Griffey redux

Ah, you’ve just gotta love the anonymous hate comment.

As a sportswriter, one of the things that irked me the most was when I’d get an anonymous letter criticizing, insulting or threatening me for something I’d written in the paper — something I’d written with my name and, sometimes, photo attached to it, but that prompted someone to write in with their own opinion and not have the courage to put his or her own name on it.

The internet, of course, is different. So many of us are posting anonymously, and replying anonymously is just much easier. But that’s fine. I have to moderate my comments here because of spam, so I could have easily refused or ignored the response I got to yesterday’s post about Ken Griffey Jr. skipping batting practice at Shea Stadium on Monday.

But I didn’t. I didn’t because I’d rather use the response to go further and to update what I initially wrote.

Perhaps “diva” was the wrong word. That term is often preceded by “demanding,” so anyone tabbed a diva is assumed to be demanding. I don’t think Griffey is too demanding, at least not anymore than most teams’ highest paid players. So be it.

I should have also added that I’ve met Griffey, briefly, and I don’t think he’s a bad person — and I never said he was. He’s a nice family man, a player to admire for having hit 586 career home runs without any hint of suspicion that he did it on anything other than God-given ability and GNC-bought nutritional supplements. (Let’s not kid ourselves — in today’s game, Babe Ruth would’ve been John Kruk.) I was at the press conference at the 2004 All-Star Game in which all the living members of the 500 home run club were present. To be in a small conference room at Minute Maid Park and to see Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew all under one ceiling — often scraping the ceiling, as Bonds and McCovey seemed to be — was amazing. Griffey didn’t have to be there; he’d been injured just days before and would miss the game and the Home Run Derby, but he was, and he — like Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro — had his children with him. It was sweet. But even then, just six years after the Great Maris Chase and three years after his retirement, I noticed that Mark McGwire seemed smaller than the last time I’d seen him in person, at Wrigley Field in May 1998. His skin — remember how his face always seemed extremely pock-marked? — seemed smoother. And that’s when I thought hmmm…

But back to Griffey. Junior is also the face of the franchise; he has been ever since that winter day when the Mariners traded him to his hometown team. When the Reds travel the National League, fans in those cities want to see the superstars, the players they know, and Griffey is that guy on the Reds. There’s a responsibility that comes with that. If he missed on-field batting practice to spend time with his father, that’s nice, but I’d wager the cost of a flight from Cincinnati to New York that Griffey has it better than 99 percent of 30-something Americans who live and work hundreds or thousands of miles away from their parents. You don’t think he sees his folks more often than most of us? With a private jet at his disposal, I’m sure he can have Mr. and Mrs. Griffey in the stands any night he chooses, with barely more notice than a morning phone call.

Ken Griffey Sr. was a ballplayer too, though. He should know the game. It’s not like Junior had to be out there stretching with the team, but I’m sure fans would’ve appreciated seeing him come out from the clubhouse in time to take his round in the cage, then return to the cool comfort that is the bowels of Shea Stadium.

Monday was an historic night because Griffey tied Mike Schmidt for 11th on the all-time home run list. It wasn’t a record; it wasn’t even the top 10. Even if the Bonds’ father-son home run record is tainted (which it certainly is), Junior’s Monday homer didn’t do anything more than put another notch on the family tally. Has Ken Sr. been at every game since Junior hit No. 585?

In the end, I don’t think Griffey’s a bad person. I never disparaged his personality or his family; I merely criticized his public profile, expressing my personal disappointment that I didn’t get to see him pepper the scoreboard with home runs in batting practice before the game.

As for the comment, I’d hope most of my readers (the dozen or so that there are) will read the whole thing and not pick and choose the parts that fit their argument. Of course some New York fans — and New Yorkers — are mean. But broad generalizations are petty and dangerous. You don’t think there are asshole fans in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, Houston and — yes — Cincinnati? Does every fan in Great American Ball Park pick up his or her trash on the way out of the stadium?

Had Griffey come out for batting practice, he would’ve been greeted warmly by the fans who were there at that point. I spent the entire pregame period standing over the Reds dugout, and every player who emerged got a warm welcome from the dozens standing in that area. The truly boorish fans don’t show up two hours before the game. Griffey didn’t need to avoid the pregame fans.

As for those who come to a game to jeer the opposition, I find them to be the idiotic ones. It’s a waste of money to pay ballpark prices simply to get on the case of an opposing player. Personally, I won’t do it. In college, I cringed at the student section tradition of yelling, “SUCKS!” when the opposing team’s starting lineup was announced at basketball games. I was at a hockey game on campus once when a fan of the visiting team berated our goalie by making comments about his mother, who had died a few years earlier. In a small arena, where everyone — including the goalie himself and any family he did have there — could hear, those of us near the fan in turn berated him. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, cowardly. “I didn’t know.” Of course you didn’t know, which is why you should keep your jeering to what happens on the ice — or the field or the court.

So I never said anything about Griffey’s family, or his role as a father and son. I was a bit shortsighted about his absence from on-field batting practice, and I regret that, but I’m not — and you have to love the use of capitalization here (or rather, caps lock) — “MEAN, SELFISH, RUDE.”

But the two best things about anonymous hate comments are these: First, if you so choose, you can make fun of the poster all you want, because you’re not hurting anyone with a public profile; it’s just a faceless, nameless bloke at a keyboard, and the only one who will know it is the poster him- or herself. The second is that, by the end of their comments, they almost always turn out to be exactly what they accuse you of being.


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