There’s a lot in the press these days about Ken Griffey Junior waiting too long to retire. Should he have bowed out at the end of last year, after his teammates carried him off the field in the happiest celebration of a third-place finish in a four-team division in baseball history. Should he have called it a day before this miserable season where he was reduced to such sporadic pinch-hitting that the rumour is, he and his manager barely spoke in the week before he announced the end of his career. Before the press carried stories about him falling asleep in the locker room while his team lost, again, on the field. Before people started to ask, should he have retired last year.
Of course, if that’s what was important to him. Of course he should have. Accepted things the way they were, and left the field to the sound of cheers, wearing his sunglasses so no one would see how red his eyes were from crying.
A lot of people now are shaking their heads, saying oh well, we’ll remember Junior the way he was.
I say, I want to remember him most the way he was this year. Not 1995 when he carried the M’s to the AL championship series, and “saved baseball in Seattle,” leading to the vote that allowed the city to build Safeco Field. Not the big grin at the bottom of a pile of white uniforms after he scored the winning run against the Yankees that year; not the Spiderman catch earlier that season that sent him home with a broken wrist from slamming the wall at the old Kingdome; not even the late-inning home run last year that Dave Neihaus tagged as “a little old-time religion,” in a call that showed why Neihaus is in the broadcaster hall of fame. I want to remember that he decided to test himself against the outer limits of failure and see what might happen.
Most of it wasn’t very good. There were some moments, maybe the best one was his walk-off game winner May 20, snapping (yet another) losing streak and bringing his teammates out to the field, right after that sleeping-in-the-clubhouse story. But mostly there was disappointment. I’m not sure you could say he took much joy in the game this year, and that’s probably why he finally said goodbye.
Certainly he stayed in the game too long if the game is about winning and image and appropriateness. But if the game – if life – is about trying being more important than succeeding or failing, even when you have nothing left to prove to the world, he sure stayed long enough to remind us of that.