MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Scout recalls Griffey's early brilliance

Scout recalls Griffey's early brilliance

Tom Mooney was working at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1981, rubbing shoulders with the wealthy, still wanting to live his lifelong dream of being involved in baseball.

"It was all I ever wanted to do growing up," said Mooney, who had played the game through junior college and coached at the high school and American Legion levels.

And the next thing Mooney knew, he had walked in the back door and found himself very much involved in baseball. Mooney was the Seattle Mariners' area scout in 1987, and he put in the first and the strongest recommendations for the franchise on a high school prospect named Ken Griffey Jr.

The Mariners used the first overall pick in the MLB Draft that June to select and sign Griffey, who on Wednesday became the first homegrown Mariners player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It was a moment that Mooney, now with the Brewers and about to embark on his 33rd season in pro scouting, can cherish as well.

"I am happy for him, and I'm happy for Senior," Mooney said in reference to Griffey's father, Ken Sr., who played 19 years in the big leagues. "His dad was still playing with the Braves back then, and if they had a Monday off, he'd fly home to Cincinnati on Sunday night and spend [Monday] with his son."

And Mooney knows plenty about being down to earth himself. Working at the Balboa Bay Club provided him a chance to meet one of the members, George Argyros, who had just purchased the Mariners prior to the 1981 season.

"That's how I got my foot in the door," said Mooney. "George eventually hired me as a personal assistant. I'd pick him up in the morning, drive him around, run errands for him. I did that for a year. I guess it was like waiting tables in a steakhouse in New York City [and] going to auditions on Broadway."

The two quickly developed a good relationship.

"My first day on the job, George asked me, 'Tom, what do you want to do for a job?'" Mooney said. "I told him I wanted to work in baseball, and he laughed. 'There's no money in baseball. Why would you want to do that?'"

Griffey Sr. on his son in HOF

Having developed the relationship with Argyros, Mooney was finally given his opportunity in baseball. He joined the Mariners in 1984 as an area scout.

"It wasn't the best relationship [with the baseball people]," admitted Mooney. "At first, they thought I was George's spy. They decided to send [me] to Ohio and see what happens."

What the baseball people soon discovered was that Mooney was all they could ask for. He was a tireless scout, intent on being a success in the baseball world, and he welcomed the advice he was given by the veteran members of the scouting staff, particularly Bill Kearns, who became Mooney's scouting guru.

And the first real test came in 1987, with the Mariners holding the first pick in the Draft and Mooney providing the initial evaluations of Griffey.

"Tom was very strong on Griffey," said Dick Balderson, a scouting director with the Royals who had become the Mariners' general manager prior to the 1985 season. "And Roger [Jongewaard], who was our scouting director, was so experienced and a very good evaluator and was just as committed to Griffey. They both said Griffey was the best player in the Draft, and it turned out Griffey was far, far superior to anybody else."

And there was more. Griffey and his family wanted him to be the first player taken in the Draft.

When the conversations about the potential signing bonus began before the Draft, that fact was critical. The Mariners signed Griffey for a $160,000 bonus, which was about $30,000 or so less than Mark Merchant with the Pirates, the second pick.

Griffey, however, had the distinction of being the first player selected. And more importantly to his father, his son was going to a franchise that did not have a lot of depth in the Minor Leagues, which meant Jr. was going to have the opportunity to get to the big leagues quickly.

And the son wasn't concerned about the difference in signing bonuses. He assured his father that he would more than make up for that $30,000 difference in the long run.

Griffey Jr.'s first MLB homer

He was right. Griffey was in the big leagues -- to stay -- less than two years after he was drafted, following a road that has taken him to Cooperstown, where he'll be enshrined with the rest of the best to have ever played Major League Baseball.

And Mooney?

He is smiling, remembering that 1987 Draft, when he also scouted right-handed pitcher Dave Burba, who was the Mariners' second-round selection. And Mooney is still enjoying his life in baseball.

"It's worked out nicely," said Mooney.

Griffey would have to agree.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.