An Interview with Terry McGriff

added 12/28/01 by Ray Kerby

Terry McGriff is a native of South Florida and became an outstanding defensive catcher. He came to the majors in Cincinnati and spent part of one season with the Astros. He is currently having a successful career in the independent Atlantic League.

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: As a child, did you always want to be a ballplayer? What made you choose that career over other possibilities?

Terry McGriff: Well, my father played baseball - then eventually he became a coach. My father's roommate and teammate in college was Lou Brock; they continue to talk on the phone. My mother has a lot of brothers and sisters and everyone enjoys sports, so I just pretty much joined the pack. At the age of 5 I knew I wanted to be a pro ball player.

RK: Growing up in Florida, which team was your favorite? Who were your favorite players, and why?

TM: I liked football more than baseball. I thought baseball was boring, especially watching it on TV. My father was a catcher so I admired Johnny Bench and other catchers. I always felt that I could be as good as them all.

RK: A lot of fans may not be aware that Fred McGriff is your cousin. Being the same age, how much did you two play together? Was there a competitive rivalry between you two?

TM: I have another cousin, his name is Charles Johnson. My father, Roy McGriff, taught us both. Charles is my first cousin and Fred is second. Fred grew up in Tampa and I grew up in Fort Pierce - which is South Florida. I didn't meet Fred until my first years in pro ball.

RK: In high school, you were a quarterback and an All-Star catcher. What an unusual combination! Was it your throwing arm tht made you fit into those positions? After graduation, what made you choose baseball over football?

TM: Well, I only weighed 170 pounds coming out of high school, so I figured I would play longer in baseball than football.

RK: How did you feel when you were drafted in the 8th round of the 1981 draft? How did you celebrate?

TM: It was a dream come true. It's funny because I wanted to be drafted by the Reds, get to know Johnny Bench and then show him that I could play and compete either on the same level or better.

RK: In the minors, you developed a reputation as an outstanding defensive catcher. What do you feel made you successful at a position where others have struggled famously? What were your strong points, defensively?

TM: Mental attitude, looking forward to playing the position and showing the people in baseball that I could perform with anyone. Anticipating anything because that kept me on my toes.

RK: When you reached the majors with the Reds in 1987, their everyday catcher was veteran Bo Diaz. Were you given much opportunity to compete for the starting job, or were you brought up strictly as a backup catcher? Did any players serve as mentors and help you adjust to the bigs? How did they help?

TM: You can never know your full potential until you play pretty much every day. That's what upsets me; they said I never reached my potential. Well, I don't know anyone who will ever reach their potential when you're backing up. If you look closely at all the top catchers today, you'll see that they were given the opportunity, either good or bad, to play. Then what happens is you become more comfortable than confident. I don't know one Hall of Famer who started as a backup.

RK: After a few years with the Reds, you came to Houston as part of the trade that returned Bill Doran to him home town in Cincinnati. You never had much of an opportunity to play in Houston and spent most of your time in the minors. At what point did you realize you weren't going to get many more chances in the majors? Was that difficult to adjust to?

TM: You will never imagine. I knew it was all political. In the minors, I won "Best Defensive Catcher" and "Catcher with the Best Arm" over Benito Santiago. How can you go from being considered one of the best to pretending like I've never caught before in my life? Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, etc - when they came to the majors, their teams were in last place. So the General Manager pretty much just told them to play and don't worry about making mistakes. I was in the pennant race and backing up. I allowed them to take my spirit.

RK: Your last season in MLB in 1994 was ended prematurely by the strike. What are your personal feelings on the players' strike that season?

TM: Well, you just realize history and realize what you're fighting for and remember those who fought to try and make it better for you. Stay loyal to the cause.

RK: You had some limited playing time with the Marlins and Cardinals, but them jumped to the Mexican League in 1997. How does life in the Mexican League compare to the majors and minors?

TM: Baseball is all about adjustments. If you really enjoy baseball and competition, you will make an adjustment and you will also adapt. But, to answer your question, it's two different worlds.

RK: In 1998, you joined the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. This has been a particularly good move for you, resulting in consecutive All-Star appearances. What made you decide to join the Bluefish, and are your still gunning down runners at second base?

TM: If I'm given a decent chance to throw out someone, then I will throw him out 90% of the time. Joining the Bluefish was just another opportunity to play baseball.

RK: How long do you play on remaining in professional baseball? What are your plans for when you retire?

TM: I know it's about that time. Baseball is what I've done my whole life, so I'd rather stay in that setting or environment.

RK: What are some of your fondest memories from your playing days?

TM: It's all about the guys on your team; memories you will never forget. I wish I could tell you of the great memories.

RK: Do you have any advice for aspiring catchers?

TM: Preparation, anticipation and never, ever lose your faith and confidence in yourself - because if you do it's very hard to get it back. In the major leagues, some guys are allowed to regain their confidence - Terry McGriff never was. It's funny because, like I said before, I was a backup when I came to the majors so I was never given an opportunity to work my way out of jams like a lot of other players of today. The most at-bats I've had in a season was probably 130. Other catchers are given 300 to 400 to work out and they get that playing every day. They were allowed to make mistakes; I wasn't.

RK: Thanks very much for your time, Mr. McGriff.