Thursday, May 20, 2010
Bench Junior respectfully ... then release him
As you probably heard, Milton Bradley's back. I have this odd affection for Bradley, and I hope he really is the first human in recorded history to have his particular problem healed in two weeks.
The Mariners are obviously hoping so, too. You know, seeing as how they're last in the American League in scoring. With Bradley back, though -- for the time being, anyway -- the Mariners have that same old roster crunch. Why, pray tell, is Ken Griffey, Jr. still on the roster with his .183 batting average and zero home runs.
Because of respect. Last week, Jack Zduriencik said, "One thing Ken will always get is the respect and dignity he deserves in this game. And he’ll always get that from this organization and this community, and he deserves that."
Respect, yes. But this? And as Dave Cameron writes, why is Griffey the human who deserves respect in this situation?
While the Mariners are respecting Ken Griffey Jr.’s legacy by allowing him to tarnish it on a nightly basis, they are showing no respect for the rest of the team. Franklin Gutierrez, whose hard work has made him perhaps the best all around center fielder in the game, is seeing a prime season of his career flushed down the toilet. Cliff Lee, who was snatched from a contender after pitching in October, is seeing his talents wasted. Do they not deserve the respect of having major league caliber teammates? Is the work they put in all winter not worthy of the respect of having an organization deal with problems when they arise? What is respectful about asking the rest of the team to not just carry their own burdens, but compensate for the failures of a sacred cow?
While we’re all so busy respecting one man for what he did 15 years ago, we’re disrespecting the work of everyone else in the organization who is actually worthy of a job in 2010. The thousands of hours of preparation that went into this season by hundreds of individuals who receive paychecks for what they do now, not what they’ve done in the past ... it’s all being undermined on a daily basis by the hero who can’t walk away. Doesn’t he owe them the respect they deserve?
Why is Respect Avenue a one way street?
Somewhere in the past few months, wires got crossed. Ken Griffey Jr has replaced the paying customer as the one that the organization is trying to please. In the process of respecting him, we’ve all been disrespected, being sold a product that isn’t worth the price of admission. Now, here we stand, with the season on the line, facing the prospect of four months of meaningless baseball, and Ken Griffey Jr is still on the team, Milton Bradley is still playing left field, and Mike Sweeney is hitting cleanup. When the team absolutely has to win a game, they’re still punting.
For any aspiring scribes out there, I recommend reading Cameron's entire post, as it's an outstanding example of persuasive writing. Shoot, maybe Don Wakamatsu read it; after Wednesday night's game (yet another loss), Seattle's manager suggested that Junior has essentially been benched, with Bradley taking over as DH against right-handed starting pitchers (and, presumably, Michael Saunders playing left field).
But this step, while necessary, is merely the first. As long as Griffey's around, Wakamatsu will be tempted to play him. And if Wakamatsu doesn't play, Griffey will be tempted to cause trouble.
Or maybe that's not fair. Maybe Junior will be perfectly content to start a game every week or two. Maybe he'll be the model teammate. Maybe he'll eagerly assume the role of player-coach (without portfolio). But there's still that roster spot, occupied by a player whose meager talents have become completely extraneous.
The Mariners are now 14-26. What they do in the next week or two probably won't make a spot of difference by the end of the season. But if the Mariners still harbor serious postseason aspirations, they'll have to start acting serious soon. And nothing would be more serious than suddenly showing a great deal of respect for their fans, and for the other 24 men on the roster.
None of this is Ken Griffey, Jr.'s fault. I guess that's where I'm at loggerheads with some of my (usually) like-minded colleagues. They blame (to some degree) Griffey for hanging around. But I don't blame him. Playing baseball for a million dollars is a pretty good job. For 20 years -- for more like 30, probably -- people have been telling Junior that he's good enough to play with the big boys. Who's he supposed to believe? Dave Cameron and Rob Neyer? Or all those years, and those $2.35 million dollars the M's offered him last winter?
He's a professional baseball player. I don't see how anyone can fault him for not volunteering to stop being a professional baseball player. I can fault, with great enthusiasm, the owner or the general manager or whoever is responsible for letting Junior make that decision for himself.