No happy ending for the greatest Mariner
The 2010 numbers weren't great, and the retirement announcement abrupt. But Ken Griffey Jr. will always be baseball in this town.
Seattle Times staff columnist
There are few happy endings in sports. Few of those Ted Williams moments where the hero hits a home run, crosses home plate, tips his cap and leaves the game.
John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors didn't play one final five-setter at Wimbledon before quietly leaving tennis together. Arnold Palmer didn't sink one last, undulating 20-footer to win another Masters.
Michael Jordan didn't quit after he jab-stepped Bryon Russell and beat the Utah Jazz at the buzzer. Hank Aaron didn't hit the home run off Al Downing that broke Babe Ruth's record, then immediately announce his retirement.
Most of the great players linger. They stay around because they can't shake the magic of the games. They search, like Ponce de Leon, for the Fountain of Youth even as their bodies start to betray them, and the quick twitch muscles slow down.
And just as they hate to leave, we — even when their skills have diminished — hate to see them go.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Mariners' media-relations staff hastily called reporters down from the press box to announce that Ken Griffey Jr. was retiring.
The news was as sad as it was inevitable. It was announced in an obviously ghostwritten, four-paragraph statement that sounded about as much like something Junior would say as the Gettysburg Address.
In typical Griffey fashion, he wasn't around for his own retirement. Even in the best of times, Griffey avoided the spotlight.
He disliked talking about himself.
He thrived in the big moments, but he always downplayed them in the postgame clubhouse.
When his retirement was announced to the crowd some 10 minutes before the first pitch, when a medley of his greatest Mariners moments was shown on the center-field scoreboard to the accompaniment of Aerosmith, he wasn't there to see the fans stand.
He didn't see the tears in their eyes, couldn't hear them cheer him and thank him for everything he did for the game in this town.
Griffey is baseball in Seattle. He was the town's first baseball superstar. He hit home runs in eight consecutive games. He scored the game-winning run in the Mariners' first-ever postseason series win.
On the infield, behind second base, the Safeco Field grounds crew sculpted his number 24 in the dirt. My guess is there will be tributes to Junior all summer. I hope he attends a few of them.
He made the game relevant in Seattle. I'm convinced that without him the Mariners would have been gone a long time ago. Because of him we had a major-league baseball game in town Wednesday night.
He will be the first Seattle Mariners player to go to Cooperstown; the first bust wearing a Mariners cap.
Griffey gave us the kind of moments that bond a city's sports fans. He represented Seattle in 10 All-Star Games. He had 10 hits and five runs batted in in those games.
Griffey was baseball at its best. He brought the expectation of greatness with him to the plate, every at-bat, every game he ever played.
No matter what the score, fans at the Kingdome always stayed for his last appearance. They wanted to be there just in case he hit one into the third deck.
Even last season, which should have been his last, Griffey gave us moments. He singled in his first home at-bat since 1999. He hit a game-tying, two-run home run against Arizona. Even though he hit just .214, he still had 19 home runs.
After the final game of the season, the players paraded him around the field on their shoulders and his smile lit up Seattle for the last time.
He came back this season, and I wish he hadn't. The magic was gone from his bat, and in the last month, it seemed the joy had gone out of his game.
Even two weeks ago, when he had a game-winning, pinch-hit single against Toronto, the celebration was subdued.
But long after this season is forgotten, Griffey will be remembered for the other 12 years he lit up the city.
He didn't get the happy ending he deserved, but he brought a joy to the ballpark and to the entire Northwest that will be remembered as long as baseball is played in Seattle.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 206-464-2176 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 206-464-2176 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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