Griffey returns as consultant, whatever that is, but there’s a better way
Ken Griffey Jr. is back as . . .
Strength and conditioning coach? No.
Why start now?
Pre-game stretching coordinator? See above.
Mascot? No vacancy. The Moose, in the great tradition of franchise under-performers, has a guaranteed contract and a no-trade clause.
Sleep-disorders counselor? Possibly, but that isnt a day job.
Minor-league hitting instructor? Its like asking Picasso to explain his art. He couldnt. It just was.
Milton Bradleys pal? Even if one doesnt like Griffey, that seems cruel.
Broadcaster? In an injury-hampered career, the risk is too great. So many people will be behind the mic this year, the crowd will look like a goal-line stand.
Star of his own Seattle-based show on Comedy Central? Now were getting somewhere. He might possess the quickest wit in sports. But the profanity will force the show onto HBO.
Team president Chuck Armstrongs personal hug station? Getting warmer.
Addressing minor leaguers around the country on what it means to be a Mariner?
Ohmigawd . . .NO!
The idea of a baseball-patriotism speech was offered by Armstrong Tuesday after it was announced that Griffey, emerging from self-imposed exile, would become a special consultant to the club, duties unspecified.
In the absence of a clue, Armstrong is suggesting that Griffey, who once forced the franchise to trade him and, 11 years later, walked away from the same team in midseason, would deliver a soliloquy on the standards, professionalism and nobility of being a Mariner.
Two problems: Not yet born to this earth is a writer/poet/lyricist capable of creating such a flight of fancy, and if there were, Griffey should be among the last to deliver the bewilderment.
Dont get me wrong. Im glad Griffey is back. Hey, Im a writer. Why wouldnt I want to be around not only the most dynamic player in the teams history, but its most controversial, hilarious, confounding and altogether compelling figure?
But the Mariners have failed to distinguish themselves as having any particular identity, ethos, creed or style. To the rest of the baseball world, the Mariners are Griffey, Ichiro and warehouses of bobbleheads.
Even if they had done something outrageous, such as reaching the World Series, Griffey is not the class valedictorian here. Edgar Martinez rates that honor, in large part on uninterrupted term of service.
Theres no question about the identity of the clubs greatest player. But what I think Armstrong is getting at is a role for Griffey as team ambassador. Besides the point that the Mariners are the baseball equivalent of Lichtenstein, especially this season, Griffey, for all his feats, has been something of a polarizing figure, especially with what was his final act as a player.
Many fans who grew up with Griffey in his prime offer unstinting adoration of the man. A number of other fans have more mixed feelings. Another group cant stand him for his moodiness, petulance and manipulation of the franchise.
Theres a fourth group, which doesnt care what he did or didnt do on the baseball field but remembered how much he gave of himself to Boys & Girls Clubs, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other initiatives that benefited kids.
Im not bothering to attach percentages to those groups, because I dont know and you dont know. But I bet most of you know at least one person from each camp. Ill also bet that at least some of you have been in each camp at least once in his 22-year association with the team and city.
Thats why he is such a fascinating figure irresistible and irredeemable at the same time.
Which is why his final act as a player cuts so deep. Even his most stalwart fans were bruised by the abrupt midseason exit, which helped undercut the manager, Don Wakamatsu, and created ill will throughout the clubhouse and franchise.
Bringing him back for one year too many was one of the great personnel debacles in the history of a franchise that has stacked them like firewood for a Manitoba winter. Even worse was the handling of the inevitable.
It never should have been the manager, whose job depended on winning games, to be the fall guy for telling the franchise icon, who was about 25 times the figure of Wakamatsu, that he was done. The responsibility belonged to Armstrong.
Given his history with and affection for Griffey, it would have been a terrible moment, like kicking out a son. The emotional travail would have been compounded by health problems within Armstrongs family that he tried to keep quiet.
Griffey knew that as well as anyone. But Griffey was conflicted too, even beyond the obvious despair over the erosion of skills that every great athlete dreads. He felt that Wakamatsu, and perhaps others, planted the story that went national and became nap-apalooza, making him a joke.
What slayed him was the questioning of his baseball integrity. He could not abide that.
Nor could he imagine sitting in an interview room all teary-eyed, in front of a world he once owned, to say he couldnt do anymore the thing at which he was once best.
So he left. No goodbyes, no explanations, no nothing. Just gone. The season, already ruined, turned wretched.
Awkward, times 10.
People who never cared for Griffey, or at least were dismayed over the roster spot he was consuming, felt vindicated. Even those who adored Griffey were disappointed.
A lot of choices by a lot of people, each of them a little understandable but nevertheless wrong, came together to make a nightmare.
Now Griffey is returning, not as a player but as . . . what? Even the club doesnt know. Its feels a little like all the principals are kids of divorced parents: Griffey, the club and some fans just want everything to be OK again.
But it wont be OK, at least for some.
Resolution would help.
I have two ideas.
Griffey needs to explain and not necessarily apologize for what happened last season, then the club needs to give him a real job with real responsibilities.
Didnt the 2010 season teach anyone anything about accountability?