Recently Ken Griffey Jr. has signed a one year contract with the Seattle Mariners. This move by management has been hailed by the local fans to an utterly extreme level, but pandered by many analysts. To give anyone out there a little bit of background, Griffey broke into baseball with the Mariners in 1989 and proceeded to be arguably the best player in baseball for the ’90s. After 1999 Griffey was traded, but Seattle fans never forgot what he did for the team. He’s such a fan favorite, he could probably go murder someone, come back to the team and the fans would still support him. In his return to Seattle, as a visiting Cincinnati Red, he was given standing ovations every time he went to the plate and the fans even booed Mariners pitcher Ryan Feierabend for walking him, not giving him any good pitches to hit. They love him unconditionally. So that leads us to a problem…
Griffey doesn’t fit well with the team.
Griffey, though he’s a future Hall of Famer and is 4th* in all-time home runs with 611, has won countless awards for his amazing play, the truth is he’s a shell of his former self. His bat isn’t quick enough to get around on good fastballs, he can’t run without fear of pulling a hamstring or tearing something in his knees, he has a better chance of sprouting wings and flying to the moon than hitting a left handed pitcher, and his fielding has gone from one of the best to being one of the worst due to all his leg injuries. The reason why he wasn’t signed until after Spring Training had started is because no team really wanted him. That is, until recently when team’s first, second, and third choices didn’t work out and they needed someone last minute to fill a spot in the lineup they didn’t want to give to some scrub or prospect who wasn’t ready.
The Mariners, after last year’s debacle, have started almost a complete rebuild of the team. About half of last years opening day team is gone, replaced with younger players the team is hoping will blossom into solid major leaguers. This year the team is wanting to give those younger players a chance to sink or swim by giving them regular playing time to evaluate whether they can be depended on in the future. Griffey is almost a complete opposite of what the Mariners really need, especially for the future success of the ballclub.
On the other hand…
When Griffey is used in the proper situations he can still be a productive hitter. He still has pretty good success against right handed pitchers. While he shouldn’t be playing in the field, the Mariners didn’t have anyone with a stranglehold on the designated hitter position. A position which might give his body enough rest in order to play through the rigors of a baseball season. After offseason surgery on his knee he claims to be completely healthy for the first time in years. Plus, he’s the type of player some of the younger guys look up to and know he’s an all time great as well as providing quiet leadership to the ballclub during the year(he’s never been an outspoken leader).
Did I say the fans love him? He’ll sell more tickets and more merchandise than any other player left on the market. Fans in Seattle remember Griffey as the savior of the franchise. Before he arrived as a rookie, the Mariners were a terrible, terrible team in their 12 year history. Never winning more than they lost, but in the fan’s eyes, he changed all that. He awed the fans with his incredible play, the team started winning more, and in 1995 they finally made the playoffs for the first time in their history. Coming from 13.5 games behind the Angels in late August to take the division in dramatic fashion. Junior led the team in their first playoff series against the vaunted New York Yankees, he hit a record 5 home runs in the series and scored the dramatic winning run in the deciding game in extra innings. A picture(shown) taken of the pile of Mariners after scoring shows Griffey with the biggest smile imaginable and is an iconic image in Pacific Northwest sports history. That sealed his fate in the eyes of fans. Even though he tarnished his image a bit by demanding to be traded after the 1999 season, he was still the hero. And now the hero returns.
And I couldn’t be happier.
While my brain keeps saying “NO NO NO! He’s too old and we could be giving his playing time to younger player who could help the Mariners more in the long run!”, my heart says “Welcome home, you’ve been missed”
So in the end, the heart wins over the brain on this occasion. And that’s what being a sports fan is all about, those special moments when you’re screaming like an idiot with delight or crying pitifully in pain. It are those moments that you’ll always remember and that’s why sports are so amazing to follow.
Here is one of my moments.
*I don’t count Barry Bonds, he cheats