’ve got to remember, they were all small then, not at an age where you would call them responsible. Riverfront Stadium was like their second home. That made it special. It was like a family in that clubhouse.”

Twenty-plus years later, several of these sons of the Big Red Machine made history in a spring training game. On March 27, 1997, in a game between Cincinnati and Texas, the Reds’ lineup included Pete Rose, Jr., who batted leadoff and played third base; Dave Concepcion, Jr., playing shortstop and batting second; and Eduardo Perez, son of Tony Perez, playing first base. In that same game, there were additional “family ties.” Aaron Boone, younger brother of Reds regular second baseman Bret, played second base; and Stephen Larkin, younger brother of Reds regular shortstop Barry, played in the DH position.

Below is a list of the father-son combinations from the “Big Red Machine” era.

Father Reds Years Son Son’s Playing Career
Pedro Borbon, Sr. 1970–1979 Pedro Borbon, Jr. Major league (1992–2003)
Tony Cloninger 1968–1971 Darrin Cloninger

Mike Cloninger

Minor league (1983–1985)

Minor league (1983–1985)

Dave Concepcion 1970–1988 Dave Concepcion, Jr. Minor league (1995–1996)
Ed Crosby 1973–1973 Bobby Crosby Major league (2003–2010)
Terry Crowley 1974–1975 Terry Crowley

Jimmy Crowley

Minor league (1986–1992)

Minor league (1991–1995)

Cesar Geronimo 1972–1980 Cesar Geronimo, Jr. Minor league (1995–1998)
Ken Griffey, Sr. 1973–1981 Ken Griffey, Jr.

Craig Griffey

Major league (1989–2010)

Minor league (1991–1997)

Tommy Helms 1964–1971 Ryan Helms

Tommy Helms

Wes Helms (nephew)

Minor league (1994–1995)

Minor league (1990–1992)

Major league (1998–2010)

Julian Javier 1972–1972 Stan Javier Major league (1984–2001)
Andy Kosco 1973–1974 Andrew Kosco

Bryn Kosco

Minor league (1986–1990)

Minor league (1988–1996)

Lee May 1965–1971 Lee May, Jr. New York Mets first round draft pick (1988).
Hal McRae 1968–1972 Brian McRae Major league (1990–1999)
Tony Perez 1964–1976 Eduardo Perez

Victor Perez

Major league (1993–2006)

Minor league (1990)

Pete Rose 1963–1978 Pete Rose, Jr. Major league (1997)
Ed Sprague 1971–1973 Ed Sprague Major league (1991–2001)
Woody Woodward 1968–1971 Matt Woodward Minor league (1998–1999)

It was truly a “family affair” in the Reds organization during those years. Additionally, the following Reds players, scouts, and executives were part of the heyday of the “Big Red Machine,” and they also had relatives in professional baseball.

Reds Affiliate Reds Years Relationship Relative Relative’s Career
Bob Bailey Player (1976) Son of Paul “Buck” Bailey Minor Leagueplayer (1939–1940)
Larry Barton, Sr. Reds scout (1970–1979) Father of Larry Barton, Jr. Reds scout (1970–1979)
Jack Billingham Player (1972–1977) Cousin of Christy Mathewson

Henry Mathewson

Major League player (1900–1916)

Major League player (1906–1907)

Joe Bowen Reds director of scouting Brother of Rex Bowen Pirates director of scouting; Reds special assistant
Marty Brennaman Reds broadcaster (1974–2011) Father of Thom Brennaman Major League broadcaster for Reds, Cubs, Diamondbacks, FOX network
Dan Driessen Player (1973–1984) Uncle of Gerald Perry Major League player (1983–1995)
Doug Flynn Player (1975–1977) Son of Robert Douglas Flynn, Sr. Minor League player
Phil Gagliano Player (1973–1974) Brother of Ralph Gagliano Major League player (1965–1965)
Ross Grimsley, Jr. Player (1971–1973) Son of Ross Grimsley, Sr. Major League player (1951)
Junior Kennedy Player (1974–1981) Brother of Jim Kennedy Major League player (1970)
Bob Howsam Reds GM (1966–1977) Father of Edwin Howsam Reds area scouting supervisor
Lee May Player (1965–1971) Brother of Carlos May Major League player (1968–1977)
Bill Plummer Player (1970–1977) Son of William Plummer Minor League player (1921–1927)