Leave it to poor Ken Griffey, Jr. to have the most poignant night of his career slide down below the fold of the sports page because some jerk made a bad call. Yes, even in failure, Jim Joyce's perfect mistake outshines the retirement of one of the most beloved players in baseball history. Griffey called it a career last night after 20+ years of smacking home runs with aplomb, making highlight-worthy catches in center, and million-dollar smiles, but also 20+ years of dealing with depressed Seattlites, miserable Cincinnatians, and far too much Lou Piniella.
Griffey may have been a natural talent but he was also a natural at getting broken. Endless trips to the DL in the second act of his career meant that certain milestones got delayed and that trip to the World Series was always out of reach. Along with
Ted Williams (note: I had a dumb) and Ernie Banks, Griffey reigns among the top ten players to never reach the Fall Classic. Ken spent the 1990s being awesome; we fans spent the 2000s waiting for Ken to get that awesomeness back.
Griffey stood by as fellow second generation star Barry Bonds grabbed the spotlight with his power and disdain for the media. Bonds broke all the home run records. Bonds made the World Series. Bonds had an entire ESPN reporter assigned to follow his every move. Meanwhile, writers always claimed to love Griffey and his playful ways, but they loved spilling their sanctimony-stained ink about Bonds more. You get more readers with scandal, no matter how artificial and meaningless it is.
Even Mariners fans dumped on Griffey in his final days. A fading star brought to the team to sell more t-shirts and popcorn, he failed to hit a home run in the first two months of the season and was singled out as a scapegoat for a poorly-constructed, miserable team. Respect? Ken Griffey deserved it by the bushelful but got it in mere trickles at the end.
Still, Ken Griffey, Jr. finishes his career many steps ahead of Bonds and with every benefit of our doubts: he will be a first-ballot HOFer and will be lauded forever as one of the greatest outfielders in the modern era. And we at Walkoff Walk will always be true fans if only for that time Kris interviewed Ken's mom. So long, Ken, and thanks for all the memories.