Everything had to align perfectly in order for history to be made on August 31, 1990.
A man had to have a child at a relatively young age. That man also needed enough talent to make it as a Major League Baseball player. He further needed to have a very lengthy major league career. His child would need to survive the strangeness and manage the expectations of life as a big league kid. Said child also needed to also be really good at baseball and make the majors. And the father needed to get cut by a team, and then be signed by a team with nothing to lose. His son would also have to be on that team.
Monday marks the 25th anniversary of Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. becoming the first father and son combination to ever play on the same team at the same time. It took hereditary talent, good health and good luck, and propitious timing—and a little public relations savvy on the part of the Seattle Mariners—for it to happen.
Griffey Jr. was the brightest hope for a struggling Mariners franchise at that time. He was drafted first overall at age of 17, but he experienced serious growing pains in the brief period between when he was drafted and when he made it to the majors.
Griffey Jr. told the Seattle Times in a 1992 interview of the hardships he faced while in the minors, including dealing with racism. His tumultuous relationship with his father did not help, either. "It seemed like everyone was yelling at me in baseball, then I came home and everyone was yelling at me there," Griffey Jr. told the Times. "I got depressed. I got angry. I didn't want to live."
His depression was so severe that he tried to commit suicide in January 1988, after his first full minor league season. According to Griffey Jr., he ended up taking close to 300 aspirins and had to get his stomach pumped. The younger Griffey persevered, and continued to excel on the field. He started the next season in the bigs, at the age of 19; outside of a 1995 injury rehabilitation, he'd never play in the minors again. In 1990, his second season with the Mariners, Junior was selected to start for the A.L. team in baseball's Midsummer Classic.
While Junior's star rose, his father was entering the final stretch of his career. The Reds, the team for which he had made all three of his All-Star appearances, released Griffey Sr. in late August of 1990, after he hit just .206 in 68 plate appearances. The Mariners, who were four games under .500 and 17.5 games out of first place in the American League West, decided to sign the 40-year-old less than a week after his release.
Considering the circumstances, it was apparent that the signing wasn't strictly a baseball decision. "I don't deny the fact that there is a marketing aspect," Woody Woodward, the Mariners' vice president of baseball operations admitted to the Los Angeles Times. "If I told you otherwise, you wouldn't believe it."
Just two days after signing Senior, Seattle faced the Royals. The Mariners put the elder Griffey in left field and had him bat second. Griffey Jr. would play center field and bat third as usual.
In the bottom of the first inning of their very first game together, Senior hit a single up the middle and Junior followed with a single to right field. Both Griffeys ended up scoring that inning, and Seattle beat Kansas City 5-2.
The Griffeys made history that night by becoming the first father and son to play for the same team in the same game, and the only duo to ever record a hit and run in the same game. Tim Raines and Tim Raines Jr. later became the only other father and son pair ever to play together, but in their four games together with Baltimore in 2001, they were unable to get a hit in the same game.
Storm Davis, who played for 13 seasons and is currently the pitching coach for the Cubs' Double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies team, was on the bump for the Royals that night.
"I remember thinking 'golly man, it's going to be strange facing a father and son,'" Davis said. "The dad got a hit off of me, I know the son did too, so that was kind of a rough night." Even though he allowed three first-inning runs and lost that game, Davis still thinks it was "neat" to be a part of that moment.
While the Griffeys' first game together was historical, it often gets overshadowed by another moment two weeks later. Against the Angels, Senior and Junior hit back-to-back home runs. While Davis is cool with being a part of baseball history, he admitted to being glad that he only gave up back-to-back singles and not back-to-back homers. "It's like in basketball," he said. "I didn't get dunked on. I might have gotten a layup on, but I didn't get dunked on."
The Griffeys played a total of 51 games together before Senior decided to retire in November of '91 after sustaining an injury during the season.
Although they played less than a third of a season together, that period playing with his father really resonated for Junior. "I got to play with my dad. I got to go to work with him," he said years later. "That's the biggest thing that ever happened to me other than the days my kids were born. That's bigger than any record I'll ever set."
The sentimental value of playing with each other means a lot to the Griffeys, but the historical significance matters, too. So much had to go right (and wrong), and so much had to have been overcome, for that moment to happen. It is very possible that no father-son tandem will ever accomplish that feat again. The Griffeys aren't the only ones who will remember it a long time.