ESPN MLB analyst Eduardo Pérez grew up with newly elected National Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. on baseball fields in Cincinnati. His father, Tony Pérez, is also a Hall of Famer and a former Cincinnati Reds teammate of Junior’s father, Ken Griffey Sr.
Front Row asked Pérez to share his thoughts on Griffey’s selection and their unique friendship.
What are your best memories of Ken Griffey Jr.?
When we were kids in Cincinnati, we used to play in the stadium tunnels. I was pitching and he hit one right back up the middle and the whiffle ball hit me right in the face. What’s a six-year-old supposed to do? Go up in the stands and cry to mom and say Junior hit me? She told me to get back down there and stop crying. Those are the moments I definitely remember.
When I stepped into Triple-A, I was in Vancouver and he was in the big leagues in Seattle [EDITOR’S NOTE: Perez played 13 MLB seasons with six teams; Griffey played for 22 seasons, primarily with the Seattle Mariners and Reds]. I remember coming down the steps and he saw me and he was so excited about seeing me. To me, it was so gratifying that one of the best players still remembers me and it meant a lot.
What were Griffey’s best attributes as a player?
Since he was a kid, he’s been gifted and I think that’s one reason they call him The Kid. He made it look easy. One thing he had that a lot of us didn’t was the swing, the flow, the finish…It all came very naturally to him. He had a gift and it wasn’t only for baseball. It was for other sports as well, but we were fortunate enough to witness it in our sport.
Why do you feel he was voted into the Hall Of Fame his first year on the ballot and by such a large majority of votes?
You never hear anything negative about him. Everything written about him was positive. He took less money to stay in Cincinnati because he wanted to go back and play for all the fans there. He was, and continues to be, a great ambassador of the game. He goes all over the world promoting not only the Ken Griffey brand, but the Major League brand. I think that says a lot to everyone.