Tom Mooney recounts scouting Griffey Jr.
Tom Mooney said he always thought that Ken Griffey Jr. would be a very good Major League player. Getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame was a different story.
"No. I don't think anybody would [have predicted] that," said Mooney.
Mooney, a Pittsfield resident who currently is a pro scout for the Milwaukee Brewers, was an area scout for the Seattle Mariners when the Mariners selected Griffey first overall in the 1987 First-Year Player Draft.
"It's all about Junior," said Mooney, when reached by phone in Palm Desert, Calif., where he was vacationing. "I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time."
Griffey Jr. and former Dodgers and Mets catcher Mike Piazza were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the results of that vote were released Wednesday night.
Mooney had been a baseball scout since 1984 and this was undoubtedly the most important player he scouted.
"The game came so easy for him," Mooney said. "There wasn't anything in the game that challenged him as a 17-year-old.
"As you watched Junior, he was different. I felt he was going to be able to play under failure. I don't think that failure was ever in his vocabulary."
Patrick Lennon was Seattle's first-round pick the year before Griffey Jr. Lennon, a former Pittsfield resident, played with the newest Hall of Famer for the Vermont Mariners of the Class AA Eastern League and with Seattle in 1991 and 1992.
"I saw the most natural baseball player I ever saw in my life," Lennon said, when reached by phone in Long Island, where he works for a private baseball school. "Junior was a natural baseball player. He was born for it."
Lennon and Griffey Jr. spent time together in the Instructional League in Florida during the winter.
"He said he was going to be the first guy to make $10 million. Everybody else looked at him and said 'Yeah, right,'" said Lennon. "I looked at him and said he was going to do it."
Mooney watched Griffey Jr. play at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the son of former Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey was the second No. 1 pick from the city in consecutive years. Lee May Jr., whose father also played for the Reds, was taken in the first round by the New York Mets in 1986. May Jr. was the 21st player chosen in the draft that year.
"Back then, there were a lot of great players coming out of Cincinnati," said Mooney, "but nothing was a given."
Griffey Jr. was represented then by Brian Goldberg and Ken Griffey Sr. was also actively involved in the negotiation process. That's because Griffey Sr. had gone through something similar when the Reds signed him.
"His dad played a major role in the process," Mooney said. "The dad helped keep everyone on the same page."
The newest Hall of Famer played two seasons in the minor leagues, including 17 games with the Vermont Mariners of the Eastern League in 1988. That was the final season the Pittsfield Cubs called Wahconah Park home.
Griffey Jr. and Piazza were the only players to crack the Hall of Fame's 75-percent line for induction. Three other players came close, and had one received enough votes to move up four percent, then Mooney would have had two of his "guys" going into Cooperstown.
Griffey Jr. had 437 votes for 99.3 percent and Piazza had 365 votes for 83 percent. Jeff Bagwell was third with 315 votes and a 71.6 percent. Were it not for Mooney, Bagwell might never have gotten that close to Cooperstown.
"I'm surprised he didn't go in with 100 percent," said Lennon.
Mooney was the scout for the Houston Astros who recommended that Bagwell be the player sent to the Astros when Houston traded relief pitcher Larry Anderson to Boston on Aug. 30, 1990. Andersen helped the Red Sox get to the playoffs while Bagwell went on to have a near Hall-of-Fame career.
"That's an example of the contribution you can make as a professional scout. He hit everywhere," Mooney said in a 2009 Eagle article. "It's great to be involved at that level. They're not all going to work out like that."
Mooney chuckled when it was brought up that he could have had two players going into Cooperstown this summer.
"I was really happy for Bagwell. He really deserves it," said Mooney. "It looks like next year might work out for him."
But as to this year, Mooney said he's hoping to get to the Leatherstocking Region of New York this July for the induction.
"I really am going to try," he said. "Hopefully, I get an invitation. It would be special to see Junior and the family."
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