Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And your host allows himself a point of personal privilege. Or, an open letter to Ken Griffey Junior.

Dude...please use this off-season wisely and think about retiring instead of continuing your not-so-triumphal return to Seattle. Wait, let me amend that. Don't just think about it. You are laying waste to what was once not only a Hall of Fame career, but a career that would have ranked you among the top 10 ballplayers of all time.

Oh, you'll still make the HoF, no question. Just not based on anything you've done lately. You haven't had a Griffey-esque season since 2005, and that was your only Griffey-esque season of the new millennium. That's right, Junior. With the exception of '05, your last great season was 2000.*
(And that's stretching the definition of a Griffey-esque season that you established for yourself between, say, 1993 and 1999.) A whole generation of young fans is growing up watching you whiff on pitches you used to crush, run doubles into singles, and not even bother to run out routine ground balls; they watch all this and they turn to their dads and say, "What's the big deal about this guy?" You haven't batted over .277 in four years...and your last two full years were .249 and .214. With the exception of that .301 in '05, you haven't even visited the .290s since 1997. I haven't done the math, but I'm guessing that you knocked at least a full 10 points off your lifetime batting average over the past decade.

Then there's the never-ending cavalcade of injuries. Needless to say, those injuries had a lot to do with your declining performance. But regardless, come on, Ken. If you couldn't stay healthy in Cincinnati in your early 30s, what are your odds of doing it now at age 40?

I will remember you as having the prettiest, most majestic swing I've ever seen, bar none. Now please hang up the spikes. Do it before no one else remembers you at all.

* Of course, that depends on whether you fix the year 2000 as the final year of the previous century or the first year of the new one. For the purposes of this post, I go with the former definition.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of last years of Willie Mays when he was with the Mets in '72 and '73. He had a pathetic 14 home runs in two seasons (but one was a strike-shortened season.) On the base path, he was picked off more than he stole. This inept performance from baseball's god. It was tragic to see the most dominant player of his generation decline so far, and he still would not get off the stage.

Say hey, Steve! You are right. We've seen this movie before. Griffey Junior is no Brett Favre. It's too late for a graceful exit; yet it is still time to go.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: I had that exact image in mind when I wrote this post: poor old Willie stumbling around the basepaths (and literally falling down at least twice that I recall in the outfield, where once he so magically shined).

Matt Dick said...

Steve, I went ahead and looked up the BA numbers for KGJ. I threw it in a blog post so we could all look at it.

The short answer is: 14 points.

Steve Salerno said...

Matt: Wow. Fully 14 points. How tragic is that?

Hey, as I've said before to DimSkip and others who take the time and trouble to fill in the missing pieces of my SHAMblog puzzles, I really appreciate this.

long time Reds fan said...

Junior was The Bomb. What a shame. I assume the millions means more to them than how we fans remember them. If teams keep offering them deals, they're going to play.

Anonymous said...

You're right, that is the prettiest swing I've ever seen. Everyone says that about Griffey of course, but to see it in slo-mo is what makes it.

Will Clark was in the same category. Remember Will the Thrill?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: Oh I do indeed. He would've been my previous nominee for "best swing." Helluva player. And he had enough sense to quit while his lifetime BA was still over .300.

Matt Dick said...

Why should he quit? If you look again at the graph I made, he is rarely below the MLB average, so he's a credible player. Seems to me that *I* would have a tremendous amount of fun being a slightly better than average major leaguer, so why would we expect Junior to be any different.

What if he is the rarest of gems: a guy who actually understands what an awesome privilege it is to play the best game ever invented for lots of money? What motivation, other than wanting sterling numbers to look back on, does he have to quit?

I suppose it's likely that he is just as motivated by desire for glory and money, but why default to that position when it could be that he loves the game every bit as much as, say, a certain writer we all know who is playing hardball at an older age for what I presume is somewhat less money?

Just an uncynical thought from a very cynical guy.

Steve Salerno said...

Geez, Matt. I didn't know you had it in ya.

Matt Dick said...

Geez, Matt. I didn't know you had it in ya.

Steve, I know you meant it as a quick, light comment, but the serious answer is: Baseball.

Baseball makes me all soft and gooey inside. Using baseball-reference and getting those stats and thinking about lifetime BAs, the MLB average, the history of the game makes me measurably less cynical.

Even talking about Brady Anderson's outlying season makes me feel good, even though it's the harbinger of the steroid ear.

Long live baseball.

Steve Salerno said...

Matt: I hear ya. And I'm pretty sure I could match you swing for swing for sheer goo. Hell, I still play on three different teams (hardball, he adds proudly), and before I went off on this crazy self-help tangent, I'd say I spent the bulk of my time dreaming up and writing essays about baseball and related matters. I'd only stop when the necessity of making a living (or trying) intruded.

Brady Anderson, huh? I remember him stepping up to the plate that one charmed season with those brand-new biceps a-bulging, then hitting 50 dingers out of the leadoff spot. Another guy who cracks me up is (non-)Pudge Rodriguez: Now that the era of reasonably effective steroid enforcement is upon us, he's suddenly a mere shadow of his former self.

Matt Dick said...

I have been an Orioles fan forever... they're the team I grew up with. So when Brady went from 16 HRs to 50, we all knew something had happened. We just couldn't fathom what it was.

I wonder how thorough and how long this extra enforcement will be. I'm sympathetic to the idea of not banning anything. If you ban some stuff, then some people will abuse and some will not. Of the abusers, some will remain uncaught. And then how do address someone like Sammy Sosa? He was never (I think) caught, but we all kind of know.

And then how about the man I think who is most screwed by the steroid era: Frank Thomas? I believe he never took steroids, he never changes sizes after all. His first eight seasons are *very* comparable to none other than Ted Williams' first eight seasons. But then others caught up to him, and I wonder if his HoF chances dropped because even a thin little rail like Sammy Sosa could blow up to be a home run hitter.