Ken Griffey Jr. is my version of The Beatles.
For every generation there are cultural phenomena that don’t resonate with their predecessors, and go unappreciated by their successors.
I spent about two hours attempting to write a fitting sendoff for Junior the morning after he retired. I explained the inaccurate parallel between the end of a great player’s career and a funeral. I explained how I’d begun writing an article disagreeing with Dave Cameron’s USS Mariner entry entitled Respect, and that when Mike Sweeney began hitting everything out of the yard he killed my best argument for Junior remaining a Mariner.
I used the same tired clichés and comparisons between Junior and Babe Ruth that I’ve used a half dozen times each since Junior returned to Seattle, once with the Reds and eventually as a Mariner.
Then I realized, I no longer had to defend Junior using specifics. His career as a player is over, and no matter where a person falls on how far overdrawn it was, or how terribly it ended, debate is truly moot at this point.
As reality sinks in that we’ve seen the last of Junior on the field, dozens of articles reflecting on a great career have surfaced.
I don’t want to do that.
The reason I compare Junior to The Beatles is that I don’t like the Beatles.
I’m not a music guy per se, but I’ve got enough knowledge to avoid looking like a jerk in most social settings. I’m obsessed with sports. I like listening to music. That stated, I don’t like arguing about music for the simple fact that in almost all cases, I’m in over my head. The same way many of my friends’ brains spin when I reel off a handful of acquirable prospects the Mariners could receive in a Cliff Lee trade, my brain spins when they name obscure B-sides from indy bands I’ve never heard of.
But I’ve developed an escape hatch for uncomfortable music-related conversations, specifically, Beatles-related conversations.
“I don’t care for their music personally, but I respect what they did for music”
What the hell does that even mean? I don’t know enough about music to make that statement. I didn’t grow up in the 1960s or 70s, I’ve never seen The Beatles live, in fact, the only Beatles album I’ve ever purchase was “One,” an album of chart-toppers that I bought for my dad.
Not only can I barely remember the names of any songs on the album, I’ve never listened to it, unless it was the music I ignored while I rode in his truck.
But you see, I’m not a bad person for not liking The Beatles (some of my friends may argue this). I just didn’t live The Beatles. I think that “I want to hold your hand” sucks, is boring, and I don’t understand why it inspired so much enthusiasm and passion from men and women alike in that timeframe.
Even in retrospect, I’m confident that I could listen to that song a million times, and I’d never understand the passion.
Passion isn’t cultivated overnight. While the seed of passion may have an anniversary date for its planting, its growth, and the final product take years to mature.
So when we realize that fans come in waves, there is often posturing, and a veritable display of resumes somehow displayed and quantified by years as a suffering fan.
1995. 1997. 2000. 2001. 2009.
The former four years respresent Mariners playoff appearances, while the latter represents the first year of Jack Zduriencik’s tenure in Seattle, which may eventually lead to years before Zduriencik became the team’s general manager being referred to as B.Z. (Before Zduriencik), provided he can weather the present Mariners struggles.
The truth is that while I aspire to quantify all of my sentiments towards a player and team using logical means, my love for Junior knows no logic. For all intents and purposes, I’m no different than the 1960s teenage girl with a Paul McCartney poster on her bedroom wall, and who convinced her parents to let her stay up late to watch The Beatles’ United States debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
I was nearly three years old when Junior made his MLB debut. As far as my memory dates back, Junior may as well be named Abner Doubleday, because I know no baseball without him.
It’s awful to watch a star slowly stop shining. But in many ways it is worse to be involuntarily stuck remembering when the star shined at its brightest.
I don’t know when Dave Cameron became a Mariners fan. I don’t know when much of the fan base became Mariners fans.
I do know that there was a large portion of the fan base that didn’t support Junior in the waning days of his career. At this point, there is no point in arguing the validity of such contrition.
If you didn’t catch the fever, you never will. There aren’t adequate words to describe the impact Junior had on the lives of people around my age.
For those that don’t understand the blind devotion of myself or others like me, you never will. But I understand that you don’t understand. Passion is hard to convey on replay.
Most of all though, Junior did it the right way. Call it fear of abandonment, but I hitched my wagon to perhaps the lone remaining clean cowboy.
While seemingly everyone else’s favorite baseball player was being named in the Mitchell Report, or by Jose Canseco, the only ink that Griffey received was on his ever-growing medical chart.
And while it’s become common place to think of “what could have been” when it comes to Juniors career, and injury history.
The truth is, that while it may have lasted longer than many, Junior’s career is more aptly described as “what should have been.”
Players become injury prone and less productive as they grow old. And we want our athletes to believe, no matter what permanent hurdles, or inevitable obstacles they face, that they are one solid contact away from finding their groove and returning to form.
So in the ultimate modern day baseball story, it was Don Wakamatsu, a man who has managed baseball more than ten times less years than Griffey has played at the highest level, who may have told Junior his time was over.
It was an imperfect ending to an amazing career. But if 40 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20, then in the age of steroids and scandal, imperfect but clean is the new perfect.
Hell of a career Junior, I’d have been there if it lasted another 22 years.