Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. On Wednesday, we look back on the career of former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey Sr.Well before Ken Griffey Jr. emerged as
Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. On Wednesday, we look back on the career of former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey Sr.
Well before Ken Griffey Jr. emerged as one of baseball's biggest stars and most prolific home run hitters, his father paved the way for the family business with a long, productive career in the Major Leagues. The elder Griffey played outfield and first base for 19 seasons with the Reds, Yankees, Braves and Mariners from 1973-'91.
Griffey got his start as a 29th-round pick of the Reds out of Donora (Pa.) High School in the 1969 Draft, and was a part of the the Big Red Machine Cincinnati teams that dominated the National League in the 1970s. He first reached the big leagues in '73, and although he played just 25 games that season, Griffey impressed by hitting .384 with five doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs.
He took over as Cincinnati's primary right fielder in '75, and helped the Reds win a franchise-best 108 games and advance to the World Series, which they won in seven games against the Red Sox. Griffey hit .289 with four doubles, a triple and eight RBIs during the Reds' playoff run.
Cincinnati again totaled triple-digit wins and won the World Series in '76, one of Griffey's best statistical campaigns. He hit .336 with 28 doubles, six home runs, 74 RBIs and a career-high 34 stolen bases in 148 regular-season games, losing the batting title by three points to the Cubs' Bill Madlock. Griffey's performance earned him his first All-Star nod and sixth place in the NL's Most Valuable Player race.
Griffey continued to be a strong contributor to the Reds, making the NL All-Star team two more times in '77 and '80, until he was dealt to the Yankees after the '81 season. He played four full seasons in New York, before he was again traded, this time to the Braves in a midseason deal in '86. Between the Yankees and the Braves that year, Griffey hit. 306 with a career-high 21 home runs in 139 games.
Griffey re-signed with Cincinnati when he was released by the Braves during the '88 season. He played one more full season with the Reds, then was let go in the middle of the club's 1990 title run. Though Griffey finished the year with the Mariners, he still received a World Series ring for his regular-season contributions.
In Seattle, Griffey enjoyed what he called the "pinnacle" of his playing career, taking the field alongside his future Hall of Fame son for a game against the Royals. With Senior in left and Junior in right, the Griffey's became the first father-son tandem to play in the same lineup in the Major Leagues, a feat that was later matched by Tim Raines and Tim Raines Jr. in 2001. Both players went 1-for-4, batting back-to-back in Seattle's order.
Griffey played one more season in Seattle, retiring after the '91 year with a .296 average, 152 home runs, 364 doubles, 859 RBIs and 200 stolen bases. He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2004.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.