O's talk of top dog Griffey just throwing fans a bone

March 07, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

DO WE NEED another Griffey in Baltimore? There's already a Griffey in this baseball-loving city. It's my springer spaniel. Her name is Griffey. Let me tell why.

Because for several years as a sports columnist working in Seattle, I covered one of the greatest ballplayers ever, perhaps the most naturally gifted athlete to ever trot onto a baseball diamond.

Once, Griffey asked me why I named my dog Griffey. Because she's adorable and annoying and can chase down a long fly ball, just like you, I told him. Griffey nodded. He understood.

In delineating Griffey's stellar ability, you could start with his defensive skills, second only perhaps to Willie Mays. Same breathtaking, over-the-back basket catches. Even better shoestring grabs and one-legged slides, plus Griffey scaled more walls than Spider-Man.

Once, in '95, when Griffey's wrist was hurt and he wasn't hitting well, the center fielder was still making sensational defensive plays, helping the Mariners win games. I made the mistake of calling him "Leather" in print. It was a way of reminding people he was so good, he could win games even when he was less than 100 percent at the plate.

Guess what? Griffey was offended. He didn't talk to me for months. Said I diminished him because he prides himself on being an all-around player: As if we didn't know that.

It was strange and one of only dozens of "discussions" Griffey and I would have over the years; encounters that let me know this was one of baseball's rarest characters.

See, he is complicated. He is moody and challenging, but it comes from being deeply sensitive. Griffey is also a genuinely decent human being who at once chafes at special attention yet commands it, because he is "The Natural" - more gifted than everyone around him.

We all know why Griffey was named baseball's Player of the Decade for the '90s: Every single at-bat crackled with the potential for electricity. The swing, so natural. Barry Bonds attacks a baseball, jerks it into the cold waters in the China Basin. Griffey was poetry in motion. How could he generate so much bat speed with a swing that smooth, that graceful?

Maybe Peter Angelos has the same memories of Ken Griffey as I do. They are truly stunning memories - the kind that make you consider taking on $79 million in salary and all that baggage from three injury-marred seasons in Cincinnati.

Heck, maybe Angelos even has a dog named Griffey, too.

Angelos got some juice for his moribund ballclub yesterday with headlines that say he wants Griffey in Camden Yards this season. If the Reds are going to put their embattled star on the trading block again, there's a home for him here.

This is where seasoned Orioles fans go nuts. They see this Griffey thing like Albert Belle, Part II, although Belle is truly a clubhouse cancer. Griffey just requires tender, loving care.

They see this Griffey "development" as another ill-advised (and pricey) Band-Aid being applied by an owner to a franchise that needs total body surgery.

Isn't that why Syd Thrift is gone? Isn't that why Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie were brought in as co-general managers? Aren't they charged with fixing the whole thing, top to bottom?

Beattie and Flanagan have hired Darrell "Doc" Rodgers to revamp the minor-league system. They are cautiously scouring the free-agent (too cautiously?) and the trade market, looking for terrific bargains and prospects.

Yet the owner understands that with the major-league club as is, Camden Yards portends to be a lonely place this summer, until Yankees and Red Sox fans come on down.

Do not underestimate how differently Beattie and Angelos probably feel about Griffey. Apparently, there is little love lost between Beattie and Griffey from back in their days in Seattle, when Beattie was the director of minor leagues and Griffey was a fast-rising superstar.

Don't underestimate how much Beattie and Flanagan are holding their tongues, toeing the line, knowing that they can't tell Angelos to take a chill; there's no place for a player like Griffey - salary, personality, questionable health - on a team that is years away from contending.

Don't underestimate that if the Orioles get anywhere close to making a deal with the Reds, it will mean Angelos is running the show, not Beattie and Flanagan.

Here's guessing that Griffey won't wear an Orioles uniform. Not on Opening Day March 31; not anytime in the future. It's a guess, not a wish, since like Angelos, I would go on record saying that I wouldn't mind seeing Griffey here.

He could get his double nickels (55 homers a season) easily at Camden Yards.

He was, after all, once called "Yankee Killer" on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He is the natural No. 3 hitter around which an entire lineup can be built.

He would be back in the American League, which uses that thing called the designated hitter - good for sluggers whose hamstrings are a little too tender to play center or left field in a day game after a night game.

But, of course, I can say all this about wanting Griffey The Human in Baltimore, just like Angelos can say this: We all know it's probably not going to happen.

"You never say never, but this is why he came to the Reds, to play in his hometown, to play in the new ballpark, to help the Reds win," Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, said yesterday.

"It's flattering to know someone wants you, and from everything I've heard about Mr. Angelos, he wants to put out a winner. But Junior's pretty resolved."

Here's guessing Griffey outlasts Reds general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone in Cincinnati. This pair attempted to trade Griffey straight up for Phil Nevin this winter, until the San Diego third baseman rejected the deal.

In the meantime, thanks, Mr. Angelos. It's nice to know you care enough to drop a name as big as Ken Griffey. This has been an entertaining little exercise - for some of us who aren't named Beattie, Flanagan or Griffey.

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