Tom Griffin

June 9, 2010

Has Tom Griffin ever been mellow? It would appear so. Today I offer apparently mellow southern Californian Tom Griffin as a little mellow prayer for smooth passage today to California. I’m headed to the airport shortly and if all goes smooth and mellow I’ll be seeing a game in Dodger Stadium tonight for the first time in my life.

So why not feature a Dodger today? Well, for one thing, I didn’t want to leave the Angels out of my embrace of all matters baseball in that sunny region. Also, after a couple days in Los Angeles, I’ll be headed down to San Diego, where Griffin toiled for a couple years just after several years with the Astros and just before joining the Angels.

Griffin was born in Los Angeles and attended Grant High School (where he must have been a superstar—his showing there got him taken fourth in the first round of the 1966 MLB draft) in Van Nuys, California.

Van Nuys has been a place of some mystery for me lately, as it is the core of an enigmatic utterance by Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. The boys have just made their getaway from their parents in the customized van, and someone has asked Kelly if he “really knows how to drive this thing.” I don’t have time to check Kelly’s exact reply, but I believe all he says is, “Relax, I’m from Van Nuys.”

What the hell does this mean? I’m not sure, but the implication seems to be that in Van Nuys it is customary for a newborn baby to drive itself home from the maternity ward. If this is the case, I am from the opposite of Van Nuys, in that I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 30, and only then with great reluctance and trepidation, and even now after over a decade of tense-shouldered practice behind the wheel, I’m still generally terrified in the driver’s seat.

And yet, later today, after picking up my rental from Thrifty, I will be grappling with Los Angeles traffic, which in American mythology is to traffic what Moby Dick is to creatures of the sea.

But if all somehow goes smooth and mellow and Tom Griffin-y, and maybe if I can channel my inner Kelly Leak and pretend I’m from Van Nuys, I’ll be watching a Dodger game tonight and tomorrow will be doing the first of a couple Southern California appearances for my book. Below are the details on those appearances. Hope to see you there.

Baseball Reliquary, South Pasadena Public Library Community Room, 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena, CA
Author appearance, reading and book signing.
Free and open to the public.
For more info call: 626.791.7647

Upstart Crow Bookstore, 835C West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village, San Diego, CA
Author appearance and book signing.
Free and open to the public.
For more info call: 619.232.4855


  1. “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are” Miller in REPO MAN

  2. Ooh, Josh gets to drive the Pasadena Freeway out to my neighborhood. That experience should be worth another book for him.

    Van Nuys is the perhaps the most representative part of the San Fernando Valley. There is a wide range of incomes and it’s fairly diverse ethnically. It’s not a place that a lot of people hold a lot of affection for. But, it’s home.

    There is a HUGE Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys that you can always smell from the San Diego Freeway.

  3. Tom Griffin is another one of those guys that you look at in retrospect and shake your head and wonder how the hell did he have a 14 year big league career. Interestingly he’s similar Enos Cabell in that he’s among the worst pitchers/players in major league history to have a fairly long career.

    There’s only 14 major league pitchers to pitch 1400+ innings and have less than 4 (War) and he’s one of them:

    Kaiser Wilhelm-(-2.7)
    Blue Moon Odom-(-0.2)
    Mike Lacoss-.5
    Henry Mcintire-.9
    Julian Tavarez-.9
    Andy Hawkins-2.2
    Joe Bowman-2.7
    Herm Wehmeier-2.7
    Tony Cloninger-2.9
    Jose Lima-3.2
    Glendon Rush-3.2
    Jason Marquis-3.4
    Joe Eschger-3.7

    Usually these guys had one decent year and then kind of milked it for the rest of their careers. Or they pitched in pitcher’s parks or they played on good teams that gave them good offensive and defensive or good run support
    to inflate their w-l record. Or sometimes their just on bad teams that just need someone to fill a gap.

    Griffin had some success in his rookie year striking out 200 and leading the league in k/9. After that, there wasn’t much except a little bit of a decent year for the 1980 Giants.

    He played in pitcher’s parks all his career so that probably masked some of his short-comings and I guess teams were trying to see if he could match what he did his rookie year.

    I guess it’s better to be lucky than good.

  4. The ’79 Tom Griffin card gives us hope, what with the palm trees in the background and bright sun on the field.

  5. Perhaps the reference was meant simply as “If you’re from VAN Nuys, you’re born with the ability to drive a VAN. Dumb? Yes, but I don’t think anyone expected the screenplay to win any awards.

  6. Darn Josh, I am going to be in my graduate class only a few miles from South Pas at the same time you’re reading. I am going to try like mad to make it over there by 8:30 p.m. How long do your appearances usually last?

  7. Griffin hit 10 career homers in barely 400 ABs. Maybe he was playing the wrong position.

  8. Lucky you, a Cardinals game for your first trip to Dodger Stadium.

    I really like the place: although the traffic in is hell, stand in the parking lot on the south side and just look at the view. Just, just look at that….

    Then enjoy the long sunset against the mountains and arroyos, in the endless September of California.

    Are you getting an escort from your former Toaster-ites, the now Credentialed Jon Weisman, or Bob Timmerman?

    >>BobT. >> This warning about the Pasadena Freeway is NO JOKE. It’s ancient and has hairpin exit ramps with [5 MPH] signs that are dead serious. I have no idea how this road is not blocked by an accident every single day.

    Enjoy Dodger Stadium for the first and last time, because once Frank McCourt ditches the broad, he’s selling that land for 42% of all the money in the world and moving the Dodgers to Carson.


  9. My sister-in-law, who lives in Van Nuys, suggests that it “could be a reference to Van Nuys Blvd. being a former cruising hot spot. There are signs prohibiting cruising now though.”

  10. I live in LA and I haven’t heard any rumors about the Dodgers moving to Carson. It’s possible that I haven’t been paying close enough attention. But they’ve spent $150 million on renovations since 2005, and this isn’t exactly a great time to be unloading real estate. Maybe JWP has some inside info he can share.

  11. just for the record, the curly haired kid with glasses and sideburns asks, “you sure you know how to drive this thing?” and leak answers, “hey, listen, dude, i’m from van nuys. i was born to drive.”

    you can check it out at the 5:15 point of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SsPyyI9Rfg.

    and soundbounder, i can’t believe you beat me to the repo man quote; well done!

  12. I think the whole friggin movie is on You-Tube…sweet.

  13. In response to johnq11, oddly enough Tom Griffin’s name surfaced during Steven “Cardboard God emphasis on the God” Strasburg’s last start. At the tender age of 21, in his first two major league starts, Griffin tallied 20 strikeouts. To this day, that remains among the ten best debuts in baseball history. While I don’t remember his getting anywhere near the hype that Strasburg has been getting (then again, who has?), the potential shown by that rookie season where he struck out 200 in 188 innings must have made pitching coaches, managers, and GMs of the 1970s drool.

  14. Is there a way we can post other years of a players cards to contrast?
    When clicked on Tom Griffen, I was hoping to click on the 75 minature card from when he belonged to the Houston Astros…..He had to be one of the first cards that I ever got because I only have about 50 minatures and the rest were the regular sized cards. Minatures were scarce in my town apparently.

    Anyway, I have a vision of the countenance on his face in that 75 card (from 74 season) being strikingly different. Solemn and in the stretch position. He looks positively gleeful in the card above, glad to be out of the astro hell of the early 70s and somehow streching his career to the late 70s on the west coast.

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