Griffey classic case of superstar diminishing legacy

Ancient Mariner embarrassing himself as much as harming ballclub

May 18, 2010|By Phil Rogers | On Baseball

Branch Rickey knew what he was talking about when he said he would rather trade a player a year too soon than a year too late. He wasn't speaking about franchise icons specifically, but that wisdom carries over to the mess the Mariners find themselves in with Ken Griffey Jr.

It's no huge surprise Griffey's pride and addiction to the lifestyle allowed him to overstay his ability. The steady decline of his batting average (.277 in 2007, .245 in '08, .214 in '09) exposed his diminishing skills. The Mariners should have saved him from himself.

But because of Griffey's popularity and stature, they brought him back while letting their leading home run hitter, Russell Branyan, leave as a free agent.

Look at them now — last in the American League with 3.4 runs per game, dealing with the ugliness of teammates fingering Griffey for sleeping during a game and faced with the awkwardness of how to handle the Griffey story on a daily basis.

If the Mariners simply had kept Branyan, giving him the two- or three-year deal he wanted, they might not have traded for the troubled Milton Bradley or hung on to Griffey. You have to think that would have seemed like a better option, even if Branyan, 34, opened the season on the disabled list with the Indians because of back problems the Mariners knew about.

He sure seems like a lot safer risk now.

The Mariners' troubles with Griffey (no home runs, two doubles in 80 at-bats entering the weekend) illustrate what the White Sox were trying to avoid when they decided not to extend a job offer to Jim Thome.

He has hit well against right-handed pitchers for the Twins. But White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen decided he didn't want to answer daily questions when he moved Thome, 39, in and out of the lineup, as he anticipated he would need to do. He and general manager Ken Williams sure didn't want to have to make the hard decision to release the popular Chicago resident if his bat slowed.

You can argue the White Sox would have been better off if they had kept Thome and Jermaine Dye, as the Mariners surely would have been with Branyan and not Bradley. That might have kept the White Sox from dealing for Juan Pierre (a trade John Ely seems determined to make them regret). But Dye would have had to accept a cut from his $11.5 million salary and at least occasional stints as the designated hitter, and there's no indication he would have done that.

It's easy to see how ego becomes a problem when it is displayed regularly by the likes of Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. But it's a factor in handling even the good guys at the elite level — such as Griffey, Thome and Dye.

By the way, the treatment of the Tacoma News Tribune's Larry LaRue, the reporter who broke the story about Griffey dozing in the clubhouse, is shameful. Players closing ranks against him is no indication he did anything wrong professionally.

If anything, it reflects on the soft nature of a franchise that elevated expectations when it won 85 games in 2009, a 24-game improvement over '08. Put the Mariners across the continent, in the AL East, and they are as much of a hopeless mess as the Orioles in 2001, Cal Ripken Jr.'s last season — except that team never put Ripken to sleep, even after he turned 40.

Spy vs. spy: You have to hand it to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. He has become the guy Cubs fans want Lou Piniella to be — combustible in defense of a perennially successful team.

Philadelphia fans chant Manuel's name when he goes on the field to argue calls, which he seems to be doing more often than before he had back-to-back pennants. He even came out swinging when the Rockies caught the Phillies trying to steal signs the other night — a system that had bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer training binoculars on Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo.

Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa mentioned suspicions about the Phillies' sign-stealing last fall, and the Mets are believed to have complained privately to MLB about the issue.

"Somebody maybe ought to check the Mets to see if they did that,'' Manuel said. "Their (bleeping) home record is out of this world and they're losing on the road. Sometimes that's a good indication of getting signs.''

Surprise package: You never know what you're going to get from a player until he's in the big leagues. The Tigers are enjoying unexpected contributions from outfielder Brennan Boesch, who was promoted when Carlos Guillen went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.

Boesch, 25, hit 28 home runs in Double A last season but entered the season ranked as the organization's 25th-best prospect by Baseball America. He got only 18 at-bats in spring training but came out swinging with Triple-A Toledo. He has continued that with the Tigers, hitting .368 with three homers and 16 RBIs in his first 16 games.

Along with rookie center fielder Austin Jackson, Boesch is among the reasons the Tigers have made a run at the Twins. He's a left-handed hitter but had a homer and double off lefty CC Sabathia on Thursday.

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