Ken Griffey Jr. is headed back to Seattle, and I, for one, really can't see anything wrong or sad or problematic about this idea. I read two articles on ESPN.com this morning about the Mariner's signing of Junior, and while they took markedly different views on the matter (pro and con), I side with those who say this is a good move for Seattle. I think that it is actually a good move for baseball in general. One thing that struck me as a kid who grew up in Philadelphia, watching Mike Schmidt play his whole Hall of Fame career (complete with its ups and downs) in one town, and also watching Cal Ripken do the same down in Baltimore just a few hours away that a star baseball player having a strong relationship to a town has become a truly rare thing these days.
This offseason we saw John Smoltz, who played almost two decades for Atlanta sign with the Red Sox, and I think we've all grown weary of the ARod tales about mounting pressures playing on different stages, for bigger contracts in new cities. Meanwhile, Griffey is one who has bounced aroud as well, taking advantage of his early success to land a huge deal that was supposed to simulatneously bring the kid home to Ohio and restore the strength of the Cincinatti Red's franchise. Anyone who was paying attention knows that story didn't end quite as it was predicted, and in a reasonable move, Junior spent the end of last season in Chicago trying to help the White Sox eek out another trip to the playoffs.
Now, after may years, the kid returns home to Seattle, where his story began back in the my childhood years. While writers and fans alike can quibble about whether this is a smart move, a marketing ploy, a healthy thing for the team, etc. it strikes me that this just seems like such a feel-good choice. The Mariners are not paying Griffey a ton, and they aren't taking the biggest risk ever. If it works, I beleive it might just be seen as a brilliant choice, and for a franchise with a real need to develop young talent, I really can't imagine a better influence to have around the clubhouse. Sure, he isn't a kid anymore, and there is a reasonable chance he'll get injured again this year. Even if he doesn't he may ride the pine more than he or some nostalgic fans might like, but if there is anything that has consistently been true about Ken Griffey Jr. over all the seasons, struggles and glories of his career thus far, it is this: the kid truly embodies the joy of the game. If I were a General Manager looking to concoct a formula for building strength for the future, I can imagine few ingredients I would prize more than bringing joy and passion into my clubhouse.