Doug Griffin’s professional baseball career comprised 13 years, beginning at Idaho Falls in 1965 and finishing with the Boston Red Sox in 1977. He spent eight seasons in the major leagues, seven of them with the Red Sox, and appeared briefly in the 1975 World Series.
Griffin was born on June 4, 1947 in South Gate, California. At El Monte (California) High School, he achieved All-Pacific League, All-Valley, and All-California Interscholastic Federation honors. He also lettered in basketball, football, and track. He graduated in 1965.
Griffin was discovered by California Angels and was drafted by the Angels in the 21st round of the 1965 amateur draft. He was assigned to Idaho Falls of the rookie Pioneer League. In 1966, he was sent to Davenport, Iowa, with the Quad Cities Angels of the Class A Midwest League, and was named the league’s All-Star second baseman.
For the next two years, Griffin was in the Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor in the Submarine Service. While there, he played for military teams and the Honolulu Islanders, an amateur team of servicemen all-stars, which in 1967 participated in the semipro National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas. Honolulu placed second to the Boulder Collegians, who won the series.
He returned to the Quad Cities team in 1969, playing in 60 games. That same season he advanced to El Paso of the Double-A Texas League, where he hit .308.
He was elevated to California’s Triple-A club, the Hawaii Islanders for the 1970 season. He had an excellent year in Hawaii and was named the Pacific Coast League All-Star second baseman and was named the league’s 1970 Rookie of the Year. The 1970 Islanders team is still considered one of the greatest minor-league teams of all time, with a 98-48 record under the leadership of manager Chuck Tanner.
After the championship series, Griffin was called up to the Angels, making his major-league debut on September 11, 1970. He alternated between second and third bases, since he was competing with All-Star second baseman Sandy Alomar.
Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell made a block-buster trade with the California Angels on October 11, 1970, giving up Red Sox slugger and fan favorite Tony Conigliaro, catcher Jerry Moses, and pitcher Ray Jarvis for ace reliever Ken Tatum, outfielder Jarvis Tatum, and infielder Griffin. The Red Sox already had a solid second baseman in Mike Andrews, one of the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team, and gave no indication that they were ready to move him.
In December 1970, however, Boston made another surprising move, trading away Andrews and shortstop Luis Alvarado to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio. This opened up the second-base spot and set the stage for Griffin. He was an unknown and was known for his glove and great speed, both factors that prompted the Red Sox to acquire him.
Griffin’s emergence onto the Boston scene was nearly as surprising as the departure of Conigliaro, having greater residual impact on the club than the arrival of Ken Tatum. Just before the trade for Griffin, utility infielder Dick Schofield had been dealt, and just after came the trade of the popular Mike Andrews. With All-Star and future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio on board, discussion quickly centered on the new double-play combination of Aparicio and Griffin.
The young second-base prospect drew praise from manager Eddie Kasko. As spring training opened in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1971, once again Red Sox management emphasized “defense and speed,” This approach was the brainchild of GM O’Connell, who sought to improve on the 1970 season, in which the Red Sox finished 21 games behind Baltimore. The die was cast: Doug Griffin was to be the starting second sacker on Opening Day.
Luis Aparicio took Griffin under his wing both before and during spring training, which seemed to reflect an understanding he had with Red Sox management when they acquired him. He accepted the role with great enthusiasm as did Griffin. It was a great match and Doug had a solid spring, living up to his reputation as a flashy fielder. The Red Sox were pleased to find he wielded a steady bat, too. The Red Sox were high on the rookie from California as the 1971 season opened.
Griffin was having such a good first half in his first year with the Red Sox that he received a credible number of votes by the players for their selections to the American League All-Star Team in a poll conducted by The Sporting News. Continued good fortune was not in the cards for the oft-injured Red Sox second baseman. While he chased a pop fly in short right field on June 28th, his back went into spasms and he left the game soon after. He was playing very good baseball, both at bat and in the field, but was on the disabled list for nearly a month, missing 28 games.
The Red Sox were chasing the Orioles for the lead in 1971, but hitting was not their strong suit and that lack of offense kept them well behind Baltimore. Carl Yastrzemski was having an off-year and George Scott played hot and cold. Griffin was cited by the Boston brass as one of the few players who was hitting above expectations, this despite missing so many games due to injury.
The Red Sox finished third in 1971, 18 games behind the AL East division-leading Baltimore Orioles. Griffin finished his season with a .244 batting average. Largely because of his slick fielding, he became a candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, and placed fourth in the voting.
For Griffin, 1972 was a very good year. Once again he was placed on the All-Star ballot. He had a sensational spring, both with the bat and in the field. Hard luck followed him in 1972, just as it had the year before. He was benched early in the season due to a slump, but came back strong, and was hitting well until early August, when he was hit by a Gaylord Perry pitch that broke his hand. He was on the disabled list from August 9th to September 1st, missing 25 games. When he returned he had trouble gripping the bat, affecting his hitting.
Griffin won a 1972 Gold Glove award. And despite the broken hand, he improved his batting average to .260, and his 15 sacrifice hits tied him for third place in the league with three other players. In spite of turmoil in the clubhouse, the Red Sox finished second in the AL East, just a half-game behind the Detroit Tigers.
The 1973 season was a year of promise for the Red Sox. They had a seasoned team returning, one bolstered by the pitching of Luis Tiant, Marty Pattin, John Curtis, and Lynn McGlothen. The infield was an established one with Gold Glove winner Griffin, Luis Aparicio, Rico Petrocelli, and Carl Yastrzemski. Griffin again appeared on the AL All-Star ballot, but back problems that cropped up during spring training plagued him throughout the year. In May he was hit by pitcher Billy Champion of the Milwaukee Brewers and suffered another fractured hand, serving a stint on the disabled list.
Griffin’s second broken hand had a deleterious effect upon the 1973 Red Sox. Neither John Kennedy nor the new sub acquired from the Yankees, Mario Guerrero, had the fielding range or prowess to compare with Griffin. Worse, the fracture may have been intentional; it appeared to have been the product of a feud between the Red Sox and Brewers, principally involving Bill Lee of the Red Sox and the Brewers’ Ellie Rodriguez.
Injuries were taking their toll on Griffin. It was becoming more a matter of how long he might last than how well he might play. After the 1973 season, Boston replaced Kasko with Darrell Johnson from their minor-league system. They also dealt young outfielder Ben Oglivie for seasoned utility infielder Dick McAuliffe of the Tigers, in order to spell the oft-injured Griffin at second. Doug had played in 113 games for the 1973 Red Sox, batting .255. He placed second to Bobby Grich of the Orioles for the AL Gold Glove award.
Griffin longed for an injury-free 1974 season, and was off to a tremendous start, but he pulled a muscle. Petrocelli was also hurt. Though the year started with great hopes, manager Darrell Johnson was soon forced into constantly juggling lineups to replace injured players. On April 30th Griffin was beaned by a Nolan Ryan fastball that knocked him unconscious. The beaning left him with a concussion and temporary hearing loss, and likely caused the premature end to his career. Doug had been playing exceptional baseball before the beaning. He was on a tear, having hit safely in 15 consecutive games, and was batting at a .347 clip. The Red Sox were again faced with questions regarding players and field positions following the his injury. Rookie Rick Burleson, a shortstop, was asked to platoon at second base with veteran Dick McAuliffe in Griffin’s absence.
The Red Sox finished third in 1974, seven games behind division-leading Baltimore and five behind the Yankees, with an 84-78 record. Griffin played in only 93 games of the injury-plagued season, but played well, batting .266, with another good year in the field.
During the off-season Darrell Johnson openly discussed possible trades involving several players including Griffin, but nothing materialized. He was still suffering with back trouble and was heading for surgery, which made any trade talks involving him doubtful. Johnson had planned to move Burleson to second base and trade Griffin for a shortstop, but his back injury made him “untradeable,” remarked GM Dick O’Connell.
Various maneuvers were made by the Red Sox in the spring of 1975 to adjust for injuries. They continued to hope that highly regarded shortstop Steve Dillard would overcome his own injuries and be able to play regularly. Mario Guerrero’s name continued to come up, and Burleson appeared destined for second base. Griffin seemed not to have a place.
When the 1975 season started, Griffin owned the second-base job. In June, however, the Red Sox obtained Denny Doyle, a journeyman infielder, from the California Angels. Manager Johnson platooned Griffin and Doyle most of the rest of the year. But it was clear that Denny Doyle had become Darrell Johnson’s man at second base, and by the division playoffs with Oakland, Doyle had a corner on the second-base job. The irony was that 1975 was the first year Griffin avoided injury in his five full seasons with the club.
Griffin played in only five games of the 1977 season with six at-bats and no hits. He played his last major-league game on June 2nd, and a few weeks later was given his unconditional release.
Griffin did not continue a career in baseball after his release from the Red Sox. He worked briefly for his father in the construction trade in California in the late 1970s, and performed the same kind of work in the 1980s.
One could assume that had it not been for the numerous injuries that plagued him throughout his major-league career, he most likely would be remembered as one of the premier second basemen of his time.
Doug Griffin passed away July 28, 2016 in Clovis, Calif., after battling a lengthy illness. He was 69 years old.