Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bonds vs. Griffey

The recent retirement of the great Ken Griffey Jr., age 40, sent sad shock waves around Seattle after 22 seasons in the major leagues. When my family moved to Seattle 20 years ago, Junior was known as "The Kid." My two sons, Adam and Jeremy, grew up idolizing him. When he was in his prime he played the game with an effortlessness that was an amazing thing to watch.

He was truly "The Natural." Whether he was chasing down a fly ball, throwing a runner out, smacking a home run or stealing a base, Ken Griffey Jr. seemed to be able to do it all with boundless joy. In these last two years back with his original team, age, injuries and surgeries had sharply eroded his baseball skills. His decision to retire was preceded by this proud super star for two weeks sitting on the Mariner's bench.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that he will be remembered as among the very best who ever played the game. Griffey's retirement reminds me of another player, Barry Bonds, who recently retired. Bonds extended his career well into his 40's breaking records, including the single season home run record of Mark McGwire and career home run record of Hank Aaron. Both of these men had All Star major league fathers, Bobby Bonds and Ken Griffey Sr. And both of these men enjoyed careers that surpassed their fathers' greatness.

Yet, Barry retired under a huge cloud of suspicion for the illegal use of steroids. Ken Jr. retires now with what appears to be a clear conscience and great appreciation for what he accomplished without the help of banned steroids.

Barry's relationship with his father from his own account was distant. "I was a momma's boy. I didn't get anything from my dad, except my body and my baseball knowledge. The only time I spent with him was at the ballpark." His father, Bobby, died at age 57 of lung cancer and a brain tumor.

On the other hand, Junior's relationship with his dad was close. "He's not only a great player," Junior said of his dad in 1990 when he played alongside of him in the outfield, "he's a great guy."

I remember 20 years ago watching Junior and Senior in left field and center field and seeing them hit back-to-back singles at home and then back-to-back homers on the road that year. You could tell they really enjoyed being out there together.

In Jeff Pearlman's book, "Love Me, Hate Me," about Barry Bonds, he records a very telling 1998 dinner conversation between Barry and Ken Jr. This conversation reveals why the legacies of these two great ball players will be so different.

Barry is quoted as saying to Griffey, "As much as I've complained about McGwire and Canseco and all the bull with steroids, I'm tired of fighting it. I turn 35 this year. I've got three or four seasons left and I wanna get paid. I'm gonna start using some hard-core stuff, and hopefully it won't hurt my body. Then I'll get out of the game and be done with it."

Griffey reflected on that dinner conversation to Pearlman, "If I can't do it myself, then I'm not going to do it. When I'm retired, I want to at least be able to say, 'There's no question in our minds that he did it the right way.' I have kids. I don't want them to think their dad's a cheat."

There it is. One great was thinking selfishly of his immediate benefit future and the other had in his mind others and his long-term legacy. One was thinking of the money and the other of what money can't buy, the respect of his children.

What made the difference between these two incredibly gifted athletes? The difference, I believe, was in the fathering they received. Bobby was a distant dad and Ken Sr. was a committed father who overcame a difficult, distant relationship with his own father, Buddy, to be tuned in to the hearts of his two sons Ken Jr. and Craig.

Ken Sr.'s legacy speaks to me today through the way his son has honorably finished his career. In contrast to Bobby Bonds, he passed onto his son not just his genetics and baseball wisdom, but his father-heart. Ken Jr. learned from his dad to make his decisions with his children in mind. It served as a type of moral compass for him. And because he learned to see through the grid of responsible fatherhood, he was able to resist going down the steroid path that promised the "gold" of riches, fame and broken records. Today that gold is clearly seen for what it is---"fools' gold."

Thank you, Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. for your father and son legacy that will last through the generations.

Happy Fathers' Day!


P.S. Read Jeremy's latest blog and Join Jeremy's Journey through prayer, pledging or donating by going to payitforwardsa.org

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A fascinating comparison! The world looks at the WHAT of achievements but what is really important is the HOW. That is what leaves lasting legacies!