Not a Fan of Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

 

The Seattle Mariners will honor their best player of all-time tonight when they induct Ken Griffey Jr. in to the Mariner’s Hall of Fame. A precursor, no doubt, of Griffey’s ultimate first-ballot election into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when he becomes eligible in 2016. Only a fool would argue that Griffey doesn’t belong in either Hall. And I certainly won’t be doing that. But at a time when the city of Seattle will once again bathe this man in all its love, all the love its ever felt for any personality, it’s important for me to express my dissatisfaction with Griffey, the man. I am not a fan.

 

Being a big-time sports fan I am certainly a fan of all that Griffey did on the field. His array of acrobatic outfield dives, slides, fence climbing catches could get him a Hall nomination alone. He was the best defensive outfielder in baseball through the 90s. His glorious swing made for 630 home runs, sixth on the Major League Baseball all-time list. Fourth All-time if you eliminate the cheaters…which we should. To me even more impressive is the fact that only 5 players (clean players) have hit as many as 600 career home runs and absolutely nobody is on the horizon to do it again. Sadly Griffey’s career included only three playoff appearances for his teams. And he never played in the World Series, surpassing Ernie Banks of Chicago Cub fame as the best player to never make it to the baseball players ultimate competition.

 

Yes, Griffey was an incredible talent. And he was also an incredible jerk. I’ve always been amazed how lovingly Seattle continues to embrace a man who twice gave the city his backside and his middle finger as he headed out of town. By contrast Alex Rodriguez was vilified the moment he signed the richest contract in baseball history to go to a team that had been to the playoffs two of the previous three years. A-Rod was booed lustily when he returned to Safeco Field as a Texas Ranger in 2001 (All this long preceding the revelation or even suspicion that A-Rod was a multiple time cheat and liar). But Griffey was practically given the keys to the city when he returned as a Cincinnati Red player for the first time in 2007. How quickly we forget that he forced his way out of Seattle demanding to be traded prior to the 2000 season; and then hamstringing the Mariner’s ability to trade for value by limiting what team he would accept being traded to only his hometown Cincinnati Reds.

 

Ken Griffey ---- This image was moved from Fil...

 

Griffey’s narcissism and ingratitude was demonstrated one final time with perhaps the most classless retirement of any Superstar athlete ever. Disgusted at having been benched in 2010 because of his pathetic .184 batting average with zero home runs and only 7 RBI, Griffey left town without a word. Not a goodbye to his teammates, a fair well to fans, a closing interview, nothing but his proverbial “bird”, and a curt statement sent to his longtime friend and boss Mariner President Chuck Armstrong.

 

Griffey’s narcissism was evident early on. As a lonely 19-year-old playing for the Bellingham Mariners he attempted suicide; a gesture mostly, but one in which the individual is demanding attention. As if the number one draft pick in the entire MLB Draft the previous June wasn’t getting enough attention. I am genuinely sorry he was sad and suicidal; knowing him as I do I never took it seriously.

 

Know him? Why yes, I do. As much as a local small-time reporter from over 20-years ago can know him. Which isn’t much. He wouldn’t allow it. In the 3 years I covered Griffey and the Mariners as a reporter for a radio station and for my own syndicated daily radio interview show he never once made himself available to my microphone. But that wasn’t unusual. Griffey almost never made himself available to any local reporter, only national reporters. I’m sympathetic to those who would claim support of Griffey’s stance of not talking to reporters and remaining “private” if it were true. But it’s not. He would talk to reporters. Just not local reporters. We were too little for him in his eyes. For the record I found his father to be a prick too. But that’s another story.

 

Griffey has friends who will tell you he was kind to children, and teammates and that he was fun-loving and a practical joker. I’m sure he was all of those things. But a Hall of Fame Person is someone kind to most-everyone not just the chosen few who adore you. Junior will go into the team Hall of Fame tonight and the bigger Hall in 3 years and he earned it. He just doesn’t get into my Hall.

 

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Can the Mariners Become Relevant?

The Mariner Moose, mascot of the Seattle Mariners.

The Seattle Mariner‘s 2nd half to the 2013 Major League Baseball season commences this evening and the hope of the team becoming relevant still exists. And since my hope and prayer at the start of the season was that this long time cellar dweller would remain relevant until the time that the Seahawk season got underway, I remain hopeful.

Prior to this week’s MLB All-Star break the Mariner’s had their first 3-game series sweep of the season against the Los Angeles Angels, and had gone 8-5 over the previous 13 games against some tough competition including Boston, Texas, and Cincinnati; all playoff contending teams. What makes this short stretch of winning noteworthy is that it coincides directly with the recent call-ups of promising rookies, and improved performance from other young players. With the expected return of some valuable veteran pieces of the team in the next 1-3 weeks, and a much more favorable schedule than was the start of the season, Seattle has realistic hopes of a .500 season or as mentioned earlier…staying relevant before the NFL season completely wipes them from the consciousness of every Puget Sound sports fan.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle currently starts 3 pure rookies in the regular every-day lineup; all of whom have joined the team in the past 6 weeks. Nick Franklin first, followed by Mike Zunino, and finally Brad Miller have all made the team better in spite of their inexperience. It matters not if these three are or become All-Stars or perform up to the high expectations each one possesses. At least not at this point. What matter’s is they perform better than who preceded them in their positions and they make the team better. That they are doing…not that it was a high bar to leap.

Franklin took the place of Dustin Ackley at 2nd base. His solid defense has been comparable to Ackley, which surprises some. Not surprising is how Franklin’s bat has become a tremendous boost compared to the increasingly ineffective Ackley. Franklin, currently hitting .268, with 6 HRs and a .788 OPS (On base-plus-Slugging percentage), is a huge leap from where Ackley sat (.205, 1, .522 currently)  when he was sent to Triple A Tacoma to learn how to hit again in late May. Whether Franklin can continue is unknown. But he can almost assuredly do better than what his predecessor performed over the past 1 1/2 years.

Zunino is much the same. His numbers of .230 Avg., 1 HRs, and .575 OPS are not lighting the world on fire, but, again, they represent a significant improvement over what was being posted by the team of catchers who preceded him Jesus Montero, Kelley Shoppach, and Jesus Sucre. And the is no contest when assessing last year’s top draft pick versus Montero, Shoppach, and Sucre’s defense. He is a pleasure to watch behind the plate. He blocks balls in the dirt, moves to stop wild pitches, and is such a threat to throw out base stealers Seattle is already seeing a measurable decline in stolen bases and attempted steals.

Brad Miller has been with the team the least amount of time. But we’ve been calling for him or Carlos Truinfel or Franklin to replace the no-stick Brendan Ryan since this time last year. Ryan’s defense is outstanding. But his complete and utter lack of any kind of offensive is not a liability this team can stand when so many others in their line-up have proven nearly as inept. Miller has done well in the 16 games he has played and over the next year is expected to improve, as are Franklin and Zunino.

Franklin like Zunino is a former first round draft choice. Miller is a 2nd round pick. Second year player Kyle Seager is the teams most dependable offensive force and was a 3rd round pick. Ackley, who now mans Center Field and is displaying modest improvement at the plate is also a former 1st round draft pick, as is 1st baseman Justin Smoak; though Smoak was a Texas Ranger’s draft choice. All of these guys are young. All were high draft picks. And at least for a short period recently are performing up to or close to their expectations.

Right Fielder Michael Saunders is another young guy who has raised his batting average 15-points over the past 10 games and seems to have finally found the stroke that made last year so successful for him. While still only averaging .225, his on-base-percentage of .303, base-stealing capabilities and above-average defense make him at-least serviceable. And like we wrote, he’s on an upswing. We’ll see.

I’ve not even mentioned the solid performances of Kendry Morales and Raul Ibanez all season, or of Smoak in the past 2 months. All three, along with Seager, have OPS of .800 or higher. The team can also count on the return to productivity of OF Michael Morse soon. When healthy he is a stud. Franklin Gutierrez is still expected to contribute. He could return by August.

The team’s bullpen could get a needed boost from the return to health of Steven Pryor, who just began a rehab assignment. Felix Hernandez and Isashi Iwakuma were All Stars. Joe Saunders has been mostly solid as the third starter; though he has had a couple of big blooper blowouts. But what team’s #3 pitcher hasn’t. And after a horrible start to the season Aaron Harang is proving to be a pretty good #4 starter. Again, a blooper here and there isn’t welcome but is also not uncommon for a team’s 4th starter. It’s the #5 starting position that remains a concern. Jeremy Bonderman was let go and rookie Erasimo Ramirez was shelled his first time out. I am not confident in Ramirez. Though the Mariners are. So we’ll see.

We’ll see? That sums up the rest of the Mariner’s season. I’m not a complete dreamer. I don’t expect them to be playoff contenders. But I do think they can get back to a .500 season and wet our appetite for the 2014 season. And at bare minimum, they should have relevancy in the minds of diehards like me until the presumed Super Bowl season of the Seattle Seahawks gets under-way. I like being optimistic. It beats the alternative.

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Mariners Breaking My Heart

Safeco Field

Safeco Field 

 

We’ve reached the Major League baseball All-Star break and I’m overwhelmed with one recurring thought regarding my beloved Seattle Mariners…when does Seahawks Training Camp begin. This season’s Mariners season might be the most disappointing for me to date.

As I wrote in this blog before Spring Training, Really Looking Forward to Mariner Season, I wasn’t expecting a playoff team. I was expecting a team that would show considerable improvement over the debacles of the previous two seasons. So far, what improvement there has been, if any, has been so slight it doesn’t merit booking playoff dreams in 2013, 2014 or any time in the foreseeable future. And the future is never foreseeable.

 

Seattle enters this four day break with the worst record in the American League, fifth worst in baseball. Their team batting average is .230. For a whole season that would be the 2nd worst in franchise history, topped, or bottomed, only by last year’s .224 average. The lone bright spots are outfielder Michael Saunders and 3rd baseman Kyle Seager.  But after 3 years of failing to make a good impression at the Major League level and his teammates ineptitude Saunder’s .257 batting average and mere 25 RBI is inflated in the eyes of media and fans. Should we really be THAT excited about an outfielder that at best projects to a 50 rbi-guy in his 4th year of MBL service? And Seager wasn’t expected to make the team in Spring Training, did well, opened the season strong but has fallen off to a .243 average. His HRs and RBIs, 10 and 52, still project well. But it remains to be seen if he can pull himself out of his current long slump. And like Saunders, we’re all way to excited about a guy with a .243 average only because it exceeds what was expected and looks so favorable compared to teammates.

Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak remain the biggest disappoints, given the franchise’s future high expectations were largely built on the 1st and 2nd basemen. Ackley can be sent down to AAA Tacoma for some more schooling. But other than Smoak there is no other full-time first-baseman on either the Mariner’s roster or Tacoma’s. So sending down Smoak isn’t an easy answer. Who’s going to replace him?

The Mariner’s offensive ineptitude is particularly acute at home, at Safeco Field, where they collectively bat .197 for the season, and mustered only 1 run per game during their recent 10-game homestand. Talk of bringing in the fences continues to be thrown out for discussion by restless beat writers. But a simple and available partial solution continues to be ignored by the Mariners management. Closing the Safeco Field roof more frequently is an advantage to the home team offensive that mysteriously gets no discussion. Miller Park in Milwaukee and Toronto’s Roger’s Centre (formerly Skydome) regularly keep their roofs closed, even on clear-sky days. Doing so warms the air and allows the baseball’s to fly better off the hitter’s bats. But Seattle fans continue to shiver during 40 and 50 degree nights while watching the most offensively inept team in MLB since the advent of the Designated hitter.

Seattle’s refusal to make tough decisions on veterans infects this franchise like no other I’ve ever seen. Ichiro is clearly not the spectacular hitter he once was. He hit .271 all last season and is hitting only .261 this season with an on-base percentage of less than .300, worst in the league. And as mediocre as those numbers are for most major-leaguers they’re made absolutely pedestrian by the total lack of power from the Japanese future-Hall-of-Famer. Manager Eric Wedgefinally moved Ichiro from the lead-off spot he is no longer suited to hold, and batted him #2 for the last two games against Oakland before the break. It remains to be seen if this is a permanent move. Ichiro should be allowed to finish his season here in Seattle. Then let him drift away back to Japan for an honorable retirement. His weak bat an 39 year old age make him no asset to a Mariner team seemingly more interested in nostalgia than winning.

English: Ken Griffey in June 2009.

Ken Griffey Jr

Ken Griffey Junior being the most recent previous example of this franchise holding too tightly to a star’s past glory long since vanished.

Chone Figgins

Chone Figgins 

And Seattle’s unwillingness to cut Chone Figgins is understandable, given his contract, but unforgivable given the team’s poor play and the fact that other younger more capable players are being deprived learning experiences every time Wedge marches Figgins out onto the field with his pathetic .186 average. Seattle needs to eat the remaining 1 1/2 years on Figgins contract and call it what it is, a failed free-agent signing. Then move on with the younger guys. I’m fairly confident Tacoma’s AAA outfielders Trayvon Robinson, Carlos Peguero, or Mike Wilson could manage a .186 average while having more HR pop than the diminutive Figgins. And being career minor leaguers thier MLB minimum salaries shouldn’t be a money concern like Figgins’ contract.

And speaking of Tacoma, Seattle’s highest level minor league affiliate is currently 38-51 on the season, last in their division and 4th worst in the entire Pacific Coast League. So much for building the franchise through the minor-league system.

English: Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a...

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at Mariners FanFest 2011. 

So a couple of things are clear for the remainder of the Mariner season. One-hitting coach Chris Chambliss has to go. I’m not saying the poor offense is his fault. But given such limited options for fixing the problem, and given 2 seasons of the worst offense any where at any time some new ideas wouldn’t hurt. Second- General Manager Jack Zduriencik may need to start polishing up his resume. He’s had nearly four years to make the team better. It isn’t working. My patience is through. I’m really disappointed. And I can’t wait to see Matt Flynn throw the football.

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Leave Safeco Fence Alone- Close the Roof

Safeco Field in Seattle.

Safeco Field in Seattle.

With continued offensive struggles from the Seattle Mariner‘s bats when playing at Seattle’s magnificent home ballpark, Safeco Field, talks have begun again about the wisdom of moving in the fields fences in order to make hitting home runs easier. But moving in the fences is not the answer. But an answer is available.

This topic gained lots of momentum when big Justin Smoak,

Justin Smoak

Justin Smoak

the Mariner’s leading home run hitter, connected on two blasts in one game one week ago. Both shots were run-down and caught by the outfielders on the warning track in right and left-center field. After the game Smoak said he hit those balls as best he could. His exact quote was “That’s all I got”.

Also, last week Baltimore Oriole’s All Star Adam Jones appeared on CNN as part of a story discussing the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards. The CNN anchor asked the former Mariner if the Oriole’s home ballpark was the most beautiful stadium in the Major Leagues. Jones said yes, but that he also really liked Safeco Field “Except it’s just a grave yard there. It’s just a grave yard”. Shaking his head he must have repeated that the Mariner’s home field was a grave yard 3-4 times.

The fact that the Mariner’s returned from their last road trip having averaged over 7 runs per game, while scoring barely 2 runs per game at The Safe adds to the fire.

And this debate has been raging since the Mariner’s left the Kingdome in July 1999. Safeco is hugely responsible for driving away Seattle’s two biggest Stars of the 90s. Ken Griffey Jr.

English: Ken Griffey in June 2009.

Ken Griffey in June 2009.

played half-of-a-season at Safeco in 1999 and hated it.  Alex Rodriguez was equally miffed at the difficulty in hitting home runs in Seattle. Griffey demanded and was granted a trade to Cincinnati following the ’99 season. A-Rod left in free agency after 2000. Neither giving the stadium much of a chance.

What’s misunderstood about Safeco is that it’s outfield walls are not that deep compared to other Major League fields. In left field is 331-feet, Center field is only 405 feet from home plate, and right field is just 327. By comparison Detroit’s Comerica Park is 345 down the left field line, 330 down right, and 420 to center field. Clearly the fences aren’t the issue.

Any meteorologist could tell you what the problem is. It’s Seattle’s thick wet air. When it’s cold and wet in the Northwest, as it is from the time the season starts until early July a hit baseball just doesn’t carry as far as in places where people don’t have webbed feet and rust under their arms. And last I checked early July is halfway through a Major League baseball season.

Safeco Field

I have two arguments against moving in the fences. First- when Seattle teams were good it was far less of an issue. Brett Boone, A-Rod, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner hit plenty of bombs in The Safe. And the opponents have to hit in the same field dimensions. So Seattle is not at a competitive disadvantage.

Second, a big part of the solution to the heavy air and the lack of home runs already exists and could be put in place tomorrow. Close the Safeco Roof. Griffey was known to scream furiously for the roof to be closed in his short time here (Yes…he was THAT spoiled). Mariner TV commentator Bill Krueger offered this idea during a radio interview last week. He pointed out that other moveable-roof domed stadiums keep their roofs closed a majority of the time for this very reason.  And since the roof is so high and since the left-field open air view of the Seattle skyline still exists patrons are not losing much. Let’s face it, we’d all rather be a little warmer on a cold damp Seattle Spring night watching a more offensively exciting baseball team with the roof “extended”, than shivering in 40 and 50-degree weather with night-time stars covered by clouds and a team that averages only 2 runs per game.

This needs to happen immediately. Mariner management needs to make a command decision. New rules for the Safeco roof go into effect immediately. Except on days when it’s over 60 degrees, and only on clear nights the roof goes over the playing field. That way we all get more home runs, and happier young ball players.

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Mariners: It’s Time For Ichiro to GO.

English: Ichiro Suzuki on June 10, 2009.

Seattle Mariner iconic right-fielder and lead-off hitter Ichiro Suzuki, who is more commonly known only by his first name much like Madonna and Cher, has given Northwest baseball fans eleven years of exciting baseball. He’s won awards, broke records, and solidified a spot for himself in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame following his retirement. But his play this and last season show that he’s done. He’s fallen and given his age of 38 it’s safe to say he won’t get up.

It’s early June and the Mariners are seven games below .500. Not all that bad given they’ve had to endure the worst schedule in MLB, playing more road games than any other team…including a trip to Japan. Ichiro started the year as the team’s number 3 hitter; a spot usually reserved for the teams best batsman. At the start of the year it seemed like a worthy experiment. But after two months Ichiro’s diminished batting average and total lack of power necessitated his move last week back to his familiar lead-off position in the batting order.

The problem is Ichiro is not the familiar player who slapped singles and occasionally doubles and triples all around the ballpark, and beat out infield hits, and stole bases on a regular basis. Last year’s drop in average to .271 was dramatic for a lifetime .300+ hitter. And wishful fans AND Mariner management hoped it was a one season anomaly created largely by the inept hitting around the great Japanese ball player. Despite two hits in last night’s win over the LA Angels Ichiro’s .259 average and .290 on-base percentage show that it wasn’t an anomaly, but a trend. Hitting .259 with an OBP of only .290 would make Ichiro one of the worst lead-off hitters in baseball. Such averages are more deserving of a spot 7th, 8th or 9th in the line-up.

Ichiro is making $18-million dollars this year. But his contract is up at the end of the season. Knowing the Mariner’s history they’ll want to re-sign him and let him retire having only played for Seattle in his MLB career. I’d be all for it if not for the team’s reluctance to do anything that might upset their ego-maniacal star. And if Manager Eric Wedge can’t bring himself to put the team first and lower Ichiro’s position in the batting order NOW when several acceptable alternatives are available for the team’s lead-off spot, what makes you think he will do the right thing next year. Do you really want another Ken Griffey Jr. situation?

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Junior was brought back to the team in 2009 to end his career with the city and team that launched his Hall of Fame career. In spite of hitting a paltry .214 with little power, the nostalgia loving Mariner management team brought him back for the 2010 season. It was a disaster. Griffey was old. His interest level in playing was clearly diminished. He couldn’t bring his average above the proverbial Mendoza Line (.200) and he had even less power than in 2009. After being benched in mid-May Griffey left the team in a huff, announcing his retirement in a letter to management and leaving town without another word to anybody. The team suffered with and without him and proceeded through one of the worst seasons in team history, losing over 100 games.

The same ugly fate awaits Ichiro if Mariner management can’t do the right thing. He must be shown respect. And he must be shown the door. If they can get anything for him (and by anything I mean a bag of baseballs would suffice, given his age, his stats, and his contract) they should trade him to a contender by the July 31 trade deadline so Ichiro has a chance to end his career with a winner. Or, they should let him play out this season honorably. Then profusely thank him for his service and say goodbye. Then plan on a new right-fielder in 2013. Then, and only then can this young and improving Mariner’s team have a chance at contention.

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