SEATTLE -- MLB Network debuted a 90-minute documentary on Ken Griffey Jr. on Sunday, and the Hall of Famer took time to chat about the film as well as other topics in a Zoom call on Friday night from his home in Windermere, Fla.
Here’s some of what was on Griffey’s mind as he awaited the release of “Junior."
What does it feel like to have a documentary about yourself coming out after everyone watched Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance?”
“It’s been in the works for years, so it wasn’t something unexpected. We were just waiting for the right time to do it. I didn’t want to step on Edgar [Martinez’s] toes last year, having his Hall of Fame year. It was important to me that he had his time and was able to enjoy the full year. … It was done a year and a half ago, the completion of the film. But I didn’t want it to be any distraction to a guy that I have the utmost respect for as a teammate and person.”
Did you watch “The Last Dance?”
“I know Mike. I have the utmost respect for M.J. The hard work you see him put in on and off the field, you just don’t see that. He’s a very honest person and I love him for that. Mike and I are close. I can pick up the phone and call him and ask him questions. The things he’s done off the court have allowed me to enjoy some of the things … being able to enjoy having my own shoe and being able to be on commercials and things like that, he paved the way for every athlete after that.”
Father’s Day has always been important to you. What does it mean to have the documentary released on that day this year?
“It means a lot. I hit [home run No.] 500 on Father’s Day, and so many things happen on Father’s Day that are important. Usually dads are taking the kids to the ballpark. I remember going to the ballpark with my dad on Father’s Day. Me having kids of my own, being able to hang out with them and see a side of sports they never see. But just being a dad in general, there’s nothing more valuable and important than being a father. And a mother, but I can’t really speak on that …”
LeBron James is featured fairly prominently in your documentary. Did you know how much of an impact you’d had on him?
“No, but I can tell you when LeBron became a pro, his first Christmas was at our house. He was in Orlando and Melissa and I cooked him Christmas dinner along with a couple of his teammates. It was pretty sweet to have a guy -- 18 years old, I remember those days, to be a phenom. He came over to the house and we had dinner and watched a game, and I’ve been a big fan of his ever since. He’s done some things with his school [for kids] and being an activist that are just phenomenal. Let alone being a great basketball player, he’s just a great person.”
Has it been easier to open up your life to a documentary now that your kids have gotten older?
“Yeah, because they understand what goes on in life. They’re still relatively young. My youngest [Tevin] is 18 and still a little naïve to the world. But now with Trey being 26 and Taryn 24, being able to show a different side of me is important. I am pretty private and that was by design. I just want my kids to be normal kids and not have people think, ‘Oh, he or she is supposed to have this because their dad has this.’ I wanted them to work for everything and they’ve done a great job doing that.
“I tell everybody the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten was not what I’ve done in baseball, it was Jason LaRue saying, 'I wish we had more kids like yours in the locker room.' And that means more to me than anything because it shows I raised my kids right and other people looked at it and appreciated it.”
Did you sit with your family and watch the documentary together?
“Yeah. They just looked at me and started laughing. Then they’d look at Mom [his wife Melissa] because there were a couple scenes when she started crying. One of the scenes is when I broke my wrist. She still to this day will not look at me running into the wall. She knew it was coming and she just turned her head away. But it’s in there and it happened and oh well. In my book it’s oh well. But for her it’s not fun.”
How have you been dealing with the pandemic?
“I’m an essential worker 24/7 at my house. That means I go to the mailbox, I go to the post office, I go shopping. If you ask Tevin, he doesn’t like it because he hasn’t seen anybody in 2 1/2 months. He’s allowed to drive places but not get out of the car. It’s been OK. Every now and then, people have to come in the house and make sure things are OK. But for the most part, like everybody else, we’re trying to stay safe and healthy.”
What are your thoughts on MLB’s labor situation?
“As long as people are safe and healthy and they make a fair decision for both parties, I think that’s what people want to see. People want to see baseball and sports in general. … It’s kind of crazy. I’ve gone through a strike. It seems different because I’m on the outside as a fan now wondering, ‘When is baseball going to start?’ I haven’t been a part of the union in 10 years, but I want those guys to be out there and safe and healthy, because that’s the only thing you care about.”
How glad are you to see more players speaking out on social issues like Black Lives Matter?
“I think people just have to listen. There are so many stories that Black ballplayers have gone through. I’ve gone through my share of things. Not to harp on it, but the time is to sit and listen. I can’t put myself in anybody’s shoes and I don’t want somebody to put themselves in my shoes. I just want them to listen and talk about it so we can make it better, not only for my generation but the generations that are coming behind me.”
What’s the next documentary you’d want to watch?
“For me, it’s just being able to see the human side of people. I think people look at athletes as non-human and that we don’t care about certain things and are just here to play sports and that’s it. And we’re not. We’re human. We feel, we breathe, we hurt. We just want to be treated as a person, but we understand we have a little bit of a platform to say things that people normally can’t say, people without voices. We just want to make sure everybody has a voice and that it’s fair, no matter who you are, that you’re treated fairly.”