Blog Entry

This Nixon not on Griffey Sr.'s enemies list

Posted on: May 31, 2011 10:08 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 10:31 pm
 

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Yes, Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson was one of the most visible managers Ken Griffey Sr. ever had, and surely is influencing in some way what Griff is doing as a manager today.

But Griffey's most influential manager?

That would be Russ Nixon, whom Griffey was blessed to have come across during his second year of professional baseball, perhaps the most difficult of his career.

It was in Sioux Falls, S.D., in the early 1970s, and Griffey was the only married player on the team.

Worse, Griffey says, "there were not many black folks in Sioux Falls. We were the only black family around."

Concerned over this, Griffey said he phoned his wife at the time, Birdie, and tried to tell her not to come to South Dakota with their five-month-old son -- Ken Griffey Jr. But she already was on a plane.

As Griffey remembers it, the team opened with a homestand of about nine or 10 days, and Birdie arrived on day six or seven. They were rebuffed on a couple of rental attempts while looking for a place to live, Griffey says, adding that he knew it was because of their race.

"I told Russ Nixon that if I didn't find a place to live by the time the team left for the trip, I was going home," Griffey says. "Russ was staying at the team hotel and knew the guy who owned the hotel, and the guy's nephew was in real estate.

"He found us a place to live."

Sometimes in the low minors, managing isn't just about teaching hit-and-run techniques and bunt defenses.

"You learn quick," says Griffey, who was Cincinnati's 29th-round draft pick in 1969.

From Nixon, Griffey learned the value of persistence and the human touch.

From Sparky, Griffey learned the value of aggressive play and the art of handling different personalities.

Over his 24-year professional career, Griffey Sr. also played for many skippers, including John McNamara, Vern Rapp, George Scherger, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin. He hated Martin -- especially when Martin was drunk (he was a mean drunk) -- but still marvels at how shrewd and skilled a sober Martin was.

Likes: The Diamondbacks (!) in first place in the NL West, and Seattle surging in the AL West. What a month. ... Thanks to all with the Bakersfield Blaze. Very nice visit there with Ken Griffey Sr. and so many others late last week. Clubhouse manager Eddie Vasquez rocks. ... Griffey's Big Red Machine stories (George Foster has been in touch the most since Griffey took the Bakersfield managing job). ... Griffey chuckling about how he got along fine with Billy Martin in 1983 shortly after joining the Yankees "until Billy realized I was on the Reds team that kicked their ass in the '76 World Series." ... Mama Roomba Caribbean restaurant in Bakersfield. The salmon with mango salsa, mmm. ... Moo Creamery, also in Bakersfield. Go for the Toasted Almond and Strawberry Shortcake ice cream. ... Merle Haggard. ... The countdown to the final day of school.

Dislikes: Hall of Famer Gary Carter's battle with malignant brain tumors. Colleague Danny Knobler updates Carter's condition here. Prayers to Carter and his family.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I came here looking for something
"I couldn't find anywhere else
"Hey I'm not tryin' to be nobody
"I just want a chance to be myself
"I've spent a thousand miles of thumbin'
"Yes I've worn blisters on my heels
"Tryin' to find me something better
"Here on the streets of Bakersfield"

-- Buck Owens, Streets of Bakersfield



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