Off Base

Jim Caple

MLB
Scores
Schedule
Pitching Probables
Standings
Statistics
Players
Transactions
Injuries: AL | NL
Minor Leagues
MLB en espanol
Message Board
CLUBHOUSE


FEATURES
Playoff Schedule
News Wire
Daily Glance
Power Alley
History
MLB Insider


THE ROSTER
Jim Caple
Peter Gammons
Rob Neyer
John Sickels
Jayson Stark
ESPN MALL
TeamStore
ESPN Auctions
SPORT SECTIONS
Tuesday, July 22
Updated: July 27, 9:37 AM ET
 
Playing it Safeco could save Griffey's career

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

With last week's season-ending injury, it became official -- Ken Griffey Jr.'s career in Cincinnati is the "Ishtar" of baseball.

The Reds were 96-67 the season before Junior arrived, losing a playoff game for the wild-card spot to the Mets. They haven't come close to the postseason since. They are 38 games under .500 and a combined 65½ games out of first place since Griffey arrived.

Ken Griffey Jr.

The Cincinnati return has been worse for Griffey. He was considered the game's greatest player at the time of the trade (it became evident we seriously underrated Barry Bonds) but he has hit .271 with 83 home runs in four seasons with the Reds. He's gone on the disabled list five times and will have missed 270 games by the end of this season. He's played fewer games every year than the previous one.

He is so unpopular that some Cincinnati fans actually booed him when he limped off the field last week with his latest season-ending injury. Think about that. They booed an injured player. This wasn't Philadelphia, where the fans would boo Jesus for dropping the cross. This was Cincinnati where they love baseball so much that they hold a parade every Opening Day and name streets after former players. And still, they booed a native son, a child of the Big Red Machine and one of the greatest players in history when he was hobbling off the field in pain.

How unpopular is he in Cincinnati? The souvenir stands are giving away Junior baseball caps with every $5 purchase because no one will buy them.

Clearly, Reds fans don't want him playing in Cincinnati anymore. And I can't imagine he wants to play there, either.

That's why Junior must leave Cincinnati and go home this winter. To Seattle.

I never thought I would say that because I never thought it would make sense. But it does now.

Griffey needs to get back to the American League where he can occasionally DH. Given his injuries, that's the only way he'll be able to stay healthy and be fully productive. He'll only be 34 next season but he's endured the sort of leg injuries that will likely prevent him from being a full-time outfielder. For the sake of his career, he needs to play in the American League so he can play in the field part of the time when he's feeling strong and sit in the dugout and DH when he isn't.

There are three prerequisites for any trade.

First, the Reds -- who tried to trade him last winter -- would have to eat about half the contract. That's a lot of money to swallow but it makes sense. Cincinnati already has enough outfielders; it doesn't need Junior. Better to pay $30 million and get a needed player or two in return than to be on the hook for $60 million for a player who gets hurt all the time.

Second, Seattle has to want him, and by that, I mean the Mariners and their fans. The last thing Junior needs is to go from one uncomfortable situation to another. At the right price, Griffey makes sense for the Mariners on the field. Edgar Martinez is probably retiring after the season. Mike Cameron could leave as well as a free agent. And the Mariners desperately need another power hitter in the lineup, preferably left-handed.

The area also is ready to welcome him back. Sure, most everyone here took pleasure in Griffey's early struggles in Cincinnati but we're over that. People don't resent Junior for leaving any longer, they just feel sorry about his injuries. And remember, unlike A-Rod, Griffey has never played here since his departure so he's never heard boos in Seattle.

All he has to do to be welcomed back is say, "I went to Cincinnati because I thought it would make me happier, but I wasn't. Now, I would like to return to my baseball home. Will you have me?" Seattle fans, who have watched Randy Johnson, Junior, A-Rod, Piniella and Boeing leave over the past couple years, would eat it up.

The biggest prerequisite is Griffey himself. No team anywhere wants him if he's just going to pout about where he is. So the question is, does he want to come back? Even he might not know the answer right now. For the moment, he's probably too upset and focused on his injury to think clearly about his career. But give him a couple of months and the prospect might appeal to him. Junior loves the melodramatic, and what could be more overwrought with emotion and inflated drama than his return to the city where he became a baseball icon?

Junior was one of the greatest, most exciting players we've ever seen. He could be again.

And there is no better place to resurrect his career next season than where it began. Seattle.

Boxscore line of the week
Rickey Henderson may be back in the majors at age 44, but he's not the oldest player in the league. That honor remains with 46-year-old Jesse Orosco, who made his major-league debut three years before Jeremy Bonderman was born, once was traded for Jerry Koosman, was a teammate of Ed Kranepool and played for Joe Torre in New York when Torre managed the Mets. He also has pitched more games than anyone in big-league history -- 1,229, or more than Sandy Koufax (397), Dizzy Dean (317) and Whitey Ford (498) combined.

Orosco
Orosco

And the San Diego lefty relief specialist's appearance Saturday against Arizona was emblematic of his career.

Orosco entered the game to face left-handed hitting Steve Finley with two outs in the eighth, a runner on first base and the Padres leading 2-0. He retired Finley on one pitch -- a flyout to right center -- and hit the showers. His line:

1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, one pitch

Of course, Orosco had a tougher workload the next day when he came in to face Finley with two outs in the eighth, runners at the corners and the Padres clinging to a 3-2 lead. This time it took him two pitches to retire Finley.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
Poor Kenny Lofton. For the first half of the season, he was the active leader in career stolen bases. Then Rickey signed with the Dodgers at the break and he instantly fell from leading everyone to 877 stolen bases behind the leader. ... Rickey, by the way, already has two home runs, leaving him just three shy of 300. He hit his 81st career leadoff home run Sunday. ... Can Kansas City hold on and reach the postseason for the first time since Hal McRae was their DH? After Tuesday, the Royals have just 12 games remaining against teams that currently have a winning record. ... Florida rookie Dontrelle Willis allowed more runs in 57 pitches after a rain delay Sunday (six) than he had allowed in the previous 38 days and his previous six starts (five). ... Milwaukee's Brooks Kieschnick has hit as many home runs (four) as he's allowed. He has 17 hits and has allowed 38. He's batting .362 and holding batters to a .287 average. ... The Tigers reached the double-digit mark for the first time last Thursday when they beat Chicago 10-9. They also scored three percent of their season's runs that game. ... The Mariners were 48-22 and had the best record in baseball June 18. They're six games under .500 since then and struggling for runs. If they fail to add a needed bat to the lineup, they could be in for another second-half tumble like last year. ... St. Louis starter Woody Williams hit a home run and allowed four Sunday.

From left field
John Smoltz joined a rare club Sunday when he saved his 100th game to become just the 15th pitcher with at least 100 career wins and 100 saves. Of course, the save total was easier to reach than the win total. He needed nine years as a starter to win 100 games. He needed less than three seasons as a closer to reach 100 saves.

Smoltz
Smoltz

The 15 relievers in the 100/100 club, including the pitchers whose save totals were figured after the save became an official statistic in 1969:

Pitcher			Wins	Saves
Dennis Eckersley	197	390
Roy Face		104	193
Rollie Fingers		114	341
Dave Giusti		100	145
Tom Gordon		110	102
Goose Gossage		124	310
Ellis Kinder		102	102
Ron Kline		114	108
Firpo Marberry		147	101	
Lindy McDaniel		141	172
Stu Miller		105	154
Hoyt Wilhelm		143	227
Ron Reed		146	103
John Smoltz		163	101
Bob Stanley		115	132

Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category: Detroit Trades That Were Worse Than Tiger Stadium For Comerica Park.

QUESTION: Who did the Tigers trade Smoltz for in 1987?

ANSWER: Detroit traded Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander in mid-August of 1987, which seemed like a steal when Alexander went 9-0 the rest of the season to lead the Tigers past Toronto and into the playoffs. It seemed like less of a bargain when Minnesota whipped the Tigers in the playoffs that fall. And it seems like a very bad trade now, considering that Alexander was out of baseball by 1990 and the Tigers haven't contended since. Meanwhile, Smoltz has won 163 games and saved 101 others for Atlanta, which is headed for its 12th postseason since 1991.

Infield chatter
"You come back from the dead and see people with open arms -- it's the greatest feeling you can have."
-- Rickey Henderson on his return to the majors.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.





 More from ESPN...
Jim Caple Archive



 ESPN Tools
Email story
 
Most sent
 
Print story
 
Daily email