On July 23-24th, a handful of team members from Growing Leaders flew up to New York to attend the Induction of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza into the Baseball Hall of Fame. We took in a Yankees/Giants game on Saturday, then, sped to Cooperstown for the ceremony on Sunday. It was memorable for me.
Piazza and Griffey took the stage among a couple of dozen current HOF members. They not only fit right in, they demonstrated the class that elite athletes possess. In fact, it was a clinic on how performers should carry themselves. If you weren’t able to watch the highlights, allow me to relay the qualities I saw and heard on that stage.
Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. are pictures of contrast. Griffey was drafted first all round in the baseball draft at 17 years old. He was playing pro ball days later. They still call him “the kid.” He’s the only #1 overall draft-pick to make it into the Hall. Everyone expected him to shine and go into the Hall of Fame one day. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round, 1,390th overall. He’s the lowest draft pick to ever enter the Hall. Few expected him to make the majors, much less the Hall of Fame. My point? Both players stayed hungry and reached their potential. One started at the bottom and one at the top, but both finished on top. There are few things more common than a talented athlete who fails to live up to the hype.
Both players not only spoke of their priorities, but displayed them. When Griffey was a free agent, he could’ve stayed in Seattle and made more money, but instead, took a pay cut to play in Cincinnati, where his family was. It’s family first. He adores his dad and said his mom was the only woman he knew who could live in one house yet lead five others. He affirmed his children one by one, then honored his wife, Melissa. They will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year. Piazza spoke of his loyalty to friends and to his faith, and he didn’t discard those priorities as a star athlete. He honored coaches and mentors and instructors by name—over his thirty years of playing ball. Both guys were humans first, not mere performers.
Maintain a Work Ethic.
You don’t achieve HOF status unless your work ethic is strong. Both players showed work ethic on and off the field. Piazza’s numbers were partly due to talent but mostly discipline over 16 years of major league baseball. Griffey played 22 seasons and as an introvert he had to work at being with crowds and handling attention the way he did. He made the all-star team 11 consecutive seasons, won 10 Gold Glove Awards and hit 630 home runs—sixth most in the history of baseball. Both men had to work through injuries, and Piazza did so as a catcher, the most grueling position on the field. Both quietly influenced and left MLB quietly.
Both players exuded authentic humility. Mike Piazza spoke first, and looked back at Griffey, saying, “Ken—you’re so talented, the only thing you and I have in common is two arms and two legs.” He cried as he said he was humbled to be there and assumed the only way he’d ever attend an induction would be if he bought a ticket. He called attention to everyone else all through his speech. In fact, he cited the fact that fans gave him credit for restoring hope to New York by hitting a home run in the Mets first game after 9-11. He then gave perspective by saying the real heroes were the first responders who ran into buildings to rescue people, knowing they were going to die. That kind of perspective is humbling.
Griffey and Piazza were honored because of their hard skills, as ballplayers. But I saw on stage that Sunday a great set of soft skills as well. Let’s model those for our young.