|The Return of the Ancient Mariner|
Written by Matt Souders (Contact & Archive) on February 01, 2009
I was raised on many semi-constant things as a kid: the emphasis on education and well-rounded living, the wonder of a perfectly made cut of beef tenderloin, the joy of reporting weather conditions to my local news stations during major storms and the dulcet tones of Mariner P.A. announcer Tom Hutler echoing through that cavernous concrete launching pad, ricocheting off the Kingdome catwalks and finding their way through the web to my ear wherever I might be in my many stops as the son of a Naval submariner. Richly, he would make the call, “Now batting for the Mariners, the centerfielder, number twenty-four, Ken Griffey…Junior!” I can hear it like I was watching a game from 1995, even now.
I must have heard this over a thousand times in my life, and not once was it followed with anything but an expectant roar from the crowd, no matter how large or small, as they watched a man they all knew was a Hall of Famer stepping to the plate, that charismatic smile on his face and swagger in his step. Given the emotions that “The Kid” brings to the surface even as I write this is it very easy to get carried away in a wave of nostalgia. It’s been nine years since Griffey made his exit from Seattle, engineered what turned out to be a pretty fair trade, and took less money to go home to Cincinnati to spend more time with his father, a long time member of the Reds – nine years for that flame to dim, and it still burns as bright as ever, at least for me. I must admit that if Griffey were to return to the Mariners to end his career, his first at bat of the regular season would bring tears to my eyes, and I doubt I would be the only one.
As a sabermetrician, I am trained to be as objective as possible when making decisions – I spend most of my time thinking about how player X or pitcher Y would impact the team’s bottom line, now and in the future. There’s no way around it; today, Griffey is far from the superstar he used to be and the Mariners are far from the promising, soon-to-be-contending team they were when he left. The analyst in me wonders why a rebuilding team would want to acquire a 39-year-old coming off a very poor (injury plagued) season whose defensive abilities are all but gone and who may or may not be able to hit AL pitching anymore?
But I think we need to remember why we’re here – why we care so much about a boy’s game played by large men who embody the spirit of Peter Pan. This game isn’t just about the bottom line. It’s about passion; those very emotions that can trap a good GM into making a bad decision if he’s not careful are also the emotions the fans desire. How much would the city of Seattle value a chance to say goodbye to a piece of their collective history, to show their love for a living legend the way that so many other franchises have enjoyed in the past? The Mariners, for all of their ups and downs as a team, have never had this chance to send one of their own to Cooperstown with all of the festivities and gratitude that we witnessed in 2001 when Cal Ripken put the finishing touches on his own legacy with the Orioles. I know it would mean a lot to me personally, and I’m tempted to forget the consequences for guys like Wladimir Balentin and Jeff Clement and pray for Zduriencik to change his mind and make Griffey a priority.
There’s just one problem. What happens if Griffey comes back to Seattle and struggles? There’s a better chance his age catches up with him than not at this point in his career – especially given the very poor results in 2008. What will Mariners fans remember six years from now when Junior enters the Hall of Fame, his plaque emblazoned with the Mariners’ logo, the first such cap in franchise history to be enshrined? Will we remember the hair standing up on the back of our necks as Griffey confidently swatted another game-winning home run? Or will we remember the shell of a player that returned in that farewell season without the swagger as that depressing inevitability surrounds him like the dimming twilight on the last day of summer?
I’d rather feel nothing but joy at the thought of Griffey in his prime. I’d rather not replace those perfect memories of mine with the specter of mortality. Number 24 will live forever as the truly great star the Mariners ever learned to love. His likeness is burned into my mind from the autumn of my first taste of victory as he is swarmed at the plate by teammates, pure and perfect joy on his face. The older, maybe wiser, certainly less-athletic Griffey can never fill that void he left behind when he grew tired of Seattle all those seasons ago. Seeing him in Seattle now, though it may be accompanied by tears of joy at first, will only serve as a reminder of what has been lost.
Should the Mariners bring back Griffey? Let us hear your comments below.