July 25, 1997 in Sports

Junior Should Have Zipped It About Zebulon

Art Thiel Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 

Of all the issues, problems and circumstances that have compromised postseason contenders, I feel safe in asserting, without research, the Mariners will be unique in baseball history should they blow the season because of a trip to Zebulon.

Somehow this goofball little exhibition game Monday in the Carolina backwoods has become a scab that Mariners players won’t leave alone.

Lacking a doctorate in either medicine or baseball, I nevertheless will prescribe a solution that should salve the wound and salvage the season:

Shaddup already.

The solution is too late for Ken Griffey Jr., who chose the issue for his annual inexplicable vent at club management.

Longtime Mariner followers know that every once in a while Griffey cobbles together various slights, real or perceived, into a cudgel to whack his bosses upside their heads.

In the big picture, it’s fun in a way, because there’s not a worker in America who doesn’t wish he or she were as bulletproof as Griffey in order to act out the fantasy.

In the baseball picture, Griffey’s rants do himself and the club little good, and alienate some people who care about him.

In postgame interviews after the Mariners’ 6-2 loss in Cleveland Tuesday, Griffey seemed to use the nuisance of the exhibition game as an excuse for the team’s fatigue and subsequent weak effort, as well as an opening to lambaste club management in general - “a third-class front office” - and GM Woody Woodward in particular.

About the only explanation keeping Griffey in earthly orbit is that, as team leader, he voices without consequence the misgivings of others.

The problem with that explanation is that, outside of the lamentable exhibition game, Griffey may not represent views beyond his own. Even then, to make associations between Zebulon and the other perceived misdeeds is to connect dots for a drawing no one else sees, and simply adds more pressure to an organization already popping rivets in the weeks prior to the trading deadline.

As far as the Zebulon game, it received Players Association approval prior to the season as the one exhibition allowed per team. Its late scheduling was unfortunate, coming on the eve of the season’s longest road trip. But no heavy lifting was required, nor were any hazardous-material outfits needed for entry into Zeb-town.

Griffey apparently forgot the Mariners a year ago were scheduled to play an exhibition game even later. But the July 29 game against their Class A club in Appleton, Wis., was rained out.

Now, a one-day trip to Zeb is a cause celebre, a divisive controversy.

Management could have defused matters somewhat if Woodward had taken the initiative to ask in the clubhouse for the players’ indulgence.

He met with players only at their request, a few days before the trip. Still, couldn’t the players have read the schedule in the off-season?

No-count game aside, Griffey’s grievances about Woodward and management were the kinds of cheap shots he wouldn’t tolerate if made against his teammates.

The notion that he and his teammates would, if asked, defer salary to help acquire more talent is bogus. The Players Association specifically forbids the altering of existing contracts. Griffey knows it.

As far as Woodward not being a clubhouse back-patter, that is the style of a lot of GMs who know they have to keep a distance. GMs are the guys who cut and trade the help, so their conversations, gestures and whispers in the clubhouse launch a thousand rumors.

More to the heart of Griffey’s mood was an episode in Zebulon when he was asked to move away from autograph seekers after a 20-minute session. Police were worried the crowd crush was oppressive. But the crowd, unaware of the request, protested Griffey’s departure by cursing him.

He entered the clubhouse upset, because he was again trapped in a lose-lose situation.

His dismay was understandable. Unfortunately for his club, he carried over the bad feelings about the game and the autograph session for 24 hours and, by calling the front office third-class, expanded the situation into lose-lose-lose.

It would seem sufficiently difficult to beat the Indians and Yankees without having to fight the ghosts of Zebulon.


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