The Mariners have always had a fervent hope the Ken Griffey Jr. story would not have a messy ending. If Griffey struggled, they didn’t want to be in the position to have to cut loose their franchise icon – a person that team president Chuck Armstrong has an especially close relationship with.
Last year, the Mariners never had to face that problem. Though Griffey didn’t exactly remind anyone of Prince Fielder – or vintage Ken Griffey Jr. – he hit just enough to make a contribution, and was universally regarded as a positive influence in improving what had been a toxic clubhouse. His comeback season was regarded as a huge success.
But this year, it has become increasingly obvious that the Mariners, if things didn’t improve, will have to deal with the unsavory question of what to do about Griffey. And the time is rapidly approaching.
Kudos to Larry LaRue at the News Tribune, who has a provocative blog post up today that has the entire town buzzing. LaRue predicts that Griffey’s time with the Mariners is coming to an end very soon, with him being asked to gracefully retire, or short of that, be released. LaRue tells the story of a recent game – probably referring to Saturday against the Angels – in which manager manager Don Wakamatsu couldn’t call upon Griffey to pinch-hit because he was asleep in the clubhouse.
Currently, Geoff Baker is on a plane flying to Baltimore, as are most members of the Mariners’ organization. I haven’t yet been able to get a reaction from Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, team president Chuck Armstrong, or general manager Jack Zduriencik, though I have messages in to all of them. I don’t doubt the veracity of what LaRue wrote about the nap incident. What’s interesting, if it did indeed occur Saturday, is that Griffey was in the starting lineup the next day, so Wakamatsu didn’t view it as an infraction worthy of costing him playing time.
In the end, taking a nap in the clubhouse is not going to be what gets Griffey off this team, even though it’s the part of the story that everyone seems to be latching onto. (Which I understand. It’s the kind of sound bite – or blog bite, in this case — that perfectly encapsulates the struggles of a 40-year-old faded slugger). But Griffey has a long history of napping at the ballpark, as Shannon Drayer points out. I agree with her — they should have just woken him up and let him hit, if they needed him to bat in that situation. (Just to clarify: I don’t think it’s that big a deal to take a nap early in a game, but he should have been up and available late in the game when he might be called upon to hit, especially the way the team has been struggling.).
In the end, what sinks Griffey, if the Mariners wind up cutting him, will be the fact that, at age 40, he simply appears to have lost his ability to be a hitter of any productivity, never mind a hitter who is feared by pitchers..
I’ve been a Griffey supporter, as many of you know, though I’ve advocated that he take a bench role. But I’m not blind. Anyone who has been watching the Mariners, even the Griffey zealots, has to eventually come to the painful realization that Griffey has been a sad shadow of his old self. He’s far from the only player struggling, but he’s the only one who’s 40 years old and coming off back-to-back knee surgeries. Perhaps Griffey will start raking the ball this week, but he hasn’t shown any signs of it. It appears more likely that the ending the Mariners dreaded might be coming to a reality.
(Photo by Associated Press)