But now, with the Reds digging themselves a deeper hole in the NL Central and the flagging Mariners looking for any way to appease their fanbase, the speculation over Griffey's possible return to the Pacific Northwest is again hitting Space Needle-type heights.
Reports out of New York say that Duane Shaffer, in his first season as a special assistant to Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi, was in Shea Stadium Sunday to have a look at Griffey.
Common sense says that Cincinnati will capitalize on the positive PR that will come from Griffey's 600th home run (he's at 597 right now, but crawling) and then look to trade him for whatever prospects Dusty Baker will most likely refuse to play or even acknowledge their existence. If you read the comments on the Seattle P-I report, it seems the biggest clamor to give up prospects for Griffey's diminished skills would be coming from Seattle and that includes contending teams who could use a left-handed bat coming off the bench.
It's all understandable. At 15-24, the Mariners' season has been all but buried and the only chance for some summer fun at Safeco is for a nostalgia-filled campaign with Junior coming to the plate four or five times a game. After a few years of watching Richie Sexson, Seattle fans will gladly take what they can get. No one can blame them for that.
But it would also be the wrong thing to do. When it comes to grabbing Griffey again and clutching him to their chest, Mariners fans should do the right thing and wait to see if any contending teams are interested first. Griffey hasn't been to the playoffs since '97 and if it weren't for that glorious ALDS series against the Yankees in '95, it's likely he'd be the inarguable choice as this generation's Ernie Banks — a once-in-a-lifetime player with no postseason highlights to speak of.
Griffey's choice to bolt to his hometown of Cincinnati, of course, was his own. Even though the Reds promised a giant effort to rebuild around him that never really materialized, that decision to trust them is his own cross to bear.
But with his career winding down, the time is right for him to get one last chance at the postseason and help a contending team in any way he can. Since the Mariners are inhabiting the AL West basement, here's saying they should hang back and wait a while before pursuing him. If they're being true to themselves and one of their favorite players, Seattle fans will agree: Junior deserves much better.
- Ken Griffey