Junior Griffey's near-miss hit

Long before Ken Griffey Jr. began his march to the 500-homer club, he tried to set some hitting records in the clubhouse at Riverfront Stadium.

Originally Published: June 9, 2004
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note -- In case you missed it, see Joe Morgan's ESPN.com chat wrap on June 11.

More from Joe Morgan:
Healthy Griffey eyes redemption | Is Gagne's streak overrated?

Long before Ken Griffey Jr. began his march to the 500-homer club, he attempted to establish some hitting records in the clubhouse at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. But I'm glad Reds manager Sparky Anderson didn't give him a chance to set that locker-room mark (though Griffey almost made another mark). Allow me to explain...

Griffey
Griffey
When I played with the Big Red Machine, for the longest time ballplayers' children were allowed in the clubhouse (i.e., locker room) before each game. One of those children was Junior Griffey, the son of my teammate, Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Sr.

One day -- this might have been in 1975 or '76 during one of our World Series years, but I can't say for sure -- Junior Griffey and Pete Rose Jr. were playing baseball in the locker room before a game ... yes, with a real baseball. If I'm recalling the time correctly, Griffey would have been 5 or 6 years old.

As they played their own brand of pepper there in the Riverfront locker room, Junior hit a line drive that almost hit me in the head. My locker was next to Rose's locker, and Junior hit a shot right between us.

Manager Sparky Andersen was upset about the incident. Naturally, he didn't want to risk injury to his ballplayers before the game even started. So he banned children from the clubhouse before games. After that, players' children were only allowed in the clubhouse after a game -- and only if we won.

Children were still allowed on the field before a game, but not in the clubhouse. And definitely no postgame pepper.

500: No Surprise for Griffey
As Griffey closes in on 500 home runs, it seems strange to me because since the mid-'90s I thought it was a foregone conclusion that he'd hit 500 (and then some).

Remember, Hank Aaron said years ago that Griffey had the best chance of breaking his all-time HR record. So I always knew he'd hit 500. It's just taken him longer due to all his injuries.

It's tough to speculate about whether Griffey would have broken Aaron's record if he had stayed healthy. But with a livelier baseball and smaller ballparks, chances are he would have a good shot. We just can't say for sure. Aaron's 755 is still a profound record. It isn't an automatic that Barry Bonds will break it, either.

But as for the 34-year-old Griffey, it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up with 600-plus home runs. As long as he stays healthy, he has the talent and the youth to get there.

Best Center Fielder Ever?
Griffey is known for his defensive prowess in center field. He has been described as a human highlight film, with his Spider-Man-like ability to scale the wall to grab potential home runs and his aggressive pursuit of fly balls in the gap. In fact, Griffey dislocated his right shoulder on an all-out dive last season.

It's tough to compare baseball players across eras, so when the discussion turns to the best center fielders ever, I need to start with that disclaimer. Also, I don't like to evaluate players from previous generations who I haven't seen play (which means Joe DiMaggio is out of the discussion, because I never saw him personally).

So, who are the five best defensive center fielders I've seen? Here they are, in alphabetical order: Paul Blair, Curt Flood, Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones and Willie Mays. Mays is the best, while Jones and Griffey vie for a close second.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years). He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.

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