Sunday, October 7, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Griffey Gap: Model Father Bitter At Own Dad -- Ken Sr. Can't Forget Abandonment

Something wonderful happened, as Ken Griffey Sr. explains it, in the short time he played on the same major-league team with his 20-year-old son.

``Everyone who comes up to me now tells me they have a different relationship with their sons after they've seen us together,'' says Griffey, who just completed his most extraordinary month of his 18-year baseball career.

He played 17 games with Ken Jr., left and center fielders, respectively, for the Seattle Mariners.

``A lot of times I'd look over (to center field) and, this is no lie, I still see the hat too big for his head, a baggy uniform and he's got No. 30 across his chest and back. That's a father-son game I was remembering when he was just a little kid and I was with the Reds. Then reality comes back when I have to get ready for the pitch.

``Relationships,'' he adds, ``between fathers and sons are unique and different in certain ways.''

He knows the difference. As good a relationship as he has had with Ken and younger son, Craig, that's how bad it was with his father, Joseph ``Buddy'' Griffey.

Senior and his dad never played catch together, never went to the ballpark together. He rarely saw him and hardly knows him.

Buddy Griffey lives in Cleveland, where he moved from Donora, Pa., after divorcing his wife. Senior rarely talks to him. His brother, Freddie, 39, has never seen his father. Craig has never seen his grandfather. Junior has, but probably wouldn't recognize him on the street.

``My relationship with Kenny and Craig is more important than the one I had with my father,'' Senior says. ``I never had one. My father left when I was 2. I didn't see him again until I was 9, then again at 17. I didn't know what he looked like.''

Buddy Griffey represents the known limits of the family tree. Like his son and grandson, he also was a marvelous athlete, a left-handed third baseman on the Donora all-star team that also featured young Stan Musial. He won a football scholarship to Kentucky State, where he met the woman who would be his wife.

``He was a hell of a halfback,'' Senior says.

The family settled in Donora, near Pittsburgh, and Buddy worked at American Steel and Wire until the mill closed in 1952.

``I had a job transfer to Cleveland. I tried for six months to get his mother, Ruth, to move, but she said no,'' explains Buddy Griffey, 71, semi-retired, working part-time as a custodian.

``That's what led to the divorce. I did what I had to do,'' he says.

The marriage failed and Buddy left a wife and family of six on their own, on welfare. ``We went through a lot of changes,'' says Senior. ``Mother had to deal with six of us.''

Senior, on welfare till he was 17, looks back with unhappiness. ``He never gave me nothing. Not a nickel from the man,'' he said. ``If I wanted an ice cream cone or a pop, he never gave me a dime.''

Baseball gave Senior a future. He was drafted by Cincinnati at 19, and ultimately earned an exceptional salary and comfortable life for his family. Still, during his career he attempted to heal the wounds with his dad.

He invited him to his first World Series with the Reds in 1975. Senior called weeks ahead and left an invitation. He got no response. Finally, just as he was taking the field for the first game, his father arrived.

``It caused a lot confusion. Mother was there and I knew they had bad feelings,'' says Senior.

``The friction,'' says Buddy, ``was between his mother and me. I was proud of him playing baseball. He was doing something I couldn't do. When I was his age the color line had just broke, but I was working three jobs by then.''

Senior tried to contact him each trip to Cleveland in the 4 1/2 years he played with the Yankees. ``I wanted to get to the point where I could understand what happened between my dad and I. We never got there.''

For those who know Griffey, it is difficult to believe. Senior's relationship with his children gets such a positive reaction from both friends and strangers. It is genuine. He tells his kids he loves them virtually every day.

``He's never done anything for me and I'm pretty bitter about it,'' says Buddy. ``I'm 71. I'm not going to change. I'm the same damn self but I'm better than I was then (before the divorce). I had no sense then.

``I'll meet him any time, if he still loves me. But money changes things. They got it and I don't. I wasn't given the chance.

``It can be corrected. There's a God up there. He'll straighten things out. I'll live to see it.''

Senior says he'll ``keep trying but it's probably going to get to the point where he's going to do something or say something that's just not right.''

Because of the his strained relationship with his father, Senior gave his children ``the things that I didn't have. If they needed me or something happened to them, I would be there. They know that.''

If it means he is accused of spoiling the kids, it doesn't matter.

``Spoiled or whatever, I did what I had to do and I was behind them all the way. I didn't have that with my father. I don't blame him. It was one of those things that happened. I can't reverse it.

``I've read a lot of dirty things about Junior, his cars, his phones, all other the things,'' says Senior. ``I busted my butt to provide them. It took me 18 years to get certain things. I don't feel sorry for what I've done for them or my family.

``I was just trying to make sure they stayed out of trouble. He and Craig have never given me or his mother any trouble.''

``He's not only a great player, he's great guy,'' says Junior of his father.

What a time they had together - the ultimate father-son game in front of millions. It began Aug. 31 when they struck back-to-back, first-inning singles. Then they had the back-to-back home runs Sept. 14 in Anaheim. Their final game together was Sept. 30, which also was the final game at 80-year-old Comiskey Park.

Senior batted .377 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in in 21 games. Junior, who is pleading with his father to return for one more season, finished at .300.

Senior, 40, is uncertain whether he will return. He won't consider being a player-coach and doesn't want to stop playing to concentrate on coaching. His hesitation is not a matter of whether he believes he can still play. His hangup is younger son, Craig. ``Right now, that's the main factor,'' he says.

Craig, 18, is a redshirt freshman defensive back at Ohio State. Senior, his wife, Birdie, and Junior will spend the fall in the stands at Buckeye games.

``Craig is different than Junior. He's in school. He's doing a heck of a job balancing his grades and football,'' Senior said.

``You know, everyone talks about Junior and me, but I've never left Craig out. I want him to know that.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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