I can think of only one good thing about Ken Griffey Jr.‘s injury: it’s a legend in the making, right up there with the
Curse of the Bambino, and it reinforces why baseball is the greatest game on earth.
Before we proceed further, know that I take no joy in watching an All-Century Team player’s career so ruthlessly derailed.
Long-time readers of my columns will remember the scathing denunciations I leveled on Junior for trying to screw his old team on
his way out of Seattle. Griffey said straight out that he’d use his 10-and-5 rights to veto a trade to Cincinnati if the Reds
had to give up too much to get him.
However, we’re all guilty of occasionally giving in to our darker sides, so why should Griffey be any different? We should cut
him the same slack that we hope for when we lapse into the less-than-noble, selfish half of our personality.
So it’s not the Griffey injury that’s amazing, but rather the unpredictable results from a given set of circumstances. Babe
Ruth was a top left-handed pitcher with a great bat when he was sold from the Boston Red Sox. He went on to become on the
game’s greatest sluggers, rewriting the future of two American League franchises.
At the time of the sale, nobody could’ve envisioned how everything would ultimately shake out–that’s what makes it legendary.
Let’s revisit the circumstances of the 1999-2000 offseason. The Seattle Mariners were coming off a disappointing third-place
finish in the AL West. The Cincinnati Reds had narrowly missed reaching the post-season, losing a one-game playoff to the New
York Mets for the NL wild card. During that season, Ken Griffey, Jr. had been named to the All-Century team.
Griffey demanded, and ultimately orchestrated, a seemingly one-sided trade to the Reds. Junior went to Cincinnati for Mike
Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer. At the time, the Reds were all but ready to print
World Series tickets, having added one of the game’s greatest players to a club that won 96 games; fans of the 79-83 Mariners
wondered if the their team would ever recover from losing their second Hall of Fame player in two years.
Since that fateful day when Griffey left the only baseball home he’d ever known:
- The Seattle Mariners haven’t been the same
- The Cincinnati Reds haven’t been the same
Ken Griffey, Jr. hasn’t been the same.
The Reds didn’t get to the postseason in 2000. They fell to 85-77, in part because Griffey got off to a slow start. Last year,
they dropped off the map to 66-96, while
Junior was dogged by injuries
throughout the season and played in just 111 games.
The Mariners won the AL wild card in 2000 and reached the ALCS, losing a tough six-game series to the eventual World Champion
New York Yankees. Less than two months later, they bade farewell
to their third Hall of Famer in as many years—Alex
Rodriguez. The Ms shrugged off that loss and went on to win a staggering 116 games and the AL West crown before falling
again to the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS.
To cap it off, the man who took Griffey’s place in center field in Seattle blossomed. Mike Cameron won a Gold Glove and, unlike
Griffey, remained healthy. Cameron’s playing-time advantage has helped him create 193 runs since the trade to Griffey’s 190.
Further adding to the Reds’ woes was that Griffey put pressure on the Reds in 2000 to extend Barry Larkin‘s contract for
three more years at $9 million per. Larkin, like Griffey, has had health issues; he played in just 45 games last year and seems
to be hampered thus far in 2002. Due to this, much of the Reds’ payroll is sunk in two injury-prone players on the downside of
Griffey, who once demanded pitching from the Mariners’ brass, now has to play behind a rotation of Joey Hamilton, Jose
Acevedo, Chris Reitsma, Elmer Dessens, and Jimmy Haynes. If Junior needs season-ending surgery, come
2003 he and Barry Larkin will be a year older and likely slower, and Griffey will be rusty to boot. In short, if you’ll pardon
the pun, the Reds have been hamstrung by the Griffey trade and subsequent Larkin extension. The duo, Hall of Fame-bound in the
future, are albatrosses in the present.
If Antonio Perez is fully recovered from his broken wrist (and poor training habits), and lives up to his considerable
potential, then the trade that once looked so one-sided in favor of the Reds will look like a steal for the Mariners. Sadly for
Reds fans, who had expected to open Great American Ballpark in 2003 with an NL pennant contender, the team now looks like it
will be in the midst of yet another full-blown rebuilding effort.
If the trade hadn’t have happened, the Reds might be looking at an outfield of Dmitri Young, Adam Dunn, and
Mike Cameron. Larkin might be with the Mets with Gookie Dawkins and Pokey Reese around the keystone,
providing great defense if nothing else. The Reds would have had payroll flexibility, and maybe they would be on the verge of
taking over the NL Central.
Now we’ll never know.
We do know that the Griffey trade did indeed change the complexion of two teams, just not in the way anyone envisioned. It will
be interesting to see how our grandchildren will dissect this deal with the perspective of history.
Funny game, baseball. It’s just a shame that Ken Griffey, Jr. isn’t laughing.
John Brattain has covered
baseball for About.com, MLBtalk, Yankees.com, TOTK.com Sports, and