SEATTLE -- Ken Griffey is in one of his quiet moods. He has answered a million questions during his assault on baseball's single-season home run record, and now -- after 56 homers and an AL West championship season -- he wants to make one thing crystal clear about his individual accomplishments.
None of them matter.
"All I've wanted to do from Day One is to be running from the outfield to the dugout and celebrating a pennant with these guys," Griffey said. "Individual accomplishments don't mean anything."
Do you believe him?
Griffey is an industry unto himself. He has his own baseball video game. He is the national spokesman for something in every major food group. He is one of the most recognized athletes in the country, and he will only get bigger when corporate America digests his impressive season and a possible showcase in the World Series.
But Griffey will look you right in the eye and tell you that none of it is very important to him not the fame, not the money, not even the chance to break one of baseball's most hallowed records. That's his story, and he's sticking to it.
"Remember the '75 and '76 Reds?" he said, though at 27 he can't possibly remember a lot about the great Cincinnati teams his father, Ken Griffey Sr., played on. "What statistic can you remember from them? What you remember is who won. The Reds won.
"I learned that lesson early. When the Reds lost, we [kids] weren't allowed to go into the clubhouse. When they won, we could go in. We wanted to go in and play. We learned that you are rewarded for winning."
The younger Griffey was being rewarded lavishly long before the Mariners won anything, but he's making a point that clearly is important to him. The Mariners have taken only the first step on the road to real achievement. The Orioles stand in the way of the second step. It is not the time to look back and revel in the 56 home runs and 147 RBIs. It may never be the time if the Mariners do not realize their self-appointed destiny.
"He had a tremendous season," manager Lou Piniella said. "Fifty-six home runs, the 147 RBIs, the way he played the outfield. Just a tremendous season. That's a ton of home runs to hit, but he plays to win. I think when the season is over, he'll reflect on it and put it in the proper perspective."
Raised on the game
It must be hard to understand this mind-set for anyone who has dreamed of being in his Nikes, but Griffey did not spend his life dreaming of playing in the major leagues. He spent his life living in the major leagues, and that's where he got his life's lessons.
There is no question that he enjoys the spotlight -- clearly, he thrives in it -- but he is sensitive to the perception that he is in it for himself, even though he has achieved a level of fame and economic reward that transcends the team concept.
He spent the 1997 season in a neck-and-neck chase with Mark McGwire for the major-league home run crown; both delivered late September bursts that lifted them close to the legendary achievements of Roger Maris and Babe Ruth. McGwire finished on top with 58. Griffey humbly said that he was surprised to be in such larger-than-life company.
"It's a surprise," he said recently, "especially when you consider guys like [Jose] Canseco and McGwire and Cecil [Fielder]. Do you notice that I'm the little guy in that group? Those guys all have at least 20 pounds on me."
Griffey, no shrimp himself at 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds, has every right to congratulate himself for finishing with the seventh-highest homer total in history, but other than the occasional fist pump when the ball sails over the wall, he has adopted his father's quiet on-field demeanor.
"When he went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, we couldn't tell," Griffey said. "He just came home and played catch with us or basketball or we wrestled. After the game, I take my son [Trey] home, it's just him and me. My son at age 3 doesn't know what I do. They [Griffey also has a daughter, Taryn] don't know the impact of what I do. I'm just, 'Dad, let's play.' That's just the way we grew up."
Griffey already has transcended the on-field achievements of his father, but Ken Sr. has a couple of things that his son has yet to earn -- a pair of world championship rings.
The Mariners made their first real run at a world title in 1995, when they defeated the New York Yankees in a heart-stopping (( Division Series. Griffey batted .391 and hit a record five home runs in that best-of-five playoff, but the club could not get past the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series.
This year, he hopes, will be different. The Mariners are host to the Orioles in Game 1 of the Division Series tomorrow night, and seem better equipped to go the distance this year.
"That experience [in '95] was fun," he said. "Now, we know what it takes to get beyond that. Whether we do it or not, at least we are prepared."
Most of the big names from the '95 club still are on the Mariners' roster, including fellow '95 playoff heroes Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez.
They seemed to thrive on the energy of the roof-raising Kingdome crowds that were enjoying playoff baseball in the Pacific Northwest for the first time, but Griffey predicts that they will carry a more even-keel approach into their second postseason experience.
"It won't be the same," he said. "In '95, we came back [from a big AL West deficit], and we had the one-game playoff. Now, everybody knew we were going to clinch. I think crowd-wise, we'll tune them out more and try to make it as normal as possible. You can get caught up in that."
The '95 playoffs were a celebration of the Mariners' first successful season. The '97 playoffs are serious business. The Mariners aren't a long-suffering expansion team anymore. They are one of the most exciting clubs in baseball and feature two of the sport's most recognizable characters -- Griffey and overpowering pitcher Randy Johnson. This could be the ultimate showcase, but Griffey says he isn't out to become a latter-day Mr. October.
"I just play," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."
Pub Date: 9/30/97