Saturday, June 23, 2007

Steve Kelley: M's should bring Griffey home to stay

Seattle Times

June 23, 2007

Ken Griffey Jr. hands a framed photo of Safeco Field to a Mariners ballgirl during a pregame ceremony in his honor as former teammate Edgar Martinez, left, looks on.

The game could wait for a while. A long while. The sold-out house just wanted to cheer. And cheer. And cheer.

This crowd wanted to dig deep and rediscover the magic that was Seattle baseball back in the Ken Griffey Jr. era. It had waited more than seven years for this chance, finally, to thank him for what he had done for baseball. What he had done for the city.

The game could wait. The fourth-largest crowd in Safeco Field history needed this three-minute standing ovation to remind itself how good baseball had been here.

It needed these lump-throated moments to convince itself that some day baseball will feel this good again.

They roared in waves, not seeming to care if or when Mariners starter Ryan Feierabend ever threw a pitch.

(The fans must have known something. Feierabend threw 83 pitches and surrendered nine runs in 2-2/3 innings.)

And as the cheers flooded the field and poured all over Junior, it was if these fans were trying to send a message to the Mariners' front office. They weren't merely cheering. They were practically demanding pleading.

"We want Griffey."

Not just for a visit, but forever.

Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. warms up in the on-deck circle during his first game at Safeco Field as a visiting player.

One fan held a sign with a picture of Griffey wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap, with a caption that read, "This was the saddest day of my life." Another sign, speaking for many of the 46,340, read, "We want Griffey Jr. back."

Why not?

If CEO Howard Lincoln was worried about fan reaction, if general manager Bill Bavasi was looking to make a midseason deal that could jump-start a jumpy team, the crowd offered a nearly unanimous decision.

"We want Griffey. We want Griffey," it chanted as Junior scratched at the dirt in front of home plate.

"I didn't realize how much I missed being in Seattle," Griffey, obviously moved by the warmth he felt, told the crowd.

"Back at you," it said with its cheers.

Deal-making isn't a popularity contest. This isn't "American Idol." Fans can't dial the number of their favorite player and force Bavasi to make a deal.

But this trade makes sense. Forty-six thousand fans can't all be wrong.

Griffey, flanked by former teammates Edgar Martinez, left, and Jay Buhner, acknowledges the crowd after a pregame celebration in his honor.

Despite this lopsided loss, the Mariners should be buyers this summer. Trade for Griffey. Not because it's sentimental, but because it's smart.

He's healthy again. His 19 home runs are third-best in the National League. Once reluctant to make the move from center field to right, Griffey, now 37, is an agreeable right fielder for the Reds.

Imagine Griffey and Ichiro in the same outfield. Imagine Griffey, his health and his home-run stroke restored, in the middle of the lineup. Imagine him coming home and hitting his 600th career homer wearing a Mariners uniform.

This franchise has taken its lumps the past three seasons. Even with the team's surprising, above-.500 start this year, Safeco Field never has felt as cold and empty as it has been much of this season.

The Mariners need a shakeup. The offense needs a jolt. This season can be rescued.

"We want Junior."

Just how much?

When Griffey came to bat in Seattle for the first time since 1999, Feierabend made two throws to first to hold the runner, Brandon Phillips, before he pitched to Griffey.

Both throws over were booed loudly.

This night belonged to Griffey, and the crowd didn't want some rookie playing around with its drama.

When Feierabend finally came home, Griffey jumped on the first pitch and sent a single under Richie Sexson's glove.

Griffey heads for the on-deck circle for his first at-bat back at Safeco Field.

"We want Griffey."

When he was pulled in the bottom of the sixth after a 1-for-5 night, the crowd booed.

The idea of trading for Griffey isn't new. The Reds and M's have spoken before. Deals have been put together. Nothing ever worked.

But on Friday night, when the Mariners looked every bit as bad as they were when Griffey first came to Seattle in 1989, the trade seemed believable.

The Reds are going nowhere, stuck in last place in the NL Central, 13 ½ games behind Milwaukee. Their home attendance is fourth-worst in the National League. Their future is years away.

They will listen seriously to offers for Griffey.

"Never could I imagine that it would be like this coming back," Griffey told the crowd before the game.

Imagine if he came back for good.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or More columns at

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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