What Ken Griffey Jr. Means To Me

With Junior being inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame tonight at the game against Milwaukee, dozens upon dozens of articles and blog posts are being written about the legend.  So, here’s mine.

Some people relentlessly love Ken Griffey Jr. with the intensity of a million suns.  He was their favorite player growing up, he saved baseball in Seattle, and he single-handedly made the Mariners worth watching.  Some people simply respect the man, but refuse to let go of the fact that he forced a trade out of the city, he forced his way to only one team (thereby killing any leverage the Mariners may have held in the deal), and when he came back as a 40 year old, he walked out on the team mid-season.

As hacky as it sounds, I fall somewhere in the middle.

Truth be told, I don’t CARE about Griffey forcing a trade.  In fact, I highly support it.  This franchise has been cheap since day one.  The Mariners have never been about “winning ballgames” so much as “making money”.  Which means, pouring as few resources into the product on the field as possible while pocketing as much as possible.  When the team used that miracle 1995 run to force the city into giving it a new stadium, everyone thought this might be the dawn of a new day.  Then, they jerked Randy Johnson around and effectively broke up what could have been a dynasty.  Any subsequent success they enjoyed after trading off Randy and Griffey, and letting A-Rod walk, was purely coincidental and – obviously – not enduring.

As for his walking out on the team, I don’t know what to tell you.  Would you rather he have STAYED?  With his sub-.200 batting average and his non-existent power?  The true greats, sometimes it takes them a lot longer to admit that they’re finished in the game they’ve dominated for their entire lives.  And sometimes, that moment comes at an uncomfortable point in their lives.  In Griffey’s case, it happened to coincide with the middle of a go-nowhere baseball season.  His career was two months too long, but just know that those two months were probably the worst two months of his entire life.  No one with his passion for baseball ever wants to walk out on his team.  So, try to stop being upset with him for two minutes and imagine how heart-breaking that was for him.

With that unpleasantness aside, I’d like to point out that Ken Griffey Jr. was never my favorite baseball player.  As a kid – and especially as a Seattle kid – I never really ran with the over-achievers or the front-runners.  I always liked me an underdog of sorts.  If EVERYONE loved Ken Griffey Jr. the best, then I would be a Jay Buhner guy, or a Randy Johnson supporter.  But, the fact of the matter is, I don’t think I necessarily HAD a “favorite”.

Like most Seattleites, I jumped on the Mariners’ bandwagon late in the summer of 1995.  I don’t remember what sparked it, to be honest; it’s been nearly 20 years and I was only 14 at the time.  I didn’t keep a good record of events in my teenage years.  I probably accidentally walked into the living room as my parents were watching the local news and they had a story on the streaking Mariners.  As I’m sure you’ve been told a million times before, the 1995 Mariners had a bit of a standings comeback on their hands as they chased down and overcame the California Angels.  Truth be told, I probably came in around the tail end of that season.  The games leading up to the one-game playoff, and then the entirety of the playoffs themselves.

That’s me.  If you were a fan of the M’s before 1995, then bully for you.  If you were a fan of the M’s before Griffey, then here’s your medal.  You’re TRULY the One Mariners Fan.  I started out as one of those people I loathe – a bandwagon jumper.  But, I put all my effort into devouring the sport, starting in 1996, and I haven’t looked back.

I got four years and change with Griffey.  Suffice it to say, I was late to the game on this one.  So, it’s hard for me to declare Griffey – or really ANYONE from those teams – as my “favorite” Mariner.  I kept trying to adopt newcomers or underdogs throughout the late 90s, but no one ever stuck around long enough, or produced enough, for them to be worthy.  Until Felix came along, but that’s a post for literally any other day.

Put me in the camp of those FOR Ken Griffey Jr., though.  I don’t have the eloquence of a better writer to tell you what his swing did to my loins.  Or how his diving catches made my panties moist.  Or why in God’s name his infectious love for the game helped lure me into one of the most boring spectator sports this side of soccer.

Any ill will I feel towards the man has nothing to do with how he left this team twice, but rather with this team’s overall lack of success.  In the mid-90s, I didn’t understand the overall baseball landscape.  I didn’t understand that some franchises were whales and others were minnows.  I didn’t understand that it was completely up to the franchise’s owner whether or not he wanted his organization to be a whale or not.  I knew there were good teams and bad teams, but beyond that, I had no idea.  I just knew that the Mariners were insanely talented, and therefore they should contend for championships until the end of time.

Hell, I didn’t even know that the Wild Card was a brand new thing!

Now, my overall outlook on those Mariners teams is one of disappointment and regret.  Some of them were great, but they were not great enough to go all the way.  Those offenses were some of the best of all time, but those pitching staffs were dreadful and always held us back.  And, even for as great as those offenses were, they still always managed to go into hibernation when the shit hit the fan in the ALCS.

Those teams – and in turn, guys like Griffey and Buhner and Martinez and Randy – fell short of the ultimate goal.  They say it’s supposed to be about the journey and not the destination, but 20 years later, when you’ve forgotten all about the intense highs you experienced on the journey, all you have left is the destination.

The Seattle Mariners – with Ken Griffey Jr. – had two playoff appearances.  They lost in the playoffs both times.  Ken Griffey Jr. was the greatest man to ever wear a Mariners uniform and I love him dearly for his contributions.  But, unfortunately, he wasn’t enough to put us over the top.  That by no means is HIS fault, but rather the organization’s.  So, as everyone falls over themselves praising the Seattle Mariners for this special day, this goosebump-inducing display at Safeco tonight, just remember whose fault it REALLY is that we’re one of two organizations in Major League Baseball to never reach the World Series.

You’re the best, Griffey.  It’s just too bad you had the misfortune to be drafted #1 overall by the worst franchise in baseball history.  You should be celebrated today by some other, more worthy organization, looking back fondly on all the rings you helped bring a luckier city.

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