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Q&A: Balderson discusses drafting Griffey

Mariners selected Hall of Famer first overall in 1987 Draft
July 22, 2016

Dick Balderson had a three-year tenure as the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, and former Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said that during that time, Balderson made the two most significant moves in the franchise's history.Balderson swung the trade that brought Jay Buhner to the Mariners from the Yankees for

Dick Balderson had a three-year tenure as the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, and former Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said that during that time, Balderson made the two most significant moves in the franchise's history.
Balderson swung the trade that brought Jay Buhner to the Mariners from the Yankees for Ken Phelps on July 21, 1988, days before he was fired by then owner George Argyros. Just a year earlier, Balderson was behind the Seattle's selection of Ken Griffey Jr., with the first pick of the 1987 Draft.
It wasn't easy.
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Argyros was pushing for Mike Harkey, a college pitcher, but Balderson and scouting director Roger Jongewaard were sold on Griffey. They were so sold that when Griffey and Harkey both came up with scouting scores of 80, they had senior scout Bob Harrison, who had the trust of Argyros, make adjustments that had Griffey emerge as the clear favorite.
The other player in consideration was outfielder Mark Merchant, a high school player from Orlando, Fla.
The Mariners hit the jackpot. Griffey put together a Hall of Fame career, and he will be inducted into Cooperstown on Sunday. Coverage of the induction begins on MLB Network and at 11 a.m. ET/8 PT, with the ceremonies beginning live at 1:30 p.m. ET/10:30 a.m. PT.
Balderson will be in attendance, as a guest of the Mariners' ownership.

Harkey, drafted fourth overall by the Cubs, spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, and he compiled a career record of 36-36 with a 4.49 ERA.
Merchant, who went second overall to the Pirates, spent 11 years in the Minor Leagues -- including four seasons in the Mariners' system -- but never made it to the big leagues.
Balderson discussed drafting Griffey in this week's Q&A: Drafting an amateur is always a gamble, but this one paid off.
Balderson: Thirty years later, it turned out to be a pretty good Draft. At the time, we thought Griffey was going to be a pretty good player, but you always go into a Draft thinking the player you are going to get is going to be a successful type of guy. Was it a cut-and-dried decision?
Balderson: Griffey was one of three guys we considered, and he was far and above the best of the three. We just had to argue and present our case to George Argyros, the owner, who thought Harkey was the best guy. I don't know what his background of judging that was, but that's what he thought, so we really had to battle and get the right guy, and we did. I know you had to adjust the points of evaluations to make Griffey the favorite, but were any other adjustments made?
Balderson: Well, we had to do a few things. I was a big advocate of psychological testing. One test that we gave Griffey was a complete bust, and we found out he hadn't realize how important it was and had his younger brother take it for him. We thought he was a better person than what the test showed, so we gave it to him again, and were very satisfied. So did you know Griffey was a Hall of Famer at the age of 17?
Balderson: I don't know if I can say that. There aren't that many at all, but to look back on it, the minute we signed Griffey and brought him in to Seattle and he took batting practice with the big league club, you'd have never known he was a high school kid. You would have thought he was on your big league club, in center field for the game. Griffey was hitting balls into the upper deck of the Kingdome with regularity. He was completely at ease around Major League players and in a Major League clubhouse. The instincts and the makeup factor from that standpoint were just off the board. Players like Griffey really do stand out from the rest?
Balderson: There is something different about them. It's their composure, their makeup. I was fortunate, I played one year in the Minor Leagues and instructional league with George Brett. I was a Minor League pitcher with the Royals and faced a lot of prospects. The good players are just good players. They are easy to pick out. Drafting a player is one thing, but back then, wasn't signability a factor in the Draft?
Balderson: I don't remember the particulars, but we had a very good feeling that Griffey wanted to sign. He wanted to play, and his dad and his mom wanted him to play. We had to count on not going in and embarrassing ourselves with a lowball offer or embarrassing ourselves in some other fashion that would negate the deal, but it was not a hard, lengthy negotiation. How many evaluations do you get on a pick that high in the Draft?
Balderson: When an area guy turns in a player as high as Griffey was turned in, that automatically sets off buzzers that you have to get the Midwest supervisor in there, and see him at least once, if not more than once. And then you get the scouting director, and then the national scouting guy. You end up with four or five judgments. After a while, it becomes pretty evident that this guy can play or not play. And in this case, Griffey could play. We did not have one dissenter. That is unusual with a high schooler. Seems like Griffey had strong support from his family.
Balderson: That first summer, Griffey played in Bellingham, which was our affiliate in the Short-Season Northwest League. His mother went to Bellingham and rented the apartment and set it up and took care of him, which was unusual. Griffey settled right in. He played in 54 games and hit .313 with 14 home runs. You were feeling pretty good. You were excited to see him take the next step. What was it about Griffey that made him standout?
Balderson: Griffey was just at home playing the game. It was easy for him. I don't use that expression very often. He was a game-changer at every moment of the game. He looked like a natural. I mean, hindsight being 100 percent, in theory, he could have started out at a higher level in the Minor Leagues and had some success. He would have stumbled a little bit, but he would have stood out like a sore thumb in any ballpark you put him in with anybody around. Griffey was just that good. He could run, he could throw, he could hit, he could hit with power and play defense. With all that, does it still surprise you that Griffey was in the big leagues to stay by Opening Day 1989 at the age of 19, having played only 129 Minor League games?
Balderson: I was gone by then, but the key thing on the part of management is recognizing that this guy can play at this level and letting him play at that level, knowing he might struggle a little, but the good players overcome the struggles. You have to challenge them. You let him feel how deep the water is and make sure he doesn't drown. And did Griffey struggle?
Balderson: He didn't. Oh, maybe a week here or there, but not anything anyone could remember. He was a very special player.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for