Thursday, July 31, 2008
The big news here in Cincinnati is the Griffey trade. I thought I'd pass along our local columnists perspective on this sad day.
It just didn't work out
Ken Griffey Jr. was the big box under the Christmas tree, unopened for nine years.
His career as a Cincinnati Red was more melodrama than drama, more oh-no than oh-my. His last hit as a Red was a three-run homer; his lasting image as a Red was making a throat-slashing gesture toward Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley. Each symbolizes Griffey’s time here. You decide which is the sharper picture.
In hindsight, he never fit. Griffey never embraced Cincinnati. Cincinnati didn’t give him much of a chance. This isn’t a great town for superstars. We don’t cater well. In that respect, Griffey was always too big a presence. He wanted room service. We pointed to the drive-thru.
For better or worse, we prefer jocks who keep their shirts dirty and their opinions to themselves. This isn’t necessarily a working-class town, but it owns a workingman’s sensibility. The Kid of Seattle, who wore his hat backward and his joy on his sleeve, was a 30-year-old married father of two by the time he got here. The joy part of his game was rarely apparent.
The plan in 2000 was for a still-in-his-prime Junior to be in a Reds uniform when he hit home run No. 756. Instead, Junior hit No. 600 in Florida seven weeks ago, witnessed by a Marlins crowd you could fit into the stateroom of Griffey’s yacht. If you’re looking for a metaphor for Griffey’s nine years in Cincinnati, that’ll do.
Carl Lindner brought him back with promises to build a winner around him. That wasn’t the case. The manager at the time, Jack McKeon, grumbled that the Reds needed pitching, not Griffey. The general manager at the time, Jim Bowden, called Griffey the Michael Jordan of baseball.
The Reds built a ballpark around his longball prowess. The combination of distance and fence height down the rightfield line at Great American Ball Park was the coziest allowable by Baseball. I suggested when the place opened in 2003 they should call the sun/moon deck seats in right Griffeyville. Griffey responded that he wasn’t a pull hitter. And so it went.
Griffey was the most overtly sensitive star I’ve covered in 20 years here. His skin couldn’t cover a decent-sized onion. “They want to see me fail’’ Griffey once said to me, referring to Cincinnati fans. No, they wanted to see you hit 40 home runs and embrace your hometown. The former occurred once, his first season; the latter never did.
Leg injuries robbed him of his speed and some of his power. Between 2002 and 2004, Griffey played in just 206 games. Frustration was the biggest part of his game.
To his credit, Griffey rehabbed hard and diligently, hurt after hurt. Last year at age 37, he hit 30 homers.
Watching Griffey was like looking at both sides of a coin at the same time. His steroid-free career ennobled the sport and served as a great example. His gestures to kids could be graceful and touching. After homer No. 606, Griffey presented a 7-year-old in the seats with a signed batting helmet.
His missteps were equally notable, starting with his request to wear Tony Perez’s uniform number 24 and ending with the Brantley incident. Griffey’s sense of entitlement was shared by younger, impressionable Reds, who hadn’t earned what Griffey owned. There was (and is) no player leadership to counteract it. That’s a big reason Griffey isn’t a Red today. Too many young players, too easily led.
It was a measure of how far Griffey’s popularity had tumbled that very few fans sided with him after the Brantley incident. To most, the Griffey Era will be recalled with disappointment and regret, a match made in heaven that ended in divorce court.
He’s Chicago’s issue now. The White Sox aren’t paying much of Griffey’s money this year. When he retires, the Reds owe him all the deferred money. It was a weird exchange, given that the Sox don’t need any outfielders, or a designated hitter.
Maybe Griffey, stoked by a pennant race, will find some miles in his legs he hasn’t discovered here. He will be playing some centerfield. Good luck to him.
The fairy tale never had a chance. More’s the pity.
All Content Copyright Iggy 2003-2007
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