Over the course of 22 seasons, Ken Griffey Jr. put up serious numbers (630 home runs; 13 All-Star Game selections, 10 Gold Glove Awards) and forever altered the direction of America’s baseball caps. But, more than that, Griffey just loved baseball. He played with the excitement of a guy who knew how lucky he was to field and hit for a living. The fans loved him for it. He became an icon. Then ‘Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball’ came out on Super Nintendo and he became a video game icon.
MLB The Show 17 has upcycled the icon’s image for its cover. Why put a retired dad on the cover of a video game? To market “Retro Mode” and capitalize on Griffey’s permanent cool. Also, it should be said, to play off Griffey Jr.’s gaming bonafides. The former Mariner is a serious player because he enjoys it and he is — not to put too fine a point on it — good at stuff.
Fatherly spoke to Griffey about his video game evolution, engaging in virtual family combat, and, why, if professional gaming was around back in the day, he still would have ended up in the outfield.
The Griffeys are known as great baseball players. Dad was part of the Big Red Machine. You’re you. What’s the gaming culture like in your house?
My father and my brother and my son play together, so there can be three generations of Griffeys going at it online on any given day. My dad gives me a little trouble sometimes because his recruiting skills are a little better than mine. He recruits his grandsons who like to shoot on their dad.
How does it feel to be back on the cover of a game post-retirement? It’s for Retro Mode, but I bet it still impresses your kids.
It’s good. Now my kids can’t complain or get on my back when I tell them how I played back in the day. They’ve got a new version…. And we’re pretty good at both.
Are you impressed by the way you and other players look in the new game versus how you looked when these games were first coming out?
They’ve come a long way. Everything was pretty square and blocky and the graphics art was nowhere near where they are now. With technology like motion capture and being able to do a 360 video of the guys, they have their swing and stance look more realistic and you can actually pick up tendencies and things that they do from the game.
Does that translate to games being more fun for you?
I just think it’s better fun with online play taking it to a new level of competitiveness. Most of the time you’d play with your friends, now you’re playing with your friends and some people across the world. You get a chance to know people.
Are the Griffey’s just obsessive video game baseball players or have you moved passed that?
We play everything — Call of Duty, Golf. My dad is starting to get into soccer, but he’s not really into passing the ball. Either he doesn’t know how to pass or he doesn’t like to pass. It’s one or the other.
How often do people figure out that they’re playing a game against Ken Griffey Jr.? Do the freak out?
I’m online playing all the time and I’ve got five or six guys that figured out who I was by my voice. I was playing and after three months they were like, ‘Man, I’ve got a question, you sound like Ken Griffey Jr.,’ and I was like, ‘Um, no’ and we kept playing and playing. And one day he was online playing with one of my cousins and I told him who I was and he goes, ‘Man, get the hell out of here! We should go to a game together.’
As someone who played professional sports and plays Call of Duty, what do you make of eSports? Do you think it’s good for kids that it’s suddenly plausible they could make a living playing video games?
It’s a good thing, you get guys out there who are highly competitive and they take their craft, like anybody else, very seriously. It gives kids the opportunity to grow in the industry that they love.
If it had been an option, do you think you would have gone that way?
Trying to say I might have been a two-sport athlete?
Yeah. Call of Duty and baseball.
That might have worked. But yeah, I don’t think it would have changed anything because my love for baseball is second to none.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.