They met secretly, deep into the night and hung out until the wee hours of the morning in a deserted, deprecated joint in Oakland, California.
The four men figured the last time they were together was a quarter-century ago, employed by the same boss, only to all go their separate ways.
One man, who went by a different name at the time, was tossed aside.
Another was sent away at his request back to his hometown.
One left and signed the richest contract in the history of the industry.
The other was sent out three months before he was going to walk out on his own.
If anyone had broken into the Oakland Coliseum a few weeks ago, they would have seen four men dressed in striped Ghostbuster jumpsuits, with inflatable proton backpacks, scaring everyone in sight with their ray guns.
It was a meeting of baseball eminence.
The names: Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Randy Johnson.
The credentials: 47 All-Star appearances, 24 Silver Slugger awards, five Cy Young awards, five World Series rings, and three Hall of Fame elections.
They were last all together as kids in 1996, before developing into four of the greatest players in baseball history. They gathered last month for a two-day national DIRECTV commercial shoot, and acted like middle-aged men getting together at their high-school reunion.
“I laughed so hard being around those guys,’’ Ortiz told USA TODAY Sports. “You’re talking about my idols. Junior and his Dad used to take care of me in the minor leagues. Alex and I have had a really good relationship for a long time, and he’s still all business.
“The only thing that surprised me was Randy. I used to be scared of Randy. I didn’t realize he was so funny. He cracked me up. He was the funniest dude. I just didn’t expect that out of Randy.
“I mean, when I was facing Randy, you’re facing the death sentence, basically. Now, you look at him, listen to him talk, and he’s just hilarious.’’
Said Griffey: “He was in shock. David kept saying, ‘Who is this guy? He’s not the same guy I remember.’
“Hey,’’ said Johnson, “I’m not playing baseball anymore. I’m not standing on the mound trying to intimidate you. Those days are over. I wanted to show a different side of me than the one they saw every fifth day.’’
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The four legends reminisced, shared laughs, stories and lies throughout the two-day commercial shoot through separate interviews with USA TODAY Sports.
The Coliseum brought back distinctive, emotional memories for each of them.
This is where Griffey got his first major-league hit in his first at-bat on opening day in 1989, a double off four-time 20-game winner Dave Stewart.
This is where Rodriguez ran across the mound while returning to first base in 2010, with A’s starter Dallas Braden screaming obscenities at him while he laughed.
This is where Ortiz played in his first postseason game while with the Minnesota Twins, and his last season before signing with the Boston Red Sox, and leading the storied franchise to three World Series championships.
And this is where Johnson grew up in nearby Livermore , California, watching games with his father, Bud Johnson, who had a fatal heart attack on Christmas Day in 1992. Johnson pointed to the sky every time he pitched after his death, letting his dad know he was with him on the mound, and immediately became one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.
The Coliseum, which the quartet joked has barely changed since they first set foot in the stadium, laughed at the camera crews’ frustration of the spotty lighting (just ask the hitters), but were thankful there were no signs of raw sewage seeping out of the clubhouse.
“We laughed our asses off,’’ Rodriguez said. “It was crazy, the four of us being together so long ago in Seattle as just kids, and now all of us having kids, catching up. We had so many good conversations talking about where our careers have led us.’’
Rodriguez (New York) and Ortiz (Boston), who played for bitter rivals, were the closest of the quartet. They talked about how Rodriguez nearly was traded from Texas to Boston before the deal was nullified by the players union and he instead went to the Yankees. They talked about the untold story of how Rodriguez tried to persuade the Rangers to sign Ortiz when he was released by the Twins, only for him to go to Boston and change history.
“I knew Papi could be a star, but I don’t think anyone in the world would have predicted he would become the most prolific postseason home-run hitter since Reggie Jackson,” Rodriguez said. “But he could always hit, had that incredible power, and he had that Magic Johnson personality.
“Papi is unique, even Yankee fans loved him. People would die knowing how close we were that every time I went to Boston, I would go see him and his family.’’
Ortiz, who animatedly talked about the art of hitting during breaks with Griffey and Rodriguez while wondering if Johnson would average 25 strikeouts a game in today’s environment, reminded everyone about the last time they were all together. It was supposed to be at the 2004 All-Star Game in Houston, but Griffey sustained a torn hamstring three days before the game, and was unable to play.
The last time, it turns out, was July 29, 1996, at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin. The Mariners were playing an exhibition game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and Ortiz, known as David Arias at the time, was playing his first full season at Class A.
Well, the game was rained out, and with 6,000 paying fans on hand, they decided to have an impromptu Home Run Derby. Guess who beat Griffey and Rodriguez while hitting balls onto the highway outside the stadium, and still brags about it?
“Man, nobody wanted to be there,” Griffey said. “We had to fly from Seattle to be there on an off-day. We should have left when the game was rained out, but then they turn it into a Home Run Derby. There’s no way we should have been there.
“David doesn’t want to hear that part.”
Ortiz was traded five weeks later to the Minnesota Twins, and within four years, all were gone from the Mariners’ organization. Only Griffey returned to the organization a final time, playing the final 1½ seasons of his career in Seattle, retiring at the age of 40.
They promised one another they’d get together again this summer in Cooperstown, New York, where Ortiz will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ortiz, who has never set foot inside the Hall of Fame, was advised by fellow Hall of Famers Griffey and Johnson to keep his speech under 10 minutes. Rodriguez vowed that he’ll be there, too, hoping one day to be part of the exclusive fraternity.
Who knows, maybe even before Cooperstown they can catch up at a sporting event with their connection to two owners? Griffey is part-owner of the Mariners and professional soccer Seattle Sounders, while Rodriguez is part-owner of the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I told them they can all be Timberwolves’ fans now,” Rodriguez. “I said, ‘Just let me know when you’re coming, and I’ll get you courtside.”
Said Griffey: “We may show up, but we’re not going to let him know we’re coming. What’s he going to do, get mad and kick us out?’’
The four legends would arrive at 5 p.m., finishing , one shoot at 2 a.m., and the other at 3 a.m.
They had their uniform numbers on their Ghostbuster costumes, wore their caps backwards upon Griffey’s suggestion (well, everyone wore it backwards but Johnson), and loved drawing their ray guns and shooting down baseball team mascots like Mr. Red invading the stadium.
Perhaps the funniest scene among the one-minute, 30-second, 15-second and 10-second shoots was Rodriguez sitting next to Griffey in the stands, asking while he was streaming the event since they were watching in person.
“Because I’ve got the worst seat in the house,’’ said Griffey, his view blocked by the 6-foot-10 Johnson.
“Down in front, Big Unit!” Rodriguez yelled.
Rodriguez immediately ducks as Johnson flips his entire bag of popcorn over his right shoulder onto Rodriguez’s head.
It’s this entertainment and comedy in the Goat Busters campaign that Vince Torres, DIRECTV’s chief marketing officer, believes could have a big impact, letting baseball fans know that virtually every local, regional and national game will be available on DIRECTV Stream.
“The way they engaged, interacted with each other, joked with each other, and came across with that camaraderie, people are going to be drawn to their personalities,” Torres said. “And whether you’re a diehard baseball fan or not, everyone recognizes them. It’s a very diverse group of individuals, and they all brought something different to the table.”
Said Rodriguez: “To do this with the combination of baseball and ghostbusters was a great idea, and to have us four, you couldn’t have scripted it any better.’’
When the last commercial shoot ended, the longtime friends promised to stay in touch and vowed not to go another quarter-century without seeing one another, when Rodriguez asked: “Hey, anyone need a ride?’’
Johnson was headed to his home in Phoenix. Griffey was scheduled to take a commercial flight back to Orlando. And Rodriguez was bringing Ortiz on his plane back to their homes in Miami.
Well, next thing they knew, Griffey was on Rodriguez’s flight, too, giving the three sluggers another six hours together to catch up.
“The commercials involved long, long hours,’’ Griffey said. “A lot of takes. A lot of dead time. A lot of just trying to stay awake.
“But would I do it all over again just to be with those guys?
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