05/13/10 12:17 PM ET
Bodley: The time has come for Griffey
One of game's greatest should find a way to bow out gracefully
It's difficult to watch any great player, let alone a certain Hall of Famer, hang on.
I thought about that last week when Robin Roberts died. He tried so desperately at the end of his career to stay in the game, to get the 14 wins he needed to reach 300. After being released by a couple of teams he sadly ended his career in 1967, at age 41, pitching for Double-A Reading, never making it back to the Major Leagues.
The image of the great Willie Mays trying to play for the New York Mets in 1973, at age 42, is something I'd like to forget. He batted just .211.
The final chapter in Griffey's storied career that began when he was a multi-talented 19-year-old shouldn't continue with his vastly diminished skills on display for an entire season.
I thought it was a marvelous gesture for the Mariners to bring Griffey back last year to Seattle, where he began his career and played his first 11 seasons.
My guess is that management thought Junior would play one year in Seattle and retire wearing a Mariners uniform. He batted just .214 in 2009 with 19 homers. But when he announced he wanted to play another year, the Mariners had no choice but to re-sign him for 2010 at $2.35 million. He could have gone to another team and the plan to have him retire in Seattle would have fallen apart.
Now is the time to make it happen.
Griffey has meant so much to the Mariners. He's partly responsible for saving the franchise in Seattle when it was about to be relocated in 1992. Having a young All-Star with his talent to build around convinced the Nintendo group that baseball could survive in the Northeast and it should purchase the Mariners.
Had Griffey, who turned 40 on Nov. 21, been more productive in 2009 it would be reasonable to say that since this season is only six weeks old and he just may be off to a slow start. But the .214 average in 2009, the fact he was hitting just .200 this year with no homers, just two extra-base hits and only six runs batted in in his first 25 games says otherwise.
I don't believe the Mariners, considering how disappointing they have been this spring, can afford the luxury of a .200 hitter with no homers taking up a spot on the roster as their left-handed DH. Junior can no longer play the outfield.
But for this to happen, Griffey has to agree to it amicably with management.
Admittedly, the timing is poor.
When two young unnamed players allegedly told a reporter that Griffey was sleeping in the clubhouse in the seventh inning of Saturday's game and was unavailable to pinch-hit, the incident turned into a firestorm.
Manager Don Wakamatsu denied the report, insisting Griffey was on the bench and available to pinch-hit.
To that, Griffey said "I'm available all the time," saying the report in the Tacoma News Tribune was untrue.
"I can't win this, and I'm not trying to," added Griffey, who has 630 home runs. "I'm just hoping that whoever said it is man enough to come to me and talk about it. It's my word against two unnamed sources. It is what it is and I will just let it go."
Griffey's teammates, most of whom are in awe of his credentials and contributions not only to the Mariners but to Major League Baseball, held a players-only meeting on Tuesday night in Baltimore and it was reported Junior was so moved and upset that he cried.
After recording his first victory as a Mariner, pitcher Cliff Lee refused to continue his post-game press conference until the reporter who wrote the story left the room. Other Mariners have refused to talk to him. Larry LaRue was doing his job, what we all do as journalists.
The reporter was merely the messenger. It troubles me that one, or even two, young players would show their disrespect to a future Hall of Famer and arguably the Mariners best-ever player by leaking the story, full-well knowing the turmoil it would create.
Ken Griffey Jr., who has brought so much joy and excitement to the game, deserves better.
What this incident has brought to the front, however, is that he probably shouldn't have come back for another year and how much he is struggling at the plate, no longer able to get his bat around on a fastball.
When Jim Thome, who turns 40 in August, was trying to find a team and decide whether he had another season left, he wrestled with the decision before ultimately signing with the Minnesota Twins as more or less a backup DH.
I asked if players know when it's time to go?
"I don't think so," Thome said. "I decided for me, personally, it's not yet. Maybe soon. Maybe one day I'll wake up and say, 'This is it.' It's not there yet. I love the game too much, and I respect what it has given to me. I'm going to be 40 this year, and I've come to grips with that."
For now, Thome was right. As a DH he's helped the first-place Twins with five homers and 15 RBIs. His career home-run total is 569.
Griffey hasn't enjoyed that kind of production.
The 1989 season was only 42 games old when Mike Schmidt, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, for the second game in a row, bobbled a ground ball at third base, a costly error for the Phillies, who were playing at San Francisco. The next day, Schmidt retired.
"I feel like I could ask the Phillies to keep me on to add to my statistics, but my love for the game won't let me do that," the future Hall of Famer with 548 homers said that day.
Griffey has earned the right to leave baseball on his terms.
Schmidt's farewell comments are a perfect guide.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.