Seattle Mariners postsSunday August 07, 2016
Yesterday afternoon, heading west down James Street under the I-5 bridge, which was litter-strewn and smelled of urine, I saw an elderly couple in matching blue “Griffey 24” T-shirts shuffling in the same direction. “I bet I can guess where you guys are going,” I said as I passed them. They agreed happily, particularly when my own blue “Griffey 24” T-shirt came into view. A block later, I saw a guy wearing the '95-era teal-green Mariners jersey with “Griffey 24” on the back. I would see a lot of “Griffey 24”s on my way to Safeco Field, where, before the Seattle Mariners played the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Mariners organization woud retire its first home-grown number: 24. Griffey.
All the Griffeys with nowhere to go.
They could've done it any time since June 2010 but for some reason waited until Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with the highest vote percentage ever (99.3%). They waited for the bestowing of the national honor before allowing the local one.
The morning had been overcast and cool, but it was mostly blue skies and around 70 degrees by the time I hit Safeco at 4:30 for the scheduled 5:30 ceremony. Even before then, I noticed an oddity along Occidental: folks lined up next to Century Link Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, a good 500 feet from Safeco. Were people buying Seahawks gear on Griffey Day? Nope. It was the line to get into Safeco. It stretched back that far. I couldn't believe it. The area around Safeco was a mass of people and snaking lines trying to get in to pay their respects. Had the gates not opened in time? Did the Mariners organization not anticipate the crowd? Couldn't they even get this right on Griffey Day?
I was meeting my nephew Jake. A sculpture of a baseball glove with a hole in it, what we once called “the Russ Davis glove” but is now just “The Glove,” is a common meeting spot, and thus a kind of crappy one, since everyone meets there, and since everyone else wants to get their pictures taken there. It attracts a crowd, in other words, and we already had a crowd. We also had a saxophonist sitting nearby, playing jazz, and a religious nut with a gigantic sign, carrying his own amplification system and speaking into a mike about how we were all doomed to hell for coming here on this sunny day to pay respects to a man who had given us so much joy. I assume this man feeds off indignation, because otherwise he would've withered beneath the gaze of half the people passing him; many were plugging their ears less because of his content than its volume. I asked a stadium official if something couldn't be done but he threw up his hands. But the volume? I asked. Surely there were limits. He threw up his hands.
By the time Jake arrived some of the chaos had diminished but we still stood in line a good 15 minutes to get in through the Team Store, which was also packed. Standing in lines would be part of the evening. After the ceremony but before the game, Jake stood in the line for the men's room while I stood in the beer line, which were conveniently located next to each other. When Jake emerged he looked for me at the front; I had to wave to him from the back. I'd moved maybe 10 feet. By the time we found our seats again the Mariners were behind 3-0 on a three-run homer by Mike Trout, the current best player/centerfielder in the game.
But I was there for the ceremony. I share in a season ticket package with a group of guys, and when we'd divvied them up last March, this was the first game I'd chosen. I wanted to be there for this.
The Kid, no longer The Kid, emerges from center field.
The two MCs had a tonal problem. The main one, play-by-play man Rick Rizzs, tends to spoonfeed his audience with a little too much sugar; the other, new Mariners president Kevin Mather, had all the warmth and charm of a drill sergeant. Befitting his demeanor, he dropped a bombshell, but a welcome one: a statue to Junior would be unveiled next year outside Safeco. Nice. And about time.
Junior emerged from center field. That was cool. We saw videos that the team had already posted on social media. People kept referring to Safeco as The House that Griffey Built. “And then abandoned,” I added.
There was a crescent of folding chairs between home plate and the pitcher's mound, and on the right-hand side (from the hitter's perspective) sat baseball executives, along with Griffey's wife and daughter and eventually Junior; and on the left, former players, wearing better suits than the suits. The executives tended to bring formality and boredom, the players spontanaeity. They gave each other shit. On the big screen, Willie Mays honored the junior #24 in Jewish mother terms: he wondered why he never called anymore. Junior promptly got out his phone and dialed up the Say Hey Kid.
Suits on the right; athletes in better suits on the left.
The athletes were an odd mix of the expected (Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner) and the unexpected (Hall of Fame members from other Seattle sports teams). When I think Junior I don't necessarily think Steve Largent. Two other #24s showed up as well: Junior's first idol, Rickey Henderson, and his dad's old teammate Tony Perez. No Sr., though. No Randy or Lou Piniella. The latter two sent him wishes via the big screen, as did Henry Aaron.
Junior's speech was relatively short. He talked up his minor league days—Bellingham and San Bernadino—then making the Major League team out of spring training in '89, and the joke the manager and players played on him (the organization, they said, had traded for Dale Murphy so were sending him down). He talked up the joys of Seattle, which were mostly personal: meeting his wife; the birth of his first two kids. He gave Rickey Henderson shit. When Henderson broke Lou Brock's stolen base record, Henderson infamously said—with Brock standing next to him—“Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today, I am the greatest.” So Junior told Rickey that he, Rickey, was great “but today I am the greatest.”
Junior: phoning the Say Hey Kid, giving shit to Rickey.
He also talked up the current players, watching from the dugout with their caps on backwards in homage; he told us to come out and support them. He was kind of insistent on it. This rang a little off to me. I get what he's saying. But we're dealing with a team that has the longest current postseason drought in baseball, and it's neither the fault of the players (most of whom have been here a short while) nor the fans (who can only do so much). If anything, the fans should've supported the team less over the years—particularly in the dead days of the early 2010s when falling behind 2-zip meant the game.
On the plus side, that team is no longer this team, and it turned out to be a helluva game—a Refuse to Lose game. The M's were down 3-0, then 6-2 in the 5th, and came back and made it 6-4 on a Gutierrez homer in the bottom of the 5th. We left the bases loaded in the 6th but then the Angels left the bases loaded in the top of the 7th. We got them loaded again in the bottom half with three straight one-out walks, and eked across a run on a sac fly. That seemed like our nibble until Sean O'Malley suddenly launched a homer to right field to put the M's on top for good. As if adhering to Junior's admonition, after the homer, fans began chanting the journeyman's name—Sean Oh-Mal-Yi (clap clap clapclapclap). Sean Oh-Mal-Yi (clap clap clapclapclap)—and again in the 8th when he made a great defensive play at short. People chanted it on the way home, too. I heard it ringing along Occidental.
It could be seen by some as a “torch passed” moment—to the team if not the journeyman—but we know better: this torch doesn't pass. We'll always care a little more for #24. He was the best I ever saw.
Junior in the Hall
“Here's Junior to third! They're going to wave him in! The throw to the plate will be ... LATE, the Mariners are going to enshrine a player in the Baseball Hall of Fame! I don't believe it!”
Yes, it's finally happened. Today, in Cooperstown, NY, the Seattle Mariners joined 25 other teams/franchises with an actual player in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Missing teams: Angels, Rockies, Marlins, Rays.) The M's will have a few more in a few more. Ichiro will go in as a Mariner. Maybe Felix, if he pulls out of this slump. Maybe Edgar—he hit a career high 43% of the HOF votes this year. But today was Junior's day. He went in with the highest vote total ever: 99.3%. He's the only 99-percenter.
Thoughts on the plaque?
- They never get those face etchings right, do they? Junior was way more handsome than this.
- I almost want the cap on backwards. But I want to see that Mariners logo, too.
- “Ken”? That's a nickname? What about “The Natural”?
- I don't think you need “...particularly in the Pacific Northwest.” Junior was one of those players beloved in almost every city he played in. Mr. B can attest. He'll tell you his “visiting Wrigley Field in '94” story, if you want to hear it. Or even if you don't.
- “Easy-Going Nature”? Yeah, but he was also work.
- Maybe add “5 HRs in a five-game playoff series”? That was a record once.
- How about “Greatest player never to play in a World Series game”? That's the true sadness.
- Junior's full HOF speech. A lot of tears. A few laughs. My favorite are the Jay Buhner recollections.
- Art Thiel talks up Junior and Senior. That's also one of the best quotes in Junior's speech: “He made a decision to play baseball to provide his family, because that's what men do.”
- Junior on the dash home on Edgar's double. Pretty funny stuff. Piazza's his hallelujah chorus.
- David Schoenfield's Top 10 Junior memories. I'd put more catches in there. I'd put the Opening Day HRs. I'd put in this general memory of heading out for the night and then saying, “Wait, just this Griffey at-bat.” And invariably something beautiful would happen.
Ken Griffey Jr. Elected to the Hall of Fame with Highest Percentage Ever
The swing. Oh, the swing.
After nearly 40 years of existence, the Seattle Mariners have a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And what a member.
Ken Griffey, Jr. was elected to the Hall of Fame today with 99.3% of the vote. That's the highest percentage ever for entry into the Hall of Fame. Ever. Here's the top 15:
|1||Ken Griffey Jr.||2015||99.3%|
And here's a Ken Griffey Jr. story, one of many. Maybe I've already told it to you. It was a game in '93/'94, and I was at the Kingdome with my friend Mike. I had to go to the bathroom, then realized, after leaving my seat, that Junior was up, so I stood in the entryway during his at-bat. It went to 3-0. “Do you greenlight him?” I yelled to Mike, who was close by over the railing. Mike looked down at his scorecard, looked back up, shook his head. “I would!” I shouted. And he was. And the next pitch? Gone. I smiled at Mike, who shook his head.
But that was the typical kind of thing we would see back then. I remember a game against the Blue Jays at the Skydome with Roger Clemens on the mound. First time up, Junior hit a homerun. Second time up, first pitch, Clemens threw at Junior's head. Second pitch? Gone.
So many times. “Wait, let me just watch Griffey's at bat.” Gone.
By my ticket-stub history count? I saw him hit 45 homers in person. Actually, 46, since I saw him hit one in 2009 when he came back. There may have been more. How lucky have I been? I may not have seen the Mariners in the World Series but I got to see Ken Griffey Jr. play on a regular basis.
Some extra reading on Junior:
- A TV news report from back in 1987 on 17-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. playing for the Bellingham Mariners.
- My man Jim Caple counts down the Griffey feats: 24 from No. 24.
- C. Trent Rosencrans has a great story about the time he told Junior about his mother's cancer diagnosis. It's an ongoing story.
- Rosencrans' story makes sense to me since I already knew about Junior's work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
- I wrote this post the day Ken Griffey Jr. retired in 2010.
- A few days ago, David Schoenfield wondered whether Junior would be the first unanimous selection. I assumed not. Nice thought, though.
- MLB has put some of the classic Griffey moments (first at-bat, first Kingdome at-bat, a few great catches) on YouTube.
Quick question: Who was the last man elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame whose representative team hadn't retired his number yet? C'mon, Mariners, let's get on that.
“...the Seattle Mariners now possess the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. They haven’t seen October since their historic, 116-win campaign back in 2001. ...
”Perhaps the saddest note of this whole affair, is that this isn't even the longest drought in the franchise's history.... the team began its life with 18 straight postseason-less years, and a .432 team winning percentage. What this means is that 1995 to 2001 is their only productive period in franchise history, in which they made the playoffs four out of seven seasons, with a .552 winning percentage. Even their period of dominance wasn't all that dominant, especially when you remember that 116 of those wins came in a single season.“
-- J.J. Keller, ”The Seattle Mariners: A History of Mediocrity," on baseballmagazine.net.
Most of Keller's post isn't exactly news. I knew the M's have the longest current playoff drought, and I knew the M's began as one of the most woebegone franchises in baseball history. (Unmentioned by Keller: It took 15 years before they even had a winning season, let alone a playoff berth.) I just didn't connect the dots as he does in the graf above. It was just '95-'01. Since '77, it was just those seven years. And not really '98 or '99, either. So five years out of 38. Ouch.
In some ways, it's actually worse than Keller makes it out to be. The amount of talent on the '90s Mariners squads should've been enough to take us to the moon, let alone the World Series, but the front office kept making the wrong play at the wrong time (Omar for Felix and moola; Tino and Nellie for Sterling and Russ), and eventually the shot we had, which was about the easiest shot any franchise ever had (Griffey, Randy, A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner), went away. Specifically, it went to the Bronx.
Those ... were ... the days, my friend.
Last week, after Joe Posnanski wrote THE BEST ARTICLE EVER about a baseball inning, he added a pretty good follow-up, “Everything's Coming Up Royals,” in which he talks about how snake-bitten the Kansas City team was in the years between George Brett and Lorenzo Cain.
But his opening graf might as well describe the current Seattle Mariners:
There is something about being a terrible team that goes beyond wins and losses and boos and jokes and all the other obvious stuff. It's hard to explain precisely, but every fan of terrible teams intuitively understands. When a team is terrible, everything goes wrong. It's like reverse mojo — let's call it “ojom.” Seemingly sound draft picks bust. Logical free-agent acquisitions turn into disasters. Promising young players get hurt. Sensible coaches and managers lose their marbles and start doing self-destructive things. Owners panic and overreact.
Change “overreact” to “underreact” and you've basically got the M's from the end of the Edgar Martinez era to now.
My friend Jim and I talked about the M's bad luck this summer. How we couldn't catch a break. How everything we touched seemed to turn to shit. Among others:
- We pick highly touted prospect Dustin Ackley with the 2nd overall pick of the 2009 draft (Mike Trout went 25th), and watch him flail for the next six years before trading him to New York.
- We trade a great rookie pitcher to New York for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero, whom everyone agrees is the real deal, and watch him flail for the next four years.
- Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak? Thank you kindly.
- We sign Chone Figgins, 32, who is a lifetime .291 hitter with a .363 OBP, and is coming off a career year. Over the next three seasons, he hits .227 and puts up a .302 OBP. His OPS goes from .751 with the Angels to .585 with us.
- We finally catch a break with Franklin Gutierrez, who seems like the real deal. Consequently he pulls hamstrings, then gets irritable bowel syndrome, then develops ankylosing spondylitis.
- We sign superstar Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract, and in the first half of his second year he puts up some of the worst numbers in baseball; then he announces he's suffering from acid reflux.
And on and on. A lot of it is bad management but not all of it.
M's fans, what would you add?