Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez remember Griffey
Two great former Mariners remember their many moments playing alongside the greatest of them all, Ken Griffey Jr.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
When Jay Buhner found out his old Mariners buddy, Ken Griffey Jr., had retired, he had one overriding thought.
It wasn't about Griffey's transcendent talent, not the mind-boggling catches and majestic home runs, though those came to mind soon enough. It wasn't even about how Griffey, in his glorious prime, captivated the baseball world and turned Seattle — isolated, neglected old Seattle — into his personal playground.
"I hope to God that he's really and truly happy," Buhner said Wednesday evening. "That's all I care about at this stage. He is the most beloved Mariner ever. He dedicated his whole life to the game, and you can ask anyone — there were times he played in a whole different league, a whole different level, from the rest of us.
"But I just hope that after everything he's done putting us on the map, making Seattle a baseball city, saving baseball in Seattle, I hope to God he's happy. I hope he's at peace, and that when he puts his head on his pillow tonight, he feels good about the decision he's made."
When Edgar Martinez heard the news he, too, yearned for the ultimate happiness of his longtime teammate. And he reveled in their shared legacy, eternally bonded on opposite ends of the most scintillating single moment in Seattle sports history: Junior sprinting around the bases on Edgar's drive into the left-field corner in the magical October of 1995.
"It's really nice to be linked to him with that double," Martinez said Wednesday. "We had an amazing year that season. He gets hurt, and then being able to come back the way he did, and contribute the way he did, especially in the playoffs, was amazing.
"I'm really proud to be part of that play, but I'm also proud of being Junior's teammate and playing with him that many years."
It was evident instantly upon Griffey's arrival here, a mere teenager, that we had never seen his likes before. And soon the entire baseball world discovered that this was a once-a-generation talent.
There were those signposts along the way that became etched in Seattle lore — the father-son blasts in Anaheim, the Spiderman catch, the John Wetteland grand slam, the drive off the Camden Yards warehouse in the Home Run Derby. And so many more.
"From the beginning, you could tell right away he was a five-tool player," Martinez said. "They don't come around very often. He was a guy that had a lot of confidence, even as a young player, just the way he carried himself. Plus all the talent. Wow. You could just see if he stayed healthy, he was going to be an amazing player. And he was."
For most of the 1990s, Griffey and Barry Bonds jockeyed for the title of the game's greatest performer. But while Bonds will forever be tainted by the stain of steroids, Griffey has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs; there is a widespread belief in baseball circles that he was that rarest of species: A clean slugger in the heart of the steroids era.
Yet Griffey's numbers, as majestic as they ended up being and the operative number is 630 — as in 630 homers, No. 5 on the all-time list — they could have been even greater. Because as Martinez foresaw, Griffey didn't stay healthy. All those years on the unforgiving Kingdome turf took a heavy toll during his underwhelming decade in Cincinnati, and kept Griffey from racing Bonds to Hank Aaron's career home-run record.
But Griffey ultimately transcended his numbers and became, for more than a decade, the face of the game. And, certainly, the hub of the Mariners' clubhouse during their coming-of-age years under former manager Lou Piniella.
"What I remember, he was a lot of fun in the clubhouse, with everyone," Martinez said. "But he also was a gamer. Junior never wanted to get out of the game. He always wanted to be on the field doing what he loved.
"I remember sometimes Lou would say, 'Why don't you DH today?' Junior would say, 'No, I'll play on the field.' He just loved playing the game, and he was so much fun to watch."
It wasn't always fun for Junior, of course. He tended to take perceived slights to heart, and his departure to Cincinnati after the 1999 season was messy. So was the aftermath of the recent story that he had napped in the clubhouse during a game, a revelation that deeply hurt Griffey.
So much so, in fact, that Buhner senses there is a direct correlation between the "Sleepgate" story and Wednesday's retirement.
"I was lucky," Buhner said. "I got to pick and choose where, when and how my career ended. I'm not sure Junior wanted to end his career right now, but he went through so much crap.
"You can't always ride off into the sunset. It's not always the picture-perfect ending. I know the last couple of weeks have tugged and pulled at him emotionally.
"Let's be happy for Junior. I wish him nothing but the best. I hope to God he continues to be part of the organization, and I can ride his coattails and be part of it with him. Again, I just hope he's happy, because he deserves it."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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