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Blanchette: Ken Griffey Jr.’s reconciliation forever

Sun., Aug. 11, 2013

No, Ken Griffey Jr., the Seattle Mariners and the Pacific Northwest have never shared in so much as a single World Series.

But they’re the New York Yankees of reconciliation.

Opening Day can no longer sell out Safeco Field. Junior’s tribute and the requisite bobblehead giveaway can. His two exits from Seattle couldn’t have been more strained, bitter and awkward, with blame spread around equally. His welcome-homes have been warm, sincere and touching, a mutual embrace.

Mariners fans think ownership stooges Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong reside a couple flights down from Beneath Contempt. Two sentences of endorsement from Junior as to their sincere hunger for a championship got a roar on Saturday evening that echoed out to Issaquah.

It really is the whole human folly neatly done up in navy and teal, and a happy refuge from the rancor now as a-flow in the bloodstream of sports as it is in social and political arenas.

The occasion this time was Griffey’s inclusion in the Mariners Hall of Fame, a regional Rushmore of little significance to the rest of baseball but estimable nonetheless. For the M’s fan, it’s really all he has, other than the late Dave Niehaus being honored with the Ford C. Frick award in Cooperstown. That will change, of course, when Randy Johnson becomes Hall of Fame eligible in 2015, and Griffey right behind him.

When we’ll likely go through this all over again.

It would be nice if, in the interim, the Mariners produced a team worth celebrating in real time and not just another nostalgic romp back to the Great Dogpile of ’95 or individual huzzahs for immortal beloveds Junior, Bone, Edgar and the Big Unit.

Here again Griffey came to the emotional rescue on Saturday, aiming his words at the home dugout where the current M’s perched on the rail, their caps turned around in tribute.

“We were just like you, all of us sitting here,” he said. “I was 19. Jay was 22 or 23. Randy was 22 or 23. We grew up. We believed in each other and we made it happen. And you guys can do it, too.”

Except there are no Griffeys in that dugout.

There is no supernatural talent, no one with a swing that will launch 600 home runs or astound game after game with outfield ballet. There is no one with that voltaic arc smile, the one that revealed a kid’s joy in a millionaire’s game and lured people to the ballpark as much as his playing gifts did – and, far behind the scenes, lit up so many young lives otherwise darkened by the damnable ravages of disease.

There is no one with his flair or charisma – or really any flair and charisma. And lamentable as that is, it would be OK if somebody would just bloody deliver.

And yet even that’s unfair because we’re talking about the best player in the franchise’s 37-year history, and possibly even when that history encompasses 137 years.

This was the Griffey 46,027 came out to salute and indulge, and in return he let them inside more than he ever did in his 13 years in Seattle. A video message from his son Trey reduced him to a puddle; he acknowledged Jay Buhner as the only person, other than his parents, he’d want to raise his kids if he and his wife couldn’t.

There are still plenty of soured fans who want to cling to his ugly departures, holding the team trade hostage in 1999 and simply bailing without a word in 2010, calling in his retirement from a Montana highway. Long forgotten is how ownership tried to leverage his name to pry more tax money to cover Safeco’s cost overruns, and the snotty young teammates who spread a story, unverifiable, about him snoozing during a game in Don Wakamatsu’s disintegrating clubhouse.

Superstars, we know, are not allowed to be deficient in any area.

And Griffey gave his critics plenty of ammunition. He could be implausibly insecure, moody, petulant, overly sensitive. There were also more agreeable qualities that were conveniently overlooked because he wore his cap backward and often had reasoned, barbed opinions that didn’t square with ours.

That MLB-wide Jackie Robinson tribute he kick-started and earned him praise Saturday night? More than a few folks rolled their eyes about it being another “Junior thing” back in the day.

But the only Junior thing that mattered on this night was his impossible brilliance as a ballplayer, that more than anyone he made it cool to care about a mostly underachieving team and made it part of the Northwest fabric.

Any regrets are irrelevant. And now the reconciliation can be forever.


 

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