BY Art Thiel 02:51PM 02/18/2011

Griffey for president — of M’s in 2012

What could it hurt? Design the job to his talents, the M’s are interesting

Nike promoted Seattle Mariners centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. for President in 1996; the Mariner Moose was also on the ticket / Sportspress Northwest image

For many Seattle-area alpha males between the ages of 30 and 50 – you know, the guys who more or less run a lot of the businesses, software shops and governments – one thing that is almost guaranteed to make their knees jelly and their faces silly is the presence of Ken Griffey Jr.

Which is as good a reason as any, after a year of front-office training in 2011, for making Griffey the club’s next president in 2012.

Go ahead and finish the rolling of your eyes. I’ll wait.

Now let’s think about it.

If you or your company had the wealth to consider buying a luxury suite, a sponsorship, four season tickets, why would you do it at the moment?

The Mariners have been bad, will be bad in 2011 and probably 2012. They have two certifiable stars, neither of whom are comfortable speaking English in public, and a bunch of players most fans couldn’t tell from the gents who hand-dry their cars at Elephant Car Wash.

The new manager, Eric The Edge, is a volatile sort who may be wonderful but who, after the first five-game losing streak, may get a) fired because the club tradition is that someone who isn’t responsible for it must be blamed, or b) spontaneously combust.

General manager Jack Zduriencik is an engaging fellow but is about one more Eric Byrnes hire from getting trap-doored. And the current president, Chuck Armstrong, along with CEO Howard Lincoln, have zero political capital with the public, yet remain more bulletproof than Superman.

To top it off, Dave Niehaus, the most universally beloved figure in the realm, died.

For the fans, 2010 was a soul-destroyer, and the off-season offered little healing.

The Mariners have, in two words, zero charisma.

But when Griffey walks into a room of the above-described, charisma is knee-deep. Same with the clubhouse. Same with a classroom, or a board of directors meeting.

If you don’t get that, well, that’s OK. I don’t get Justin Bieber, Keith Richards or Sarah Palin. It’s a big country.

But in Seattle, Griffey to many baseball fans is the athlete who made their childhoods, adolescence or young adulthood, then returned a decade later to thrill many of the same dudes who are now dads.

This is an emotional connection that should not be underestimated. Even club management understands the point.

That’s why he’s returning as “special consultant,” a term as meaningless as “bases loaded, nobody out for the Mariners” was last year. But it buys them a year to figure it out.

To many of the ardent fans, it matters only a little that the ineffective Griffey walked out on his team and fans last year. They have put in the past the moment he forced his trade to Cincinnati. They don’t care how the moods and self-absorption of his youth and prime made him high-maintenance.

They just know that the coolest, best player in baseball in the 1990s was their guy, in their town.

Bonus: He didn’t juice.

He was a happening. An idol. An unresolved chord, hanging in the air for a decade, keeping us waiting for the dramatic ta-dah.

OK, we know all of that.

Can he be president of the franchise? Depends.

First, he couldn’t do much worse. Second, the job can be structured to become almost anything.

The portion of the job that requires business experience regarding front-office personnel, sales contracts, broadcast negotiations and shareholder relations can be given to an executive vice-president. The part that includes meetings and relationships with the office Major League Baseball and its individual franchises can be shared with another executive.

The part that includes being the face of the franchise, Griffey can do. Having been around him for most of his time in Seattle, the guy is savvy about things within baseball and beyond. He understands people in ways that are frequently disarming. And as long as the he agrees to a job description where he doesn’t doesn’t go over his head, the thing is plausible.

The two biggest unknowns are whether he can make it work part-time, and whether he and Lincoln can work out a professional business relationship.

My guess on an answer to the first question is that Griffey would have to commit fulltime, with the freedom to fly by private jet to his kids’ sports events at home in Florida.  The answer to the second question is anyone’s guess.

As the representative of a majority owner who has never seen his team play, Lincoln has one of the weirdest executive jobs in pro sports. He occasionally must do the bidding of a guy who doesn’t get how MLB works.

That’s not necessarily unusual, because I have been numerous times among those who don’t get how MLB works. But that’s a different kind of bewilderment.

As a loyalist to Yamauchi and the company he founded, Nintendo, Lincoln would never publicly acknowledge the difficulty. But many baseball and business people who have passed through the Mariners convey private astonishment with how the club makes some decisions.

But Lincoln has control, final say and that’s that. The results over most of the past decade of increasing parity in MLB speak for themselves. Anyone working in the atmosphere is going to be frustrated.

Maybe the issues are too difficult to surmount. Maybe Griffey doesn’t want the responsibility. Maybe the idea is so bold that it will merely bounce off the M’s management bunker. But Armstrong did say that bringing back Griffey in some non-playing capacity has been considered for two years. Emotionally, if he had to replace himself, who better than nearly adoptive son?

Nobody has to make a decision today, or for the rest of 2011 season. It’s training-wheels time, and it’s almost spring, when all things are possible..

Anyone remember in 1996 when Nike ran its mock presidential campaign for Griffey? It was a little early. And that presidency would have been an easier job than selling seats at Safeco.


YourThoughts

  • Lucky Infidel

    Art says, “They don’t care how the moods and self-absorption of his youth and prime made him high-maintenance.” Just when did his “youth[ful]” period end?

    Art, I have followed you for pushing three decades and, in my opinion, this is the worst idea you ever have put forth. Ken Griffey can not even run his own life. And what in God-names does Griffey REALLY bring to the “President of a Major League Baseball Team” table? A smiling face? A cute sense, at least to some, of humor? A purported insight into others? And?

    • Art Thiel

      C’mon, Lucky. I’ve put forth worse. The point is that the presidency can be merely a sales job, not an administrative one. You can’t be sold, because you’ve made up your mind, and that’s fine. There are others who can be reached.
      Thanks for writing.

  • fjoro

    You lost me at “I don’t get Keith Richards.”

    • boomer24

      Ken’s a grown up kid and always will be. Lou, not Dave Armstrong is his model. Lou was an assistant GM, and then went back to managing. Ken could do the same, most importantly, with the blessing of his family. As AGM next year he can fly around, visit his kids when he needs to, and scout all of the inside information from his long list of inside buds in the game. Art is dead on with H. Lincoln as Ken could never abide stupidity like a long term contract for a catcher popular back home but clearly unsuited for the MLB after his first 10 games behind the plate.

  • SeattleNative

    Spot on again, Art. Didn’t get the part about the job description and something “over his head “. Maybe a typo? I know this about ’96 election…when dudes are asked, “who’d u vote for? ” alot say “Griffey, of course “.

  • Rob

    Classic Mariner thinking here- how has that worked out so far?

    Ken Grifey Jr. stopped being useful to this team once he was traded to Cincinnati. Why doesn’t anyone in Seattle get that? As long as this team continues to obsess over its overly romanticized, overrated pseudo-history, it wont win anything.

    Instead of doing things the Mariner way, let’s try doing them the smart way instead. Focus on the draft, developing some real prospects, and actually brining in a free agent that isn’t someone else’s garbage. Then maybe they’ll win something.

    You know, just for a change.

  • Angry Raccoon

    It may be…just maybe…that Mariner fans are so tired of nostalgia about a just-short-of-glorious past that Junior’s ascension would be treated with cynicism. They never made the world series with or without him. Let’s focus on getting there, winning that, and then we will have new icons, and Grif can be retired to a mostly happy memory as a great player on some pretty good teams.

  • SUDS

    IT looks more a like a tulip than a feather….

  • mackie

    They now look like children’s uniforms. The ones they’ve had were much more sinister and intimidating.

  • Bayviewherb

    Thank God they got rid of those ugly green jerseys. (As did the Mariners.)