Ken Griffey Jr. owes it to the entire world of sport to make contact with LeBron James.
With “sleepgate” apparently in his rearview mirror, Griffey is in position to resume his place as a clubhouse leader alongside Mike Sweeney, who seems to view Griffey as some sort of deity.
Though Sweeney and Griffey have both fallen from their one time status among the league’s top sluggers, Griffey’s place as a god is old news to everyone in Seattle but Sweeney. Without swinging a hammer or spreading a yard of cement, Griffey built the Mariners cathedral. Safeco Field was built with Griffey in mind.
The expansive center field in Safeco, where Franklin Gutierrez presently roams, was all-but-built to watch Griffey make highlight-reel catches, while the hitter-friendly right field porch was built so that—despite its pitcher-friendly overall dimensions—The Safe would allow Griffey to maintain his slugging ways while even the likes of Alex Rodriguez struggled to maintain their Kingdome statistics.
It has been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I’d argue that while that may be true, anyone that builds their home around a foxhole needs a new contractor.
If no woman loves you like your last, then no city loves you like your first.
Speaking of love and contracts, LeBron James pact with his hometown Cavaliers officially ends on July 1, and he seems—at least publicly—willing to entertain offers from teams ranging from the Knicks to the Clippers, and everywhere in between.
A little over 10 years ago, Junior found himself in a similar circumstance. He was entering the final year of his contract with the Mariners, and requested a trade. Griffey made it clear that he wouldn’t be coming back to Seattle after his contract was up, and that he’d like to be traded to Cincinnati.
His image in Seattle took a major hit. For the first time ever, Griffey played for the “other guys.” Like an adolescent leaving the nest early, Griffey thought he could do it elsewhere, just as well. Normally in that circumstance, the child falls flat on their face, and comes crawling back begging to return to their old residence.
Most kids don’t sign nine-year contracts worth $116.5 million, though.
It was eight years before Junior returned to Seattle, though interleague play existed; the Reds never played the Mariners in Seattle until 2008.
Maybe it was separation anxiety, but I’d like to think that it was unconditional love that led to a several-minute long standing ovation for Griffey when he made his return with the Reds in 2008. A sellout crowd was visibly emotional, I held back tears myself. But for perhaps the first time in Seattle history, a small market opponent’s (read: Not Red Sox or Yankees) home run was cheered loudly, and at length.
Time created a buffer that softened the perception of history.
A year later, Alex Rodriguez would depart Seattle, but returned that same season to much less fan fare. Signs that called him “Pay-Rod” littered the bleachers, while monopoly money littered the field. As long as Junior’s ovation was, it eventually ended. Early in his time in Texas, booing of Rodriguez in Seattle was unceasing.
But James faces more image obstacles than either Junior or Rodriguez though.
You see, Rodriguez’s career in Seattle was littered with speculation that he’d played his entire career for the name on the back of the jersey, rather than the one on the front. Unfortunately, we found out that he’d played for the quantity on his check, with no regard for who was signing it.
Griffey by contrast left Seattle, where he was the prodigal son, to be closer to his own offspring. He accepted less money in Cincinnati than he’d reportedly been offered in Seattle before being traded, and allowed the team to trade for his successor, Mike Cameron, among other prospects.
It didn’t hurt any less to watch Junior leave, but he went about executing the inevitability of his departure the right way.
However, while Griffey left his original baseball dwelling, he did so to be closer to home. Cincinnati is his home town, and much closer to Florida, where his own children lived.
Even A-Rod only left due to greed alone. He didn’t leave behind a wake of tear-soaked memories for which he was the centerpiece. And when he ended up in New York, he did so via trade, where he perpetuated his greed, but not his mercenary image, as his control over his eventual destination was predicated by the same contract he’d signed only a few years earlier.
A fool and his money are soon parted, but a fool and his roots are forever intertwined.
We must consider that it’s entirely possible that James in uninterested in playing the hero. If he leaves Cleveland that will be all but clear. I can’t recall a heroic tale of contrived success and partial commitment, and especially with such an abrupt ending.
If James is willing to compromise his legacy for a few extra bucks, we may learn the hard way that there is also an exchange rate for dignity.
Cleveland did everything they could to keep James, they’ve cleared cap room with hopes of bringing in a high-profile free agent this offseason.
Within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement, I don’t believe that there is anything else that the Cavs could have done to write the prelude to heroism.
If Griffey’s present run in Seattle is any indication though, a beleaguered sports city will cry for a championship, but settle for and worship a great hero. Where else is a batter hitting below the Mendoza line and still receiving support from roughly half of the fan base?
If James leave Cleveland, he will be viewed as greedy, as the Cavaliers have undoubtedly offered him a maximum contract with Larry Bird rights, meaning they can offer him more money than other teams in the league. However, James stands to gain millions in endorsements and other media opportunities, potentially, if he plays in larger market.
But more severely, James will be looked at as a Benedict Arnold. Or at least, a bad director that rewrote the script for what could become the most amazing spectacle of sports cinema.