Ken Griffey Jr. Deserved Better

Ken Griffey Jr.’s Retirement – The Evil Bloggers Won

I was stunned and saddened a few weeks ago, upon hearing of Ken Griffey Jr.’s sudden retirement.  As a long-time Mariner fan, I hated to see the end of the Griffey era.  I also hate it that he didn’t get to finish in a grand triumph.  Going out quickly and quietly somehow feels like he was chased out of Seattle by the ugliest of the Mariner-following blog-crowd.

In reading an online article recently, which outlined the top baseball blogs, I was led to some of the Mariner-related blogs.   Initially, I enjoyed exploring and reading some of the analysis.  But what I quickly found difficult to swallow about them, was the pernicious, pure evil of some of the readers’ commentary.   If some folks had had it their way, Ken Griffey Jr. would have left Seattle in shame weeks ago.  Mike Sweeney too.

I now know, without equivocation, why some athletes and other high profile personalities don’t read what is said about them.   It is too depressing.    I realize that the blogosphere isn’t the most civil of venues for discourse.  Every nut with a keyboard and the “get up and go” to post something can throw his or her two cents in.   And, so it seems, a fair amount of the commentary takes that low-road route.   One Griffey hater calls for another, and the next thing you know, the whole lot of them is ready to run him out of town.  In fact, they were calling for him to leave.  No respect and no apparent recall of his role in writing some of the finest memories in Mariner history.

There were, to their credit, a few voices of sound reason, urging a sensible, respectful approach to Griffey’s final seasons and approaching departure.   Given Griffey’s role in baseball continuing in Seattle in a spectacular ballpark, you would think that all Mariners’ fans would at least see the long view.  Unfortunately, far too many just didn’t.

Now that Junior has returned to his family in Florida.  It feels like the evil bloggers won.  On some level, that bothers me.  Junior deserved a more gracious treatment, along the lines of what the organization gave him.   In fact, I’m quite impressed with how the front office handled the Junior situation this year.

It’s only fitting, because Junior changed the game of baseball in Seattle.   Junior changed baseball period.  He was beloved by people all over.   Kids loved his backwards worn cap.  Junior brought good will back to the game, after the painful strike of 1994, which cancelled a World Series.

I didn’t see much of the early Griffey Jr. years.  I didn’t become a Mariner’s fan until the early mid-90s. I had been a Reds fan as a kid during the Big Red Machine era, because Johnny Bench was a fellow Oklahoman.  I later grew to love the St. Louis Cardinals of the 80s, because of how they played—fast, aggressive, with good pitching and defense.  And then later, after being in the active-duty Army and moving around for nearly a decade, my Cardinals loyalty went out the window, as I lamented  some of their questionable personnel moves over the years, and specifically their ill-fated treatment of another legend, Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, at the end of his career.   Seeing the Cardinals become a different team, one that I didn’t know, made it easier to find a new team that suited my preferred style of baseball.

That team became the Mariners.  Around that time, I got enamored with watching Randy Johnson pitch.   And in seeing him pitch, I couldn’t help but jump on board with the magic that the mid-90s Mariners brought to the ballpark.   You couldn’t watch the Mariners regularly, without developing an appreciation for what you were seeing every day.   You were getting the best that baseball had to offer at more than one position, arguably at three positions, with a legendary, fiery Manager too, and it was beautiful to see.

Every day brought you the work ethic and pure professionalism of Edgar Martinez.   He was the best pure hitting right-hander that I’ve ever seen.  He was arguably the best at his position over a generation.  For that reason, he should be worthy of a Hall of Fame selection.  But that’s another article altogether. Ken Griffey Jr., in Centerfield was a worthy member of the All Century team, unveiled at the All-Star game in Boston in 2000.  And Randy Johnson was the most devastating lefty pitcher of his generation.   He will undoubtedly be a Hall of Famer too.  Watching them play, begat wanting to watch them play some more.

The Mariner’s of that era played with a true enthusiasm that you don’t always see.  As the pros go about their business, day in and day out, sometimes they lose that childlike wonder and simple appreciation.  Only the most gifted players, like Junior, ever stay comfortable with it.   Baseball is such a business, with ever flighty skill-sets involved, that only the best of the best can be comfortable that they’ll be around long enough to make it out of a prolonged slump.  Many a professional ballplayer has seen their exit from baseball hastened by a protracted funk.  Just ask Eric Byrnes how it feels to be playing softball down in the Bay area these days.

The thing I remember most about Ken Griffey, Jr., despite seeing and knowing all of his biggest highlights, is the ever-present infectious enthusiasm.   I can still see him and Jay Buhner talking, while running in from the outfield, after one of them had caught a fly-ball third out in Right-Centerfield.  They always had a smile on their face and they were always chatting about something.  As I watched them, it seemed obvious to me, that they just knew that they were living the dream.  And now it was time to go hit.  Yeah!

Ken Griffey, Jr. brought that infectious enthusiasm to the ballpark every day.  Kids loved him, opposing fans loved him.  He was good for the game in every respect.  And he played like a Hall of Famer.  Like many of the greats, he made it look easy, effortless even.  Seeing him go out like he did, with merely a pre-game statement, without any warning, immediately made me feel like the evil bloggers won.  It bothered me.  Junior deserved better.

He brought baseball a ton of good “mojo”, to use a familiar Marinerism.  He brought Seattle a ton of good fortune too.   Given how the Supersonics left town, there is no telling what might have become of the Mariners, had Griffey not been as magnetic as he was through the nineties.

To Junior I say, I’m going to miss you.  I appreciate what you did for baseball.  I appreciate what you did for Seattle.  My hat’s off to you. When I put it back on, I’ll put it on backwards in tribute as well.  God bless and enjoy your retirement.  We’ll see you in five years at Cooperstown.   R/JDPF

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