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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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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Really looking forward to Mariner season.

The Mariner Moose, mascot of the Seattle Mariners.

Mariner Moose

Don’t be misled by the headline to this blog. I’m not delusional about my home town team’s chances in the coming 2012 Major League Baseball season. I realize the Seattle Mariner‘s are a young and flawed team and they aren’t likely to go anywhere but home when the 162 game schedule wraps up October 3rd. But I predict the Northwest’s baseball fans will embrace these kids and make Safeco Field a fun place to go again.

I’ll admit that I was disappointed when it was revealed this week that

English: Prince Fielder doing pre-game stretch...

Cecil Fielder

Cecil Fielderwas not going to hit for the M’s. The 275 pound slugging first baseman inked a 9-year $214-million deal with the Detroit Tigers. The Mariner’s weak hitters and inept offense over the previous two years made an acquisition of a power hitter like Fielder mandatory for the team to avoid another boring season of 2-1 losses stacked on top of each other. But can you really blame General Manager Jack Zduriencik for exercising some fiscal responsibility, and not acting desperate by giving in to super-agent

Scott Boras

Scott Boras

Scott Boras’ demands for a long and extraordinary contract with a player whose physical build may have him breaking down than most other chiseled athletes who make up professional baseball today. Don’t forget, unlike the NFL, baseball contracts are guaranteed. Fielder will be collecting his $20+ million each year until 2021 even if by 2016 he can’t waddle down the first base line fast enough to beat out a throw from the parking lot. To have gotten the former Milwaukee power hitter Jack Z would have had to commit to at least as many years and probably more dollars. Maybe as much as $230-million.

It became fairly evident the M’s were out of the Fielder sweepstakes last week when we heard about the team’s trade of its number two pitcher Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda

to the New York Yankees for catching and designated-hitter prospect Jesus Montero. In many evaluations Montero is the best prospect in all the Major Leagues. And by giving up a proven front line pitcher like Pineda, he better be. A team doesn’t usually part with a number 1 or 2 pitcher without getting a player at or near All Star caliber. With Montero we only have his experience with the Bronx Bombers last September to evaluate what his power bat will do in the Major Leagues. His only month of Major League experience proved mighty tasty though. Jesus (pronounced Hay-Zeus) hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBI in just 61 at-bats. He’ll hit. I’m confident. Whether he’ll be a liability behind the plate remains to be seen. But my view is he couldn’t be much worse than we’ve had in recent years. Miguel Olivo was set to be the backstop going into this year. And while his ability to throw out runners is top-notch, and his calling of the game appears to serve Seattle well; Olivo also led the Majors in passed-balls and only hit only .224 and dropped off steadily as the year wore on. Great guy? Sure. But Montero can do better.

Now look at what else came Seattle’s way late last year and turned a record-paced piss poor offense into something a little better than awful. Former number 1 draft pick Dustin Ackley

Looking toward Qwest (football) Field and Down...

It'll be fun at Safeco again.

played a solid 2nd base and hit .273 with 6 homers. Mike Carp was hitting as well as anyone in the big leagues for most of July and August before slowing somewhat finishing with a .276 average and 12 homers, many of them very well-timed. Casper Wells came from Detroit and showed flashes with the bat and a very dependable glove. If Franklin Gutierrez doesn’t have a bounce back year, which he should, Wells could be an adequate Center Fielder.

Then there’s Justin Smoak, the switch hitting powerful first baseman we got from Texas in the Cliff Lee trade. In his first full season in the Major’s Smoak (I just love his name) hit only .234 with 15 HRs. But folks…his Dad died in April and in August he was hit in the eye socket by a pitch. For those who have never lost a parent let me tell you it doesn’t leave you at your best in terms of work performance. Work just seems all-together unimportant for an extend period while you grieve the loss of someone you were very close to, as Smoak was with his father. Smoak has shown enough of what it takes to continue to believe the forecasts for his Major League stardom are still possible.

And even with the loss of Pineda the Mariner’s have a solid core of pitchers led by All Star and 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez.

The M’s play in the same division as two-time American League Champion Texas, who just signed Japanese pitching ace Yu Darvish; and the Los Angeles Angels who not only have MLB’s best Manager in Mike Scoscia but also picked up Albert Pujols in free-agency…only the best player in baseball for the past ten years. Seattle can’t compete with these teams. Not in 2012. But won’t it be fun watching a team of young 20-somethings fight and claw and scratch and improve and give us some legitimate promise in years to come. Just remember the old franchise slogan “Ya gotta love these guys” was created for a team built around

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the star of the 1995 Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Tino Martinez, Randy Johnson, Joey Cora, Alex Rodriguez and others. Back in the early to mid-90s they were all together and they were all young at that time. And as they grew so did the team’s success and the fun. I think we’ll love these NEW guys.

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