Sometimes you want to shake him.
You want to tell him, “Junior, you’ve got the world on a string. You’re universally recognized as the best player in baseball. You’re rich beyond your wildest dreams. You’ve got it all. Why don’t you relax and enjoy it?”
Sometimes when Ken Griffey Jr. makes the kinds of statements he’s made the past fortnight, you just want to tell him to stop his whining.
When he says the fans of Seattle take him for granted, you feel like rolling your eyes and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It seems as if he can’t be happy unless he’s unhappy.
But sometimes we forget that, despite the talent and the accomplishments and the record-setting All-Star votes, Griffey is a sensitive soul. He bruises easily. He takes criticism to heart.
This is a guy who called me up from the All-Star Game in Toronto in 1991 and talked for 2-1/2 hours about a column I wrote that asked whether he wanted to be great or merely good.
And whether you want to believe it or not, despite the Hit It Here Nike commercials and the All Star Cafe lifestyle, he is a guy who cares what Seattle’s fans think of him.
“No. 1, if I didn’t care about Seattle, I would have been gone by now,” Griffey said after Tuesday’s 3-1 American League All-Star victory. “If I didn’t care about the people of Seattle, why would I have donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club? I could have done that anywhere in the United States, but I chose to do it there.
“I pay out of pocket thousands of dollars for those kids to come to ballgames and that goes unnoticed because I don’t want people to think that I do things for publicity. I do a lot of things that people don’t see because that’s me.”
He turns to the promotional section.
“Do you see one night for me?” he asks. “We have them for Joey (Cora) and Alex (Rodriguez). We have (Jay) Buhner Buzz Cut Night. I’d like a night.
“If I’m supposed to be the best player in baseball, how come my own team doesn’t have a giveaway night? There’s nothing.”
The ballplayer who appears to have everything would like a Photo Ball Night. He would like the Mariners to give away posters or baseballs with his name or picture on them. He would like the Mariners to come to him and suggest it.
If it sounds like he’s being petulant, he isn’t. This is Junior without the swagger. Junior being painfully honest and painfully sensitive. The best player in baseball would like to be told he’s loved.
“Is that so hard to believe?” he said. “There’s ways of showing it. I know my dad loves me because he tells me. I’m human just like everybody else. People think just because we make all this money and drive nice cars that we don’t get our feelings hurt. Things that people say do hurt.”
Maybe the city wants him to look as if he’s having fun. Show the kind of emotion on the baseball field that the old Shawn Kemp showed on the basketball court.
Only twice can I remember Griffey letting loose on the field. He pumped his fist wildly after hitting the game-winning home run against the Yankees at the start of the Mariners’ 1995 playoff run. And he rolled around in the dirt, like a kid, after he scored the series-winning run in Game 5 against the Yankees.
“We can’t go around yelling and screaming after we do something, or we’ll get a fastball in the ear flap,” Griffey said. “They see basketball players dunking and yelling. They see football players taking off their helmets and dancing in front of the cameras. We can’t do that.” I try to stay focused and stay at an even level no matter what I do.”
What does Griffey want? What will make him happier?
“I don’t want people to think that if I don’t do something that is projected, like hit 60 home runs, then I didn’t have a good year,” he said. “But I think some people have already set that up for me.
“I would like the fans to take me for me and not what everybody, the so-called experts and people like that, think I should be. If I don’t hit 61 home runs that’s OK with me. I want a ring. I want something at the end of the year that says we did something. “I think the ring would change people’s thinking.”