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This is not how it was supposed to happen. Not like this.
He was supposed to leave the game with the same grace and ease he used to run down fly balls and hit mammoth home runs with.
He was supposed to say “I’m done” and we were supposed to beg him to stay for one more year, but that didn’t happen. None of it did.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s retirement from the game of baseball two weeks ago caused the baseball world more of a sigh of relief, rather than the heartache of sadness it should have.
Griffey, 41, played in the Majors for 22 seasons, the last three of which never should have happened. His last full season in Cincinnati, in 2007, Griffey batted .277 with 30 HR and 93 RBI, numbers that some players only reach during the prime of their careers. For Junior though, that should have been it. He would have left the game still a form of the player he once was. However, three years later, he was barely even that.
Two-thirds of the way through the 2008 season the Reds traded him to the Chicago White Sox, and if that wasn’t a sign that things weren’t right, I don’t know what is- Griffey, one of the most beloved figures in all of baseball history, a member of the foul-mouthed, Ozzie Guillen led, White Sox? Really?
Junior struggled through his 43 games in Chicago and the following year he went back to Seattle, where everyone knew he was destined to retire. The only problem was apparently no one told him how to retire.
Still, everything felt right in Seattle again. The Kid had finally returned home and Mariners fans treated him as if he had never left, except for one thing. Ken Griffey Jr. was no longer Ken Griffey Jr. He was but a shell of the player he once was and there was an unspoken truth that he was only on the team for sentimental and nostalgic values.
With his seemingly supernatural abilities and style of play that can only be described as what classical music would look like in human form, Griffey single-handedly built Seattle baseball in the early 1990’s. That in itself gave him the right to come back to the Mariners organization and end his career where he started it, albeit no one realized it would be such a bumpy ending.
His first year back in 2009 he only hit .214, but still produced enough power to stay in the lineup, with 19 HR and 57 RBI. This 2010 season though, was one that was painful to witness as it seemed as if Griffey was trying to drive a car up a hill on an empty tank of gas. He simply could not do it anymore.
The tears that baseball fans shed were not a result of the future first-ballot Hall of Famer’s retirement as they should have been. Instead, they were from watching one of the greatest players who ever lived fade away before our very eyes. Even when Griffey had career-threatening injury after career-threatening injury, he was still immortal because we all knew the talent was still there. But this time, that was not the case. His talents have vanished and an entire generation has watched their once demigod of a hero join them as mere mortals.
There are sadly many unanswered “what if” questions that define Ken Griffey Jr.’s career. What if he had never left Seattle? Would he, A-Rod and Ichiro have formed their own dynasty? What if he had never got injured and lost a combined total of six full seasons during the prime of his career? Would he have hit 800 home runs?
Now, one more question can be added to that list. What if he retired three years ago after his last full season in Cincinnati? Would he still be immortal?