Forget for a moment that Ken Griffey, Jr. played 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners and will go into the Hall of Fame as a Seattle Mariner and, oh, gosh, golly gee, wouldn’t it be so nice to finish his career as a Seattle Mariner.
Think of this: He is 39 years old. His legacy in baseball is secure. He has played the game with the joy of a little leaguer and never once has been accused of frequenting the same Dominican Republic CVS as Alex Rodriguez.
But what is the one thing missing in Griffey’s career? A World Series. What is the No. 1 goal of any great player who is at the end of his career and is without a championship? Winning that championship.
The story is not that Griffey didn’t sign with the Braves. The story is that he signed with another team that, sentimentality aside, actually lost 11 more games than the Braves. He didn’t base his decision on a phone call from Willie Mays or a newspaper story that may or may not have angered him. He based it on the fact that there was no overwhelming reason to come here.
This is spring. It’s the time of optimism. But if Griffey really believed that the Braves were as close to competing for a championship as maybe they do – or maybe you do – he would have signed with them.
That is his how most great athletes think, particularly ring-less ones. They are driven by statistics early and championships late.
You want this to be the 1990s again. It’s not. Few outside of Atlanta expect success. If the Braves win a division and reach the playoffs and do damage, it will register with most as a surprise. It’s just the reality of how the organization is perceived.
They are not the team of 14 consecutive postseasons. They are the team of three consecutive long winters.
They were full of optimism last spring (remember?). Then they imploded. They lost 90 games. Memories like that linger.
Otherwise, don’t you think Jake Peavy might have been a little more enthused about coming here (even if San Diego general manager Kevin Towers never seemed serious about trading him)?
Don’t you think A.J. Burnett would have signed here?
Don’t you think Rafael Furcal would have come back?
Why do you think the Braves had to give Derek Lowe four years and $60 million when the only other known offer was for three years and $36 million?
I know. Blame Frank Wren. It’s easy, right? We all want scapegoats, and the relatively new general manager is an easy one.
But don’t go there – at least not yet. Other than low-balling John Smoltz – the one player in the organization who never should have been low-balled – most of this offseason has not been Wren’s fault. Yes, he has been used and certainly hasn’t achieved all of his objectives this offseason.
But to compare Wren to John Schuerholz isn’t fair, unless you’re going back to pre-1991. The Braves had no resume then, either. They were viewed as losers. Schuerholz inherited a great young pitching staff. He didn’t blow away others GMs in that first year. Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream weren’t exactly the gold standard of free agents. (In his last three seasons in St. Louis, Pendleton hit .254, .264 and .230. Somehow, he morphed into a .319 hitter and an MVP in 1991). A week before the season, Schuerholz acquired Otis Nixon from Montreal – for Jimmy Kremers and a player to be named later.
It wasn’t until ensuing seasons – when the Braves were perceived as winners – that free agents flocked to Atlanta.
Maybe the Braves win this season. Maybe the Mariners lose 90 games and the Braves win 90. But that’s not the way Griffey is thinking right now. And who’s to say he’s wrong?