Friday, February 11, 2011

The Day a Father and Son Hit Homers Back to Back

Of all the players that have played baseball over the years, only a few instances have occurred where a father and son both played in the major leagues (it's happened 178 times). It's rarer still to have a father and son play on the same team. It is even rarer for the father and son to play in the same game. But has it really been more than twenty years now since September 14, 1990 when both Ken Griffeys--father and son--playing on the same team--the elder batting second with his son batting third--hit back to back homers off of Kirk McCaskill?

The elder Ken Griffey was a pretty good ball player. He played 19 years and compiled 2143 hits. He had a little power, but hit only 152 homers in all those years. He finished with a career 118 OPS+ which is pretty darn good. He didn't drive in a lot of runs and scored a lot early in his career, but not so much from the middle on. He was a less than adept fielder in the outfield. Yet, he was one of those "professionals" that every manager loved to have around. He was a good bat off the bench late in his career and he hung around a long time.

Though time is starting to erode Junior Griffey's accomplishments, he was by far the better player. You can't take away his 600 homers or the fact that it would have been a lot more if the injury bug didn't plague him late in his career. Revisionists are rewriting his defensive skills, but for many of us, he was the class of his generation, even if the numbers weren't quite as superlative as we thought they were. Even so, he was the Mariners' first round pick in 1987 and just two years later, his era began as the starting centerfielder for the Mariners starting in the 1989 season. He had star written all over him.

Meanwhile, the elder Griffey was stumbling toward the end of his career. He was released twice in 1988, once by the Braves and then by the Reds. The Reds signed him again in 1989 but cut him in 1990. The Mariners, in a decision of sheer brilliance, picked him up. What a public relations bonus! Both the father of the phenom and the phenom himself would play for the same team. The first time they played together in the field, they made history. When Griffey Sr. hit a homer against against Mike Boddiker on September 7, 1990, the pair made history as both father and son had homers for the same team in the same season.

The pair made history again when the elder Griffey connected off of the Yankees' Tim Leary on May 6, 1991 when a father's son scored on the father's homer. That would be the elder Griffey's last major league homer. But September 14, 1990 takes the cake by a landslide. That was the day they hit back to back homers.

The fifth place Mariners were playing the fourth place Angels in Anaheim. It was a dry, 82 degree night in southern California. Derryl Cousins was the home plate umpire. Kirk McCaskill was the Angels' starting pitcher. He was the inning eating variety of pitcher, neither spectacular, nor terrible. He finished 1990 with a 12-11 record and a 3.25 ERA. He didn't strike out many and probably walked more than he should. But he gave you innings. he would lose 19 games the following season. If you could hear the announcers for that game, they probably called him a "crafty right-hander."

Harold Reynolds led off for the Mariners. He was a slick-fielding second baseman for the Mariners before he was the hugging broadcaster. He led off the game against McCaskill with a walk on five pitches. McCaskill then got the elder Griffey into an 0-2 hole and must have thrown one of the worst 0-2 pitches ever as the ancient Griffey smashed it on a line over the left-centerfield wall. His son was there at the plate to greet him. But then it was the son's turn. History was about to happen.

At first, it didn't look like history was going to happen as McCaskill went to a 3-0 count to the younger Griffey. In an attempt to simply throw a strike, McCaskill must have been surprised the second year player had the go ahead sign and swung at the offering. He too hit the ball on a line over the left-centerfield fence. History was made as for the first time ever (and the only time since) a father and son had hit back-to-back homers in a game that counted.

As it turned out, the heroics by the family affair weren't enough. The Angels still won the game because Matt Young, as he was often apt to do, had a big five-run inning that featured wild pitches, walks, hits and all sorts of mayhem. Young was one of those pitcher that would keep both teams in the game. He struck out a lot of guys but walked a lot. He was the A.J. Burnett of his time. He did his thing and then the Angels scored two more runs on a couple of errors later in the game and won the thing 7-5. But nobody will remember a game between a fourth place team and a fifth place team. It was just another near-the-end-of-the-season grinder kinds of games that meant little in the grand scheme of things. Dave Winfield hit a homer for the Angels on the way to his Hall of Fame career. But it was a momentary magical event in that first inning when the most improbable thing that could happen in baseball happened. A father and son hit back-to-back homers.

This quote from Junior can be found here. But it says a lot about the event and its place in history:

“After he hit his, I was watching him run the bases. When he crossed home plate, he said “That’s how you do it son!’ and went back to the dugout. I looked at him and then after I hit mine, I couldn’t wait to get to the dugout and say “That’s how you do it Dad!’ He waited until after I congratulated everyone else, then he gave me a hug and said you did it. That’s something that will never be done again. Everyone else in the dugout was shocked and excited to see a part of history.”

Indeed, it's an event that will probably never happen again.

Here's a link to the video of the event. Very worth watching!

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