Griffey Jr. channeled Sr. in first HR theft

'We argue all the time whose catch was better,' Junior says

Griffey Jr. channeled Sr. in first HR theft

The catch was eerily familiar for so many, right down to the family name. But to Ken Griffey Jr., it was a fresh experience that he'd repeat many times over the course of what became a Hall of Fame career, and it became a moment that helped introduce baseball to an exuberant young superstar.

The clip from April 26, 1990, is iconic: Junior sprinting to left-center at Yankee Stadium with what would be Jesse Barfield's 200th career homer heading over the fence; Junior spiking the fence and reaching above it with his glove to rob the homer; Junior running back toward home plate with a huge, youthful smile and his glove held high, mobbed by Mariners teammates.

Griffey robs Barfield of a homer

At the time, the catch meant only one thing to him.

"It was the very first time that I ever robbed somebody on any level," Griffey recalled during his National Baseball Hall of Fame news conference Thursday.

Still, you could excuse other observers if they felt a sense of déjà vu that night in the Bronx when Junior did his thing for the first time.

That Ken Griffey Sr. had made a similar catch at Yankee Stadium about five years earlier to rob Boston's Marty Barrett was the eerie part -- both reaching above the fence with their right hand to rob a homer, both sticking their right spike to the padded wall to elevate.

Griffey's homer-saving grab

Griffey Sr.'s grab on Aug. 19, 1985, certainly was memorable, and perhaps even more impressive in a way because he was a 35-year-old making a late-inning defensive replacement. He, too, spiked the fence and made a great grab with a bit of a snow-cone effect, punctuating it not with a victorious giggle running in from the outfield but by falling on his backside and doing a backward somersault.

Five seasons later, a play that would resonate for years as part of a Hall of Fame career would become the subject of a longstanding family argument.

"We argue all the time whose catch was better," Junior said with his proud dad in attendance Thursday. "I say my catch was better, or he'll say his catch was better. I will say my dismount and [how I] stuck the landing was a little better than his."

Junior's catch became a milestone moment of sorts on his road to Cooperstown, because he'd certainly find more ways to take away homers with his athleticism over the course of his career. But there's only one first time, and that was it.

"In Cincinnati [growing up], we didn't have fences. You had to hit it. If you stopped running, it was a home run. That was it," he said. "I didn't play with fences till I got to summer ball, then eventually pro ball. So more or less I was laughing because it was the very first time that I've ever robbed somebody in all the years from being 3 climbing up my mom's wall till now, it was the first time I ever robbed somebody. It was just like, 'Oh, you can let go and laugh.'"

Indeed, the cherubic reaction almost matched the action. Even then, his Major League dad was on his mind, having taught him so many lessons he'd use on his road to the Hall.

"My dad has always told me, 'When you hit, if you hit a home run, you can't really embarrass that person. He knows he made a mistake. Just get around the bases, let the next guy hit. Baseball has a way of policing itself,'" Griffey Jr. recalled. "But on defense you can show a little more of your character and spirit. Being able to dive, rob somebody of a home run, it's not really showing somebody up if you come in laughing, not really laughing, but showing a little bit of enthusiasm about what you did compared to hitting a home run and running around and doing it that way."

Griffey Sr. on his son in HOF

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.