As Ken Griffey Jr., the All-Time Greatest Mariner, (OK, I suppose Edgar Martinez has a claim on that title, too, but bear with me please) probably enters the last few weeks of his time with the organization, Steve Kelley believes things have turned out pretty well:
- Ken Griffey Jr. has done everything he could for the 2009 Mariners since he signed in March.
He has been the godfather to the parade of young players who have come into the clubhouse. He has been a close friend to the veterans. He has offered advice on pitchers' and hitters' tendencies.
He's been the class clown and the judge of the kangaroo court.
He has been a buffer for Ichiro, making sure the Mariners' outfielder has been included, not excluded, from clubhouse banter as he was in recent seasons. He has made the game fun again for fans who were dragged through last season.
He has been good for the club, good for the city and great to have around again.
"What he's done has gone way beyond X's and O's, batting stats and other things like that," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "It's putting a stamp on this team. He gave to this community another year of his life. He's brought to the table credibility.
"When he walks into that locker room, younger players, who want to know how to be a professional, have watched him this year and they've learned from him. It's been a nice marriage. Whether he comes back next year, I don't know. But certainly toward the end of his career, I think this has been a very good thing for him. He's loved and he's had an impact. I admire what he's done."
I won't argue with any of that. I just think the M's might have gone just a bit too far with the veteran-leadership thing this season. Primarily, the Mariners' two DH's this season have been Griffey and Mike Sweeney, both of whom have been below-average American League hitters. Among the 14 American League teams, Seattle's DH's rank 13th in runs, 13th in RBIs and 12th in OPS.
The M's are 12th with a .722 OPS, the Tigers right behind at .719. Meanwhile, the Royals are nearly 100 points behind with a .626 OPS for all their DH's this season. Refresher course: DH stands for designated hitter. And the evidence just keeps piling up.
As a fan, I would like to have seen the M's try just a little harder to win this season. They're eight games behind the first-place Red Sox in the wild-card standings. A more enthusiastic effort to win games might instead have them five games behind the Red Sox, in which case you could at least dream a little bit about a September miracle. And dreams are what being a fan is mostly about.
Granted, Zduriencik knows his team better than I do. If he says the young players are learning from him, I'm not going to say they're not. It sure doesn't seem to have shown up yet, though. Rob Johnson is young, and he's one of the worst hitters in the league. Jose Lopez is young, and he's doing exactly what he does every year. Wladimir Balentien is young, and he washed out. Michael Saunders is young, and he's struggling like nobody's business.
I can't prove a negative, and perhaps all those young players will thrive next season, thanks (in part) to Junior's tutelage. But I'd like to see some results on the field, eventually, before I consider his return some sort of grand success.
(Oh, and would it be churlish to point out that the Mariners' attendance with Griffey this season will be almost exactly what it was last season, without him? Please advise.)