Griffey Sr. joins campaign against prostate cancer

Published 12:42 am Friday, June 18, 2010

CINCINNATI — Ken Griffey Sr. wasn’t entirely surprised when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. He knew that it ran in the family, with four uncles succumbing to the disease.

Early detection and surgery saved Griffey’s life. Now, he’s urging men to get past their unease and get tested for it.

The former Big Red Machine outfielder has joined a campaign against prostate cancer sponsored by Kimberly-Clark’s Depend brand. Now 60 years old, he has been cancer-free for several years. He’s also back in uniform, working as the Reds’ batting coach at Class A Dayton for the first time.

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His son, Ken Griffey Jr., recently retired from the Seattle Mariners.

Griffey acknowledged during a phone interview Thursday that it’s taken awhile to get over the operation that saved his life.

“The first year was a really tough situation for me because I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Nothing was going right. I was having problems all around. The doctor explained to me that over time it would get better. I’m in my fourth year now. Everything has gotten real good since then. My family has been behind me the whole time.”

Griffey played right field on the Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. He was a three-time All-Star, winning the game’s MVP honors. He ended his career in Seattle in 1991 playing with his son.

He had only two major health issues during his 19-year career. He broke a kneecap in 1979 and had two vertebra in his neck fused in 1991, ending his playing career.

Because of the history of prostate cancer in his family, Griffey went for regular checkups. A test in August 2006 indicated he might have the disease. The same week, his ex-wife, Birdie, was diagnosed with colon cancer. A biopsy later confirmed his cancer.

“It was a depressing situation, but at the same time I was up because we had discovered it,” Griffey said. “The doctor told me it wasn’t life-threatening. That was the big thing.”

Griffey had been a special assistant to the Reds since 2002. He had to take it easy after the operation and deal with the side-effects, letting his body heal.

“The first year is a monster,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect, all the changes you go through. And to be honest, you don’t think things are going to get better. But over the last year, everything has gotten three times better.”

Griffey and his ex-wife are both cancer-free four years after they were diagnosed. Griffey’s experience prompted him to get involved in the Depend campaign, encouraging others to get tested. He knows it’s not a comfortable subject.

“Men are totally shy,” he said. “They won’t talk about it at all. They don’t want to admit they have that kind of a problem.”

Griffey is looking forward to another Father’s Day, a chance to continue a family tradition. Since Junior was a youth, he has given his father a bottle of Old Spice and underwear every year.

“Now he has the grandkids doing it,” Griffey said.