Plan 35: Griffey Jr.’s resurrection
August 26, 2004
Ken Griffey Jr. crashed into a wall,
Griffey’s career has had a great fall.
All the Reds doctors, And all the Reds men
Hopefully will put Griffey back together again!
“On the disabled list” or “Out for the season.”
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They have been the recurring, regretful answers to a question that inevitably comes up when people start discussing their favorite baseball players: “Whatever happened to Ken Griffey Jr.?”
Well, Griffey almost answered the question himself before another recent injury cut his season short for the fourth year in a row. 2004 was shaping up to be the Cincinnati Reds center fielder’s return to the glory days of seasons past when his majestic homers sailed high and far over the 23-foot high right field wall in Seattle’s Kingdome (when stadiums were actually named something cool). He owned that stadium, similar to Barry Bonds’ current own-age of SBC Park (see what I mean) since the Giants started playing there in 2000.
Griffey was the man in Seattle, so much so that the first baseball sellout in Seattle history occurred Opening Night of Griffey’s second year ” 1990. It was the 14th year the Mariners franchise had existed! That was a year after Griffey played in 127 games, rapped out 120 hits, 16 homers, 61 RBIs and perhaps most impressively struck out only 83 times in 455 at-bats as a 19-year-old rookie. 19! It was no coincidence the first ever Kingdome full house was there to see a superstar in the making. “The Kid” brought hope and promised to dazzle many more sellout crowds in the coming years.
Griffey would go on to slam 382 homers in his 20s, including two 56-homer years in 1997 (MVP) and 1998. He was voted an All-Star each year in the decade and seemed destined to challenge Hank Aaron’s career home run record of 755. (This is even more impressive considering he was robbed by the strike-shortened 1994 season and an injury-riddled 1995 in which he played in just 72 games.)
He was stellar with the bat, but he also played center field with reckless abandon, consistently charging full-throttle and diving on Kingdome’s rock-hard turf without hesitation. He had an above-average arm too, but it was his no-fear attitude of crashing into outfield walls that kept fans in awe while he snagged sure extra-base hits and took away homers with ease.
But that was the 90s. Sadly, we are now forced to speak about him in the past tense. Griffey left the 90s a MLB superstar, but a very terrible fate loomed on the horizon.
In February 2000, he was traded from the Mariners to the Reds, and shortly thereafter the Kingdome was imploded. The Mariners were in the middle of another Seattle demolition: The Randy Johnson/A-Rod/Griffey Jr. era. It was meant to be Griffey’s homecoming, back to the city where he once roamed the clubhouse of the Big Red Machine as a wide-eyed, energetic little boy in the 1970s. His father Ken Sr. played with the likes of Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose; no surprise his love for baseball was secured forever.
His Reds homecoming started great in 2000. Only 30 years old and already a 12-year veteran, he turned out his fifth season in a row of at least 40 homers and 100 RBIs.
Then his body quit on him and the injury bug bit; it bit maliciously through hamstrings and tendons. Some say his ruthless, at-all-costs defensive attitude had finally caught up with him.
Nevertheless, in 2001, he missed more than a month with a torn hamstring that bothered him most of the year. He spent two prolonged stints on the 15-day DL in 2002 with a torn knee tendon and a torn right hamstring. Griffey added two more stints on the disabled list last season with a dislocated right shoulder and torn ankle tendon. After three seasons, in which he COMBINED for only 43 homers and played in an average of 78 games, Griffey had become lost in the shuffle.
Bonds became the player of the new decade. Other players like A-Rod and St. Louis Cardinals phenom Albert Pujols were the new young studs. Even Griffey’s late-’90s seasons were overshadowed by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa making 50 homers look mediocre with 60-plus homer outputs. Griffey the Great had been replaced by Griffey the Gaffe.
By the beginning of 2004, Griffey was a player whose best years were behind him in the minds of sports fans. Why would they think otherwise, given the evidence? But 2004 held a promising outlook, and the national spotlight once again found Griffey in his quest for 500 career homers.-
He was voted by the fans to his 12th All Star game to play alongside Bonds and Sosa to form the first 500-Homer Club outfield in All-Star history. People started to remember Griffey, “The Kid,” who at 34 isn’t a kid anymore, but, hell, he was playing like it, so baseball fans were enjoying it. Through 83 games, he had 20 homers and 60 RBIs and surpassed 500 with Griffey Sr. in the stands on Father’s Day on June 19. He hit his 501st the next day.
Then it happened again.
Three games shy of playing in his 2,000th career game, Griffey Jr. was declared out for the season after tearing his right hamstring in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers (it was decided later that he had actually suffered the injury before that in San Francisco). On Aug. 16, doctors attached Griffey’s tendon to the bone with three screws and sent him rehabilitating.
Griffey is expected to be back for the start of 2005.
For Griffey, it’s just another mishap in an injury-plagued four-year period that has put a serious glitch in a phenomenal career.
But there’s hope; there is hope because I have a sure-fire plan that will lift Griffey up from disappointment and back into the ranks of MLB stardom. That is, assuming doctors can put him together again (see poem). Let’s call the plan the JunioR-esurrection.
What prompted this plan was a recent column I read written by Joe Morgan on ESPN.com. Morgan, a former Reds star who I mentioned earlier, is now an analyst for ESPN who occasionally writes columns. In summary, Morgan wrote how Griffey needed a change ” Cincinnati was not the answer. Well, I thought about it, and here are the steps of the JunioR-esurrection:
First, Griffey, who turns 35 in November, must be traded to the San Francisco Giants before the 2005 season. Second, the Giants must be willing to give up talent for Griffey in what would be a very risky move. Third, Bonds must follow through on his verbal commitment to the Giants in 2005. Fourth, Bonds, who just turned 40, must agree to school Griffey in the Art of Domination From Age 35 to 40. Fifth, Bonds must agree to train with Griffey (a.k.a. “BALCO him up”) and remain the Giants hitting instructor after he retires. Finally, to prevent further injury, Bonds must convince Griffey that hustling is no longer necessary after 35. This, of course, is assuming Griffey can return to full strength.
I often hear Giants announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper talk about how they will miss Bonds’ “Splash Hits” (Bonds has 31 of 37 hit by Giants players in five seasons) into McCovey Cove when he retires.
Try to imagine one of those beautiful, arching Griffey blasts from his Kingdome days getting wet in the Bay. Imagine a once dominating left-handed slugger replacing a legendary left-handed slugger in a diplomatic shift of power; all the while Bonds is teaching Griffey to be a more patient hitter and how not get hurt playing defense and running the bases. “Choose your times to hustle very wisely, my apprentice,” Bonds would say to Griffey.
It’s perfect. Admit it.
Some time next year, barring any horrible injuries, Bonds should surpass Babe Ruth and stake his claim as the greatest left-handed power hitter ever (by sheer numbers, folks. No hate mail, please.) Griffey would be in San Fran to witness history and naturally be enthused by Bonds’ success. In 2006, Bonds could also pass Aaron, something Griffey was once predicted to do.
Just like my suggestion to bat Bonds leadoff, it probably won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to see Griffey chase 600 and 700 in San Francisco under the watchful eye of Mr. Bonds?
That is if Bonds doesn’t go to the New York Yankees in search of that elusive World Series ring. Because you know they all do. Heck, Griffey and Bonds probably both will.
[Matt Brown is sports editor at the Sierra Sun. To view Griffey’s career stats, visit http://www.baseball-reference.com/g/griffke02.shtml.%5D
** This column goes out to the Chico Crew who so desperately want to see the Griffey of old. You know who you are**