BY Art Thiel 07:43PM 02/15/2011

Griffey, Mariners reunite for . . . what?

Griffey returns as consultant, whatever that is, but there’s a better way

Ken Griffey Jr. is out of the box, but not the shadows quite yet / KPA Sports, Wikimedia Commons

Art Thiel

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 isn’t a day job.

Minor-league hitting instructor? It’s like asking Picasso to explain his art. He couldn’t. It just was.

Milton Bradley’s pal? Even if one doesn’t 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 we’re getting somewhere. He might possess the quickest wit in sports. But the profanity will force the show onto HBO.

Team president Chuck Armstrong’s 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.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Griffey is back. Hey, I’m a writer. Why wouldn’t I want to be around not only the most dynamic player in the team’s 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.

There’s no question about the identity of the club’s 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 can’t stand him for his moodiness, petulance and manipulation of the franchise.

There’s a fourth group, which doesn’t care what he did or didn’t 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.

I’m not bothering to attach percentages to those groups, because I don’t know and you don’t know. But I bet most of you know at least one person from each camp. I’ll 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.

That’s 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 Armstrong’s 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 couldn’t 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 doesn’t know. It’s 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 won’t 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.

Didn’t the 2010 season teach anyone anything about accountability?


YourThoughts

  • http://www.westbaycottage.com Lars

    Need to bring him out of the dugout and say thank you in front of a lot of adoring fans. Good for him and for the rest of us helps remove the ugliness of last season.

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  • Lucky Infidel

    I think he owes more than an explanation. It is unheard of for a player to just walk out on a team in the middle of a season, and then for the Mariners, or any team, to actually bring the player back the next year?!? It is beyond unbelievable. And yet so typically Mariners.

  • tappuller

    What kind of temper tantrum will we see when Mariner ownership finally (hopefully?) cans Armstrong. Will he storm off again?

  • boomer24

    Follow the money. Ken is going to help sell suites and corporate tickets to those of us who grew up with Willie Mays 24 and did it again with our kids and Ken’s 24. Business types with marketing budgets will have only one question: “How much do you want?”

  • Lucky Infidel

    This could have been a defining moment for a franchise. A chance to finally become a man. Instead it allowed the latest tail, albeit a famous local one, to wag the dog. WILL THE MARINERS’ ORGANIZATION EVER BE LED BY A LEADER?????

  • http://facebook Kathleen Logan

    We, as the Community-of Mariners-Fans’, support KEN GRIFFEY JR. 100%! At the bottom of the 9th. inning, I think the negativity of the “naysayers” will srike out looking at the HOUSE THAT GRIFFEY BUILT!, & that the secretive nature of the so-called ‘sportswriter’,will be revealed in the light of the spring-training sun. YOU GO JUNIOR!; many of us remember Ben E. King’s song “Stand By Me”

  • Go Griffey

    Petulant. Lazy. Immature. Quitter.

  • Inch12

    Griffey is going to be the designated fourth in the foursome on the golf course. His job is yucking it up with whoever needs yucking up that day. That’s primarily Chuck and Howie, so tired and toasted from being `in the hotseat’ all these years. But they’ll occasionally loan him out for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

  • Jeff in Baton Rouge

    What a joke the “kid” is just that a spoiled brat who has no clue what it’s like to be a regular person or work for a living.

    Consultant for what how to alienate your teamates and take your ball and go home when someone dares tell you you are done hitting a baseball?

  • 1coolguy

    As long as Armstrong and Lincoln run the team it will continue to go nowhere.

    Imagine being able to keep a job based upon the performance of the Mariners for the past 7-8 years? Remarkable.

    It only points to the fact the Japanese owner is so detached he may not even know what the M’s record has been!

    Is is still true he has never been to an M’s game?

  • MarinersArmy

    Great, the two-headed monster that runs this organization just grew another head. Wow…

  • howard the duck

    Art, this is Howard in W. Seattle. Great to be reading you on the subject of baseball. Your views are insightful. You nailed it here, once again. But because you are a pro journalist, you can’t say everything. So I will go one more step, although one cannot speak FOR you. See if people agree with me: namely, Griffey always was and still is not quite grown up. He doesn’t stand firmly inside his motives, emotions, and loyalties. (I used to be sort of an impolite punk myself, so I feel for the guy.) When he was young and blessed with great talent, it didn’t show. But when he forced to be traded, one could see how his immaturity and confused psyche were coming out. His subsequent career was sub-par, and he has never learned humility, nor got a grip on his duties as a focused, wise elder. His personality in a baseball franchise like this one (already a grade-C franchise lacking backbone, character, and focus) is a huge, film-noir joke. That the owners hired him PROVED to me that they are incapable of fielding a club. I lost FSN from my cable package a year ago, and because of the non-baseball feel I get from this silly club, I am in no hurry to get it back. I’ll see games only when I travel to real baseball towns like Chi, St. L., and NY, where I visit. CHEERS, but raspberries for the MERRY-NERDS.

  • Jeff in Baton Rouge

    In the absence of a clue, Armstrong

    awesome Art strikes again

  • iamdone

    Oh no……. can we have a contest to predict the date of the next time he bails on the club? So pathetic…….