Sports

Better be more worried about comatose bats

One thing we know for certain about Ken Griffey Jr.’s clubhouse snooze.

It wasn’t a power nap.

Ba-dum bum. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

Surely by now all the jokes about Junior and his siesta have been exhausted – sorry – and the Seattle Mariners can get back to business as usual. And, yes, here’s that update – Baltimore 5, M’s 2.

Maybe we should change that abbreviated nickname to the Z’s.

Maybe Junior was, as your dad always used to claim, just resting his eyes.

Maybe we know now why he never wanted to play for the Yankees – New York being the city that never sleeps.

Maybe it’s time for the Mariners, like the Corleones, to go to the mattresses.

Maybe we should all take five and realize that this silliness only became a story because, well, everything’s a story when a team is so pathetic that the batting coach gets fired – and you’re not sure it’s because nobody can hit a home run or because nobody can get down a bunt.

And also because it’s Junior, and the Mariners fan base can never love him enough or disparage him enough.

Napping in the clubhouse during a game? Please. It’s a baseball tradition as time-honored as scratching yourself inappropriately on national television. Closers from Lee Smith to Norm Charlton have routinely sacked out through the early and middle innings before strolling out to the bullpen in the seventh. Never was it suggested that they should have been going to school on hitters or that they were substandard teammates for not being in the dugout for the purposes of all-for-one morale.

Sheesh, teams have been known to send the next game’s starting pitcher home early at the end of a road trip, to be better rested.

If Griffey was indeed in the dugout and available to pinch hit in the eighth inning of another dismal loss to the Angels last Saturday – and manager Don Wakamatsu swears it’s so, though he’s been a champ at covering for his players all season – then it doesn’t much matter if Griffey was taking a turn in the Mariner Moose costume in the seventh.

More telling, of course, was Wak deciding Rob Johnson – who isn’t even hitting Melissa Griffey’s weight – was a better option even against a right-handed pitcher than Junior.

More important: Since the Mariners could not bear to tell Griffey over the winter that he no longer had the skills to contribute in any role beyond that of camp counselor, who is going to tell him now?

And yet it’s not even a Griffey problem – or simply a Griffey problem.

He is the lightning rod, but this is Team Impotent – with regulars sporting stats worse than his. In fact, against the Orioles on Wednesday night, the M’s fielded a bonafide Triple-A lineup – four players just recently recalled from Tacoma and another, catcher Adam Moore, who should be there.

It will no doubt appease the torch mob when Griffey is gone, but the replacements available at Junior’s hometown discount rate will not inflame the passions.

And speaking of inflamed passions, what are we to make of Mike Sweeney – the Whiff to Griffey’s Fan in the M’s designated hitter tandem – offering to fight the two anonymous teammates who ratted out Junior for sleeping to Larry Larue of The News Tribune of Tacoma?

“I challenged everyone in that room – if they said that – to stand up and fight me,” Sweeney said after a players-only meeting. “No one stood up.”

Gee, what a surprise.

The instructive thing about Napgate is the light it puts on the chicken-and-egg question in all sports locker rooms.

We were told last year that central to the Mariner revival – along with general manager Jack Zduriencik’s shrewd moves and Wakamatsu’s fair and steady hand – was the new embracing, happy-guys culture in the clubhouse. Griffey was at the core of that, mending fences between the mostly aloof Ichiro Suzuki and teammates who had grown alienated, or merely jealous.

But did the good feelings make for good results, or did the good results make for good feelings?

All we know now is that the clubhouse is decidedly unhappy. Griffey is not as playful and engaged – there is no tickling of Ichiro, no funny T-shirts distributed, little laughter. Young teammates are willing to tattle on the legend. Sweeney wants to put up the dukes.

And we haven’t even mentioned Milton Bradley.

Is it because the M’s are losing – or the other way around?

The guess is we all know the answer to that – just as we know that Junior isn’t going to be revived by his own take on the seventh-inning stretch.



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