Langston recalls prank on 19-year-old Griffey

SEATTLE -- On the day 46-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. had his number retired by the Mariners, Mark Langston recalled how he made a 19-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. cry on April Fools' Day.

The foundation was laid in 1984. Langston, then 23 and hoping to crack the big leagues, was told he would make the Opening Day roster. But then his teammates began a rumor about Darnell Coles starting the season on the disabled list, and how it would probably be Langston going down to the Minor Leagues because of it.

The Mariners' manager, Del Crandall, called him into his office, talked longwindedly about sending him down, then told him to open the door. Langston saw some his teammates, then he heard a roar:

Welcome to the big leagues you rookie punk!

"I was like, 'Somebody else is going to pay for this,'" Langston said. "At some point, somebody's going to pay.'"

The moment came five years later, in 1989, when Griffey, the No. 1 overall pick out of high school, tore up Spring Training and seemed like a no-brainer to make the team, even though he was still only a teenager.

"OK," Langston thought, "he's my target."

Langston started a rumor that the Mariners were trading for Braves center fielder Dale Murphy, a seven-time All-Star and two-time National League Most Valuable Player. Scott Bradley was in on it. So was Bill Swift, and Alvin Davis, and several others.

They brought it up casually every time Griffey was within earshot, talking about how they didn't need Murphy because Griffey was having such a great spring. At one point, hitting coach Gene Clines put his arm around Griffey, walked him to the dugout and pretended to console him, telling him how unpredictable baseball can be and how important it was for him to remain confident.

Then the Mariners' manager, Jim Lefebvre, called Griffey into his office.

Langston took his place right outside the door, waiting for Griffey to open up. Minutes later, after a first-rate sales job by Lefebvre, Griffey opened that door, and Langston finally got to say what he waited five years to say:

Welcome to the big leagues you rookie punk!

"I look and he's got tears in his eyes, and I'm like, 'Uh-oh,'" Langston said, recalling a moment Griffey mentioned while on the podium during a pregame ceremony. "He turned his head real quick and looked away, and I told him, 'You will never forget this. I had it happen to me. You'll never forget this story.'"

Griffey wound up making that Opening Day roster, of course, and Langston started his Major League debut, giving up three runs in eight innings against the A's. Two months later, Langston was traded to the Montreal Expos and had to watch Griffey's career blossom from afar.

He watched him hit 630 home runs, amass 2,781 hits, bat .284/.370/.538, make 13 All-Star teams, win an MVP, become a cultural icon and ultimately make it to the Hall of Fame.

"He was the only guy that I've ever been able to compare Mike Trout to," said Langston, now a color analyst on Angels radio broadcasts. "They make the game look so easy. They make it look like it's in slow motion. They make it look like what you remember as a kid, playing whiffle ball in the backyard."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.