If life were as simple as fiction, the book on Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners would have closed late last summer, with him being carried around Safeco Field on the shoulders of his teammates.
Adored by fans, appreciated by one and all, his place in baseball history secure.
We’re rarely that lucky – any of us.
Junior wanted one more year, the Mariners thought it might work and gave it to him. And now, less than 35 games in the 2010 season, Griffey is in his final days as a player.
He could lose his job as the left-handed designated hitter within the week. He might lose his position on the 25-man roster nearly as soon. If you want to see Griffey in a Seattle uniform again, watch him on television this week.
It could be your last chance.
It’s not just that he’s hitting close to .200 – the whole Mariners team seems to be hitting close to .200. It’s not just that he’s 41, that his bat speed is down, or that he’s no longer able to play in the field.
He wasn’t fully healthy when he arrived in spring training, and had a balky, surgically repaired knee injected with gel at least twice in camp. Junior could never run hard, never play himself into shape.
The Griffey that a year ago helped build camaraderie in the Seattle clubhouse has taken a leave of absence this season. There have been times during games when he’s retired to the clubhouse, texted friends, watched the TV broadcast.
Last week, when some members of the press corps asked manager Don Wakamatsu why he hadn’t used Griffey as a pinch hitter for Rob Johnson late in a game, Waskamatsu was vague.
Two Mariners players, however, weren’t. Both are younger players, fond of Griffey. Neither had an ax to grind.
So why didn’t Wakamatsu go to Junior off the bench?
“He was asleep in the clubhouse,” one player said. “He’d gone back about the fifth inning to get a jacket and didn’t come back. I went back in about the seventh inning – and he was in his chair, sound asleep.”
The other player, who knows Griffey a little better, tried to ratonalize.
“He doesn’t sleep well at night, he’s away from his family, he’s comfortable in the clubhouse,” he said. “They could have awakened him …”
It’s hardly a capital offense, but it’s a telling piece of anecdotal evidence. This isn’t the Griffey of 2009. This isn’t the Griffey who can help the Mariners in 2010.
Sooner or later, Wakamatsu is going to ask general manager Jack Zduriencik for a player who can help him win more than Griffey can. And Zduriencik is going to talk to president Chuck Armstrong.
And all of them are going to ask Junior to retire gracefully. If he doesn’t, the end of Griffey’s career will come, anyway – by way of a release from the Seattle Mariners.
All that is going to happen, probably this month.
Griffey will remain a Hall of Fame player, the man his peers voted the best player of the decade in the ‘90s. He ranks among the best power hitters in history – and everything he achieved on the field, he did without performance enhancing drugs.
Junior is the best player I’ve ever seen or will see. He’s an example of what pro athletes can and should be – clean-living, devoted to family, good in the community.
And that is the terrible irony of the Mariners situation today. Griffey is the best player in franchise history, but the team and their fans deserve better.
Griffey cannot give it to them. Someone else will.