Alfredo Claudino Griffin was a professional baseball player for 20 years, 18 of which were in the major leagues. He was a fan favorite for his outgoing personality and sure-handed glove in the middle infield. And he’s the answer to two great trivia questions: (1) Who was on deck when Joe Carter hit the ninth-inning Game Six home run off Mitch Williams of the Philadelphia Phillies to win the 1993 World Series? (2) Who was the first player to have played on the losing end of three perfect games (Len Barker in 1981, Tom Browning in 1988, and Dennis Martinez in 1991)?
Griffin was born on October 6, 1957, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He was the youngest of three brothers. His father, Alberto Reed, in order to financially support the family worked on the docks of Santo Domingo during the day and at night was a musician at local clubs. Young Alfredo developed a love of music from his father and would often be found playing the conga at parties and fiestas as grew older.1 With civil unrest and the resulting turf wars arising from a coup d’etat in 1965, Alfredo’s mother made the decision to take him and his two brothers away from the capital city and back to her family. His father stayed in Santo Domingo.2
Upon moving back to Consuelo at age 8, Alfredo eventually made his way to playing baseball for the local sugar mill, Ingenio Consuelo, at the behest of his uncle Clemente Hart who was a cricket player later-turned baseball player. Hart played baseball locally for the Estrella Orientales, a Dominican Winter League team. The Consuelo sugar-mill team had several other future major leaguers on its roster, including Rafael Santana, Nelson Norman, Rafael Ramirez, and Julio Franco. Major-league scouts were plentiful at its games.3 Griffin was signed as a 15-year-old nondrafted free agent by the Cleveland Indians on August 22, 1973, by Cuban scout Reggie Otero. At the time, Griffin played second base. Otero believed that he possessed excellent range on the field, and suggested a move to shortstop.4 With the signing Griffin became one of the growing number of players to sign professional contracts from San Pedro de Macoris, a port city on the country’s southern coast. That area of the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s and early ’80s became known as the City of Shortstops with the major-league success of players like Griffin, Pepe Frias, Rafael Ramirez, Julio Franco, and Tony Fernandez.5
Not long after Griffin signed with the Indians he was in A-ball. He was batting exclusively right-handed. In 1975, upon the request of San Jose player-coach Gomer Hodge who “told me to take the next at-bat left-handed. I slapped the ball and almost beat it out.”6 It turned out his early season batting struggles that had seen is average dip to around .080 had opened a path to becoming a switch-hitter.7 Over the next few years he continued to work on his switch-hitting with Indians minor-league instructor Tommy McCraw. McCraw told him to keep at it, hit the ball on the ground, and take advantage of his speed. Griffin ended his major-league career with 1,688 hits in 6,780 at-bats. While none of his offensive statistics are eye-popping, they are reflective of a player known mostly for his glove who played the field with enough consistency to enjoy a major-league career for nearly two decades.
His minor-league career started in 1974 with stops in rookie ball with the Gulf Coast League Indians and the High-A Reno Silver Sox. Griffin spent the entire 1975 season with the High-A San Jose Bees. Through his first three seasons in the minors he racked up 43 steals. Highlighting his penchant for aggressiveness on the basepaths, he was also caught stealing 25 times. Griffin took a significant step forward in 1976. While starting the season again at San Jose, he earned a call-up to Williamsport of the Double-A Eastern League. After spending about 60 games at San Jose and Williamsport he played in 22 games with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens before getting his first major-league call-up.
Upon his first major-league call-up Griffin noted, “No, I am not excited, I am not nervous, but I am very happy.”8 Griffin made his major-league debut on September 4, 1976, as a late-inning substitution. His first hit came on September 7. Upon entering the game in the sixth inning, Griffin hit a single to left field on the very first pitch he saw from Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Gary Beare. Beare happened to be making his major-league debut in what turned out to be a nine-inning complete-game 17-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians. He was 18 years old. Between then and his last major-league appearance, in October 1993 as a member of the World Series-winning Toronto Blue Jays, Griffin strung together an 18-year career. Thirteen of those seasons were as an everyday starter for the Indians, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and two stints with the Blue Jays.
After a few short stints in the majors with the Indians from 1976-1978 in which he appeared in 31 games total, Griffin was eventually traded to the Blue Jays along with Phil Lunsford in exchange for pitcher Victor Cruz prior to the start of the 1979 season. It was as a Blue Jay that Griffin cemented his status as a major-league shortstop. Jerry Howarth, longtime Blue Jays broadcaster, said, “The Jays couldn’t have asked for a better player or role model. He was at the leading edge of an influx of talented Dominican Republic players for the shore of Lake Ontario. … Alfredo was a big part of the success story of the Blue Jays.”9
At 5-feet-11 and 165 pounds, Griffin was known more for his defensive ability than anything he had to offer offensively. His best offensive season was his 1979 American League Rookie of the Year campaign. He batted .287, had 179 hits, hit 10 triples, and scored 81 runs. He shared the award with Minnesota Twins third baseman John Castino. He had been named the AL Player of the Month for September after batting .347 with six doubles, four triples, six RBIs, and five stolen bases. That season Griffin turned 124 double plays, a Blue Jays team record that he surpassed the next season with 126 double plays. He also made a league-leading 36 errors. In 1979 Griffin was called a bright spot in the otherwise unremarkable three-year history of the Toronto Blue Jays.10
Griffin’s early success in the major leagues was neither immediate nor without growing pains. Recalling his early struggles, he said:
“It was 1979. I was hitting about .170 after the first month. My confidence was shot. Our hitting coach [1986 Hall of Fame inductee] Bobby Doerr said, ‘I’ll help you, but you’re about down to your last chance to stay in the majors.’ So before our game in Texas that night, he worked with me on choking up on the bat, and relaxing a bit. Only trouble was, I did not speak English very well then. Or understand it. So he drew some pictures, and asked Rico Carty – one of our veteran Blue Jay players – to help out. Al Oliver, of the Rangers, was also with us. All three of them were very encouraging. … I really appreciated their help. They not only improved my batting; they also built up my confidence.”11
Griffin’s value beyond his glove work was as a positive influence in the clubhouse. It was common for people to comment that Griffin was a positive influence on his teammates. A sentiment further echoed by A’s front office adviser Bill Rigney, who said of Griffin: “His character? Top of the line.”12 This is high praise for a player who ended his career with a total WAR (wins above replacement) of 3.0, ranging from a career high of 3.4 in 1986 to a career low of -2.3 in 1990. By these analytical measures Griffin would be considered a replacement-level player. Not bad at all for a player able to carve out an 18-year major-league career.
During his first stint as a Blue Jay, Griffin played home games in the oft-windy and outdoor confines of Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. Recalling his early days in Toronto, Griffin said:
“Everybody said it was a bad place to play baseball. But I was a happy man to become a major-leaguer in Toronto playing at Exhibition Stadium every day. It gave me my future. It secured the future for my family. I made my living out of the place, so I’ve got nothing bad to say about the old place.”13
Regardless of the playing conditions, Griffin had more than a few accomplishments during his first stint with the Blue Jays. He tied Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals for the American League lead in triples in 1980 with 15. He finished in the top 10 in the category four other times. It was also here that Griffin played in a personal best 414 consecutive games. Griffin played in all 162 regular-season games four times during his career. In 1984, he was an odd selection for the American League All-Star team. John Feinstein of the Washington Post explained:
“Major league baseball pays the expenses for each player here and for one guest. In most cases, players bring wives or girlfriends. Damaso Garcia, the Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman, brought his shortstop, Alfredo Griffin. When the Tigers’ Alan Trammell hurt his arm and could not play tonight, Manager Joe Altobelli named Griffin to the team, partly because he’s a fine player, but mostly because he was here.”14
Garcia’s wife had decided not to attend, and so Griffin came as his guest. It seemed like a good idea. The Blue Jays were slated to start the second half of the season in Oakland right across the bay from where the All-Star Game was being played in San Francisco. Griffin entered the game as a replacement for Cal Ripken in the sixth inning. He had no at-bats; Don Mattingly pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning. It was Griffin’s only All-Star Game appearance.
Even though Griffin was popular in the clubhouse and with Blue Jays fans, his days as the full-time shortstop for the Blue Jays were numbered. In 1983 he began to split time at shortstop with the up-and-coming wunderkind and fellow Dominican Tony Fernandez. After two seasons, Fernandez took over as the full-time shortstop. Griffin was on this way out.
In December 1984 Griffin was traded to the Oakland Athletics with Dave Collins and cash for relief pitcher Bill Caudill. Griffin starred with the Athletics for three seasons (1985-1987). Athletics GM Sandy Alderson touted him as “the glue that held us together.”15 In his first season, he won his only Gold Glove. In his first two seasons he played in all 162 regular-season games. But by 1987, with the Athletics looking for playing time for Walt Weiss, their up-and-coming shortstop, Griffin was again on his way to another team. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December 1987. He went to the Dodgers along with pitcher Jay Howell in a three-team trade that also involved the New York Mets. Hoping that Griffin would be a positive influence on Dominican infielders in the organization, Dodgers GM Fred Claire cited Griffin’s character as a needed positive. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda commented, “I haven’t seen him that much but I hear he’s a hell of a player. I looked over at his record and he’s played all 162 four times and more than 140 the other two. That’s something we haven’t had.”16
As luck would have it, Griffin’s ability to avoid injury and be a stabilizing presence on the field did not initially work out well for the Dodgers. On May 21, less than two months into his first season with the Dodgers, Griffin was hit by a Dwight Gooden fastball and broke his right hand.17 He missed the next 59 games. For the season, he ended up batting .199 in 95 games. With on-base and slugging percentages in the .250s he was a serious offensive liability. Still, Griffin played an integral role in the Dodgers’ World Series victory over the Athletics as he started all five games at shortstop. He batted .188 with three singles. In an interview published in 2001, Griffin called the World series victory “the most special moment in my career.”18
Even with the injury and offensive struggles of the previous year, Griffin signed a three-year contract extension with the Dodgers in January 1989, a signing that included the highest salary of his career: $1 million, in both 1989 and 1990.
A free agent after the 1991 season, Griffin returned to the Blue Jays for what were his last two major-league seasons. No longer a full-time shortstop, and quite possibly a greater offensive liability than ever, he nevertheless enjoyed enormous team success. Playing in only 109 games over the two years, Griffin tallied zero home runs, 10 doubles, and no triples over 245 at-bats. With only 13 RBIs to go along with an average barely above .220, Griffin was used sparingly. The Blue Jays won the World Series both seasons; Griffin appeared as a defensive replacement in both Series.
Griffin hit 24 major-league home runs; in eight seasons he had none. He hit a career-best four homers in three seasons. He hit 245 doubles and 78 triples. He drove in 527 runs with a career high of 64 in 1985. As a light-hitting infielder, Griffin never cracked a slugging percentage of .400 during a full season. His highest slugging percentage was .364 in 1979 and 1986. With a career slugging average of .319, he was never much of an offensive threat, a notion substantiated when considering his career batting average of .249 and on-base percentage of .285. Griffin struck out 664 times. His season high was 65. He drew 338 walks, with a high of 40 in 1979 and a low of 4 in 1984 (in 442 plate appearances).
Griffin made baserunning an adventurous endeavor. Having decent speed and a penchant for over-aggressive running on the basepaths led to plenty of good and bad decisions alike. A game in 1991 provides a clear illustration: Griffin walked and kept going after reaching first base. It did not work. He explained, “Man, I’m just playing baseball, trying to get something started.”19 Manager Tommy Lasorda commented, “It’s a great play if you make it, even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody try it before.”20 In 1980 Griffin had 18 steals and was caught stealing 23 times. In three seasons he had stolen-base results under 50 percent. He had 192 stolen bases in the major leagues. But in a nod to his over-aggressiveness on the basepaths, he was caught stealing 134 times. Still, Griffin had decent speed. In eight seasons, he stole at least 10 bases, and in three others swiped at least 20. He had a career-high 33 stolen bases with the run-happy Oakland Athletics in 1986. His three seasons with the Athletics (1985-1987) resulted in his three highest single-season steal totals (24 in 1985, 33 in 1986, and 26 in 1987).
Griffin’s fielding statistics are more impressive. He had a fielding percentage of .961 with 348 career errors, 340 of which were made when he was playing shortstop. Early on, he led the American League for four straight seasons (1979-1982) in errors by a shortstop with 36, 37, 31, and 26. He also led the National League as a member of the Dodgers in 1990 when he had 26 errors. Prone to off-balance and errant throws, especially at the start of his career, Griffin recalled, “Using two hands gave me problems, I’d put my right hand too close to the glove and sometime the ball would hit my bare hand. So, in my third year I switched to one hand (pickups).”21
With his playing career over, Griffin did not stay away from ballfields for long. In 2018 he completed his 19th season on the Los Angeles Angels coaching staff. He has served as both the first base coach (for 18 seasons) and infield coach (for one season). He worked as a roving minor-league instructor for the Blue Jays in 1995, and as their first-base coach in 1996 and 1997. He was a coach for the Dominican Republic team that won the 2013 World Baseball Classic. and was the general manager of the Estrellas Orientales (Eastern Stars) in the Dominican Republic Winter League, for whom he played for 12 major-league off seasons. The club has retired his number 4 jersey. Griffin was elected to the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Griffin’s clippings file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball-almanac.com, baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.org, and thebaseballcube.com.
1 Mark Kurlansky, The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 99.
2 Kurlansky, 99.
3 Kurlanksy, 99.
4 Kurlansky, 100.
5 Kurlansky, 97.
6 Associated Press, “Switch Hitting Takes a Special Skill,” Daily News Online (Longview, Washington), June 2, 2018. Retrieved from tdn.com/sports/switch-hitting-takes-a-special-skill/article_c18ab4df-e8f4-55fa-a87b-3c918c90cf89.html.
7 “Switch Hitting Takes a Special Skill.”
8 Russell Schneider, “Quick-Grower Griffin Brightens Indian Summer,” The Sporting News, September 25, 1976: 12.
9 Jim Prime, Tales from the Toronto Blue Jays Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Blue Jays Stories Ever Told (New York: Sports Publishing, 2014), 117.
10 United Press International, “Co-winners for AL Rookie Honors,” Salina Journal, November 27, 1979.
11 Bob Bloss, Rookies of the Year (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005), 135.
12 Ross Newhan, “Dodgers Pay a Big Price (Welch) to Improve: They Get a Shortstop and Two Relief Pitchers,” Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1987. Retrieved from articles.latimes.com/1987-12-12/sports/sp-6647_1_relief-pitcher.
13 Richard Griffin, “Alfredo Griffin Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane,” Toronto Star, June 3, 2009. Retrieved from thestar.com/life/travel/2009/06/03/alfredo_griffin_takes_a_trip_down_memory_lane.html.
17 Sam McManis, “Hit, Throw and Run: Guerrero Throws Bat at Pitcher; Dodgers Lose 5-2,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1988. Retrieved from articles.latimes.com/1988-05-23/sports/sp-2199_1_dodgers-lose.
18 Rich Marazzi, “Alfredo Griffin: Dominican Dandy,” Sports Collectors Digest, January 26, 2001: 70.
19 Bill Plaschke, “Baseball: Daily Report: Dodgers: Griffin Explains His Baserunning Ploy,” Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1991. Retrieved from articles.latimes.com/1991-08-01/sports/sp-231_1_alfredo-griffin.
21 Glenn Schwarz, “A’s Expect Griffin to Cement the Infield,” San Francisco Examiner, March 4, 1985: D1.