Wishing Junior well

This was the statement from Ken Griffey Jr., released on Wednesday:

“I’ve come to a decision today to retire from Major League Baseball as an active player,” Griffey said. “This has been on my mind recently, but it’s not an easy decision to come by. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to play Major League Baseball for so long.”

Obviously it was time and we knew this day was coming for a while. But it’s sad to see Griffey go out the way he did…on the end of a bench and playing sparingly if at all — batting .184 with zero homers for the Mariners, the team where he achieved most of his fame.

I feel fortunate to have covered Junior despite the fact his years in Cincinnati weren’t his most productive of his Hall of Fame career. I still got to see him hit his 600th home run. I got to see him do things other players wished they could do. I got to see that swing.

I also had numerous chances to talk to him in the clubhouse. This guy hated talking about himself, even about big moments coming up — like 600 homers, or his first time back in Seattle in 2007 as a visiting player. He also could make interviews more complicated than they needed to be.

Then again, he could talk and talk about anything else, especially his three kids. You could shoot the breeze about other sports or people in the news — many of whom he knew personally. It was often stuff that wouldn’t really go into stories. He was always sitting on that big black trunk near his locker giving teammates a hard time with jokes or running commentary. I’m not going to lie and say we were uber close but we always seemed to get along and he treated me well and with respect.

Fans rarely could see all the things Junior would do for kids that visited the ballpark. If the Reds had a child from Make A Wish, it was Junior who would personally take him/her into the clubhouse to meet teammates, give them candy and gum and spend time talking. All of this was done without seeking publicity. Some players turn on their smiles and good intentions when the red camera light was on. Griffey did most of his best things behind the scenes when the camera was turned off.

For many reasons that pre-date my time on the Reds beat, Griffey had a love-hate relationship with  Cincinnati and Reds fans. They heaped mountains of expectations on him and the injuries and the perceived failure of him to meet the demands to bring a World Series winner created friction with the people. It’s too bad for everyone that it didn’t work out better with the Reds.

Good luck in retirement, Junior.

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