Sadly, it's time for Ken Griffey Jr. to go
Mariners icon Ken Griffey Jr. stayed one season too many and has become the elephant in the team's clubhouse.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Jose Lopez stood on second after a leadoff double in the second inning of Sunday's game against the Angels.
Ken Griffey Jr. came to the plate, but instead of the wild, expectant cheers that have greeted Griffey's plate appearances since his arrival in Seattle in 1989, there was just a smattering of polite applause.
Instead of anticipation in the crowd there was resignation. This wasn't Junior any more. There was no more magic left in the wand. The thrill was gone.
This is what I was afraid would happen, what I knew would happen if Griffey returned this season. Hope would die like his fly balls to right field. Cheers would be muffled.
Griffey stayed one season too long.
Nobody wanted to see this.
Last season was as perfect as it was going to get. All of the grateful standing ovations. All of the love. It was a rare chance for a city's fans to spend an entire season thanking one player for all he had done.
Last season, he was the magnet that brought together a once-fractious clubhouse. He was the joker in the room and everyone laughed.
He hit only .214. He no longer could play the outfield, but Griffey still smacked 19 home runs and drove in 57 runs and the Mariners shocked and entertained the city all summer, winning 85 games.
And after the last game of the season, he was paraded around on his teammates' shoulders. It was the perfect happy ending to one of the most wondrous runs in our sports history.
There was no need for another encore year.
This season, Griffey has become the elephant in the clubhouse. He's been the problem that hasn't been addressed. He is the knockout puncher who can't find his haymaker. He's a power hitter without power.
It's sad to see and it never should have happened.
He didn't get enough at-bats in spring training. He was troubled by his aching knees and still he was in the starting lineup in Oakland.
But this is what happens when a team gambles with its roster. Instead of spending real money on somebody who could have helped — you know the list, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, even Jermaine Dye — the Mariners tried to get away with some cheap nostalgia.
This feeling of sadness as we've watched an overweight, seriously diminished Griffey try to summon a little more pop is what we got instead.
By bringing Griffey back this season, the Mariners' organization robbed Seattle of a proper goodbye.
I'm fortunate that my years in Seattle have spanned his. I've been there for so much of his drama. The Willie Mays-like catches in center field at the Kingdome. The full-sprint grab as he crashed against the center-field wall, breaking his hamate bone.
The home runs. The first-to-home sprint and the celebratory slide that ended the playoff series win over the Yankees.
Griffey, 40, did what many people thought was impossible. He turned Seattle into a baseball town. He got Safeco Field built. There's no way to measure his importance to Seattle.
And he's still a kick to be around. A day at the park doesn't feel complete without Griffey making fun of my hair, or the way I walk, or the way I dress.
But he came into Tuesday's game in Baltimore hitting .208. He has no home runs and only two doubles. And his hitting woes have become a distraction for a team that has too many other problems it needs to solve.
His anemic hitting has magnified his teammates' offensive woes.
Sure, everyone is hoping the warmer weather will heat up his bat. Many fans still cling to the dream that once again Junior will rise to the occasion and rescue this team.
But it's not going to happen.
I don't think this season will diminish the love Seattle has for him. The fact that he copped a few Zs in the clubhouse during a game last week shouldn't take away from what he did for 12 years here.
The memories of Junior in Seattle are indelible. His place in the Hall of Fame has been reserved.
But it's time to go.
In the second inning Sunday, with Lopez in scoring position, Griffey popped out to shallow left and the groans followed him back to the dugout.
This isn't the way it was supposed to end.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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