Sunday, February 10, 2013

This day in Reds history: Ken Griffey Jr. comes home

February 10, 2000 - In a deal that shook the baseball world and sent Reds fans into a frenzy, the Reds acquired Cincinnati native Ken Griffey Jr. in a trade with Seattle. The Reds sent OF Mike Cameron, RHP Brett Tomko, INF Antonio Perez and RHP Jake Meyer to the Mariners to land the coveted star. Griffey Jr. signed a $116.5 million contract that tied him to the Reds for nine years. The annual salary worked out to roughly $10 million a year, with the rest in deferred payments for seven additional years. Griffey Jr. could have signed for considerably more but accepted a below-market, or "hometown discount", to return to the city he grew up in.

The trade came after three months of negotiations between the two clubs amid constant public speculation. The press conference announcing the trade was carried on live television and created major headlines in newspapers across the nation.

After the deal was announced, phone lines to the Reds office were instantly jammed with fans requesting tickets. Ten additional phone lines were installed to process the overload of class. The phenomenal interest in Griffey Jr. was not confined to Cincinnati. Largely due to their new center fielder, the Reds drew three million fans on the road, becoming the first club in MLB history to reach this milestone.

Although the Reds definitely came out on top in the trade, Griffey's tenure with the team ultimately went down as a mild disappointment. Expectations were high for the 2000 club coming off a near miss to a playoff berth in 1999. The '99 team won a surprising 96 games and wound up tying the Mets for the Wild Card spot, but lost to Al Leiter and New York in a one-game playoff at Cinergy Field. That proved to be the closest the Reds would ever come to postseason baseball with Griffey Jr. In fact, the Reds failed to produce a winning record or anything better than a third-place finish in any season with Griffey Jr. after 2000.

The 2000 campaign went down as the best individual season from Griffey as a Red. He batted .271/.387/.556 with 40 homers, 118 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 22 doubles. He earned his 11th consecutive trip to the All-Star game and first as a member of the National League. Yes, the future looked bright for Griffey Jr. and the Reds at that point.

Unfortunately, a plethora of injuries plagued the star throughout the remainder of his Reds career. He appeared in just 70 games in 2002, just 53 in 2003, and only 83 in 2004. Needless to say, Cincinnati struggled without their most talented player in the lineup.

Griffey Jr. was finally able to stay healthy for much of the 2005 season as he played in 128 contests. He belted 35 homers, drove in 92 runs, and batted .301 in what many baseball fans hoped to be a turning point for the injury-prone center fielder.

He managed to appear in 109 games the following year and 144 in 2007, but it was clear that his skills were declining. On July 31, 2008, the Reds officially parted ways with their hometown legend by trading him to the White Sox for RHP Nick Masset and INF Danny Richar.

Prior to the 2009 season, Griffey Jr. signed as a free agent with the franchise where it all begin: Seattle. On June 2, 2010, the left-handed slugger officially announced his retirement from baseball.

He will be remembered as one of the greatest center fielders to ever play the position and is a virtual lock to earn induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

He remains one of the few stars from the Steroid Era to have never been linked to performance-enhancing drug use.

In 22 MLB seasons, Griffey Jr. appeared in the playoffs just three times (1995, 1997, 2008). He never had the opportunity to play in a World Series and advanced beyond the first round on only one occasion (1995).

In spite of the fact that the Reds nor he performed up to expectations in the 2000s, Griffey Jr. still goes down as one of the most beloved fan favorites in Cincinnati Reds history. And for a franchise as old as the Reds, that is saying something.

No comments: