Griffey's outlook is healthier, too

Baseball: Surly while injured in back-to-back seasons, the Reds slugger is hitting and talking again - except if it's a `loaded' question about coming to Baltimore.

March 11, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

SARASOTA, Fla. - Ken Griffey did little more than snarl and grunt at the media when he showed up for spring training. The Cincinnati Reds beat writers put up with the surly superstar for about a week.

Finally, Hal McCoy, a 30-year veteran of the Reds beat from the Dayton Daily News, stuck a blue Post-it note into Griffey's locker. It read: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be misquoted and used against you."

Griffey has been a teddy bear ever since.

He was in a playful mood again yesterday morning, as the Reds prepared for a split-squad game against the Orioles at home and another 90 minutes away in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox.

Griffey went against the grain for a baseball veteran, deciding to make the road trip, even with Pedro Martinez scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox.

"Why wouldn't I?" Griffey said, smiling. "[Shortstop Barry] Larkin's going, too."

Last week, Griffey was the subject of more trade rumors, when The Sun reported that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has given his baseball people the approval to take on the $79 million remaining in Griffey's contract - if the Reds are willing to trade him.

So far, there have been no substantive trade talks between the teams, but the story caused quite a stir. McCoy, who will be honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, introduced a reporter from Baltimore to Griffey yesterday, and Griffey said, "Uh-oh. ... It wasn't me."

Griffey started packing his bag for a moment, and then he hopped up and sat down on a big, black trunk. Barry Bonds has a recliner by his locker; Griffey has this trunk, and that's where he sat yesterday, talking about the good life.

"I was 19 when I came up [to the big leagues]," Griffey said. "I had no wife, no kids, nothing to worry about but me. Now I have a wife, two kids, I'm 33.

"Things that you smile about at 19, you don't smile at 33.

"I think people have forgotten that I am a grown man. They still think I'm a 19-year-old running around. This is my 15th year in the big leagues. They think I'm supposed to stay this happy-go-lucky kid, you know, smiling all the time."

The smile vanished when injuries started wrecking his homecoming. He originally signed a nine-year, $116.5 million deal with the Reds after being traded from the Seattle Mariners in 2000. Cincinnati got its hometown discount, but Griffey didn't get a no-trade clause because nobody thought he'd ever need it.

He hit 40 homers that first year with the Reds despite being bothered all season with hamstring and knee injuries. In 2001, he hit 22 home runs as injuries limited him to 111 games. Last year, he made two trips to the disabled list with a torn patella tendon in his right knee and a torn right hamstring, limiting him to eight home runs in 70 games.

Reds manager Bob Boone was matter-of-fact yesterday when asked why the club thought about trading Griffey this past winter. It had a deal made with the San Diego Padres - Griffey for outfielder Phil Nevin - but Nevin used his no-trade clause to reject it.

"It's the business we are in; it's the contract [Griffey] has," Boone said.

"People who are paying the contract want a little bit more of a sure thing. ... I know what he means to our ballclub. I also know if he gets hurt again what it means to our chances."

By that, Boone was talking about the Reds' long-term chances for success.

Cincinnati would have saved $55 million in the Nevin deal, and as Reds general manager Jim Bowden said, that could buy a lot of pitching.

Boone on Griffey

Upon orders from upper management, Boone contacted Nevin and tried persuading him to accept the deal. Boone had known Nevin as a kid growing up in Southern California but couldn't change his mind.

Griffey has said he understands the money issue, but wishes the Reds had presented it to him as such. Boone hadn't said much about Griffey until yesterday, when he opened up at length when asked if Griffey seems happier this spring.

"Junior's always been a happy person," Boone said. "The only thing that's happened to Griffey in the last several years is it's the only time in his life he hasn't been a poster child. He had some real reality set into his life and somebody actually criticized him and some fan actually booed him, and that never happened to Junior before.

"There was no reason for it to [happen]. And that's set his mood back toward the media, toward the outside world."

Griffey has had reason to smile again this spring. For one thing, he appears fully healthy, after spending the offseason working out with former Orlando Magic trainer Darren Oliver, trying to strengthen his hamstrings.

One day after the Angelos report, Griffey hit three home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including two off starter Kris Benson.

Yesterday, with the Orioles on their way to a 7-4 loss, word came from Fort Myers that Griffey had doubled off Martinez in his first at-bat.

"If he's healthy, he's certainly in the category of Barry Bonds," Boone said.

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