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The Griffey Dream Ends, but Not Dreaming

By Bill Peterson · August 6th, 2008 · Sports
"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."

-- John Barrymore

We should probably stop speculating about the future after botching Junior Griffey's engagement in Cincinnati so badly, but we can't. We really need the future right now.

The present is worthless, after all. The worst that can be said about the future is that it might also be worthless. But it might not.

So we got it wrong about Griffey and the Reds. Guess we'll have to keep trying. Not trying is quitting, which means you're done -- and nothing is sadder than done.

Like the life of a person, the life of a baseball club is ups and downs, surprising luck and jilted expectations.

The Reds, their fans and Griffey thought long ago they would reach new heights together. Instead they fell to new lows together, so it didn't end like we thought it would.

On Feb. 10, 2000, 41 days into a new century, Reds General Manager Jim Bowden sealed the master trade that would make his mark and rehabilitate his standing with Reds fans who cursed him for firing Tony Perez by telephone seven years earlier. Bowden brought back Griffey, the best player of the 1990s, a Cincinnati native and a contender for historic achievement.

Battered by the Perez firing, Pete Rose's suspension, the Marge Schott saga and a 1994 players strike, Reds fans suddenly came back to life, and it felt good to be back. Many expected at least a couple pennants during the life of Griffey's nine-year contract, which he signed at a hometown discount after he and Bowden maneuvered his trade from the Seattle Mariners.

A calendar or two might have noted July 31, 2008, or thereabouts, as the day on which Griffey would surpass Henry Aaron to become baseball's all-time home run leader.

But the early morning hours of July 31, 2008, arrived with Griffey still 147 homers short of Aaron and 154 behind Barry Bonds, as the last-place Reds flew into Washington to face Bowden's last-place Washington Nationals.

The whole affair went badly for everyone.

At 5 a.m., two Hall of Famers -- Griffey and Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman -- shared an elevator ride as the Reds checked into their Washington hotel. That's when Griffey told Brennaman he'd been traded and, without saying as much, that a dream long ago ruined finally was done.

The Chicago White Sox needed an alternative to the wilted bat of Paul Konerko, whom the Reds traded many years ago for Mike Cameron, whom the Reds later traded for Griffey. White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams has long admired Griffey, and the Reds could no longer even pretend they had use for him.

Unlike the Reds nine years ago, the White Sox won't expect Hall of Fame production. Counting on a mid-lineup punisher and spectacular outfielder, the Reds wound up with a prince reaching middle age. The White Sox anticipate no more than an elder statesman, mistake hitter and serviceable outfielder if he can stay in the lineup.

The White Sox can win with someone else's old prince because they have a young prince of their own in Carlos Quentin and they also have pitching.

The Reds have a young prince or five, but they're too young, adolescents by major league reckoning, and they're not ready to contend. They're not even ready to pretend. If they were, then they'd still be pretending. But that ended in the days before the July 31 trade deadline.

A week before the deadline, the Reds were 50-53 with their next nine games to come against Colorado, Houston and Washington, three sketchy opponents. Houston and Washington reeked of last place, while Colorado sat 13 games below .500 in a weak NL West. (See "Schedule Favors Reds Climbing Back into Contention," issue of July 23.)

The Reds were 9 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the wild card race, but they didn't have to pass a lot of clubs (just St. Louis, Florida, Philadelphia and Milwaukee) and the schedule lined up for the Reds to play clubs they should be able to beat for most of the next month.

The run of pitchers to face the Reds in the next five days included a struggling Jorge de la Rosa, journeyman Brian Mohler and a recovering Roy Oswalt just off the disabled list. If the Reds could beat those guys, then steal one against Aaron Cook or a wild Ubaldo Jimenez, they would have won four of the five, improved to 54-54 and climbed to within 6 1/2 games of Milwaukee in the wild card race with their next 14 games coming against Houston, Washington, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

Opportunity dared the Reds, despite everything, to push themselves comfortably past .500 and crash the pennant race in the next three weeks. It's safe to say that if the Reds had won three or four out of five, starting with that July 25-27 home series against Colorado, Griffey would still wear a Reds uniform and the Reds might turn a head or two.

But the Reds didn't win four out of five. They didn't even win one out of five. They lost all five, and with that they lost hope. They lost all three on a home weekend against Colorado by a combined score of 23-3. Then the Reds dropped the first two in Houston, which dragged them back toward the NL Central basement.

Right about then, Williams approached Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty about Griffey, and one could almost see the words "Hell with it" flash through Jocketty's mind after watching his club tank its chance to contend.

The players apparently didn't welcome prosperity, so Jocketty just went ahead and took what he could get for Griffey -- which wasn't much -- and the Reds now are playing for next year. It suddenly came clear that this year is worthless and the worst that can be said about next year is that it might also be worthless.

It should be noted that one player who didn't tank that week was none other than Junior Griffey. Unwittingly playing his last game for the Reds on July 30, he hit a three-run homer. For the week, he went five-for-18 (.278) with two homers, four RBI and two runners thrown out at home from the outfield.

Many years ago, Reds fans anticipated that week or better 100 times from Griffey. Instead, it seems like he spent 100 weeks on the disabled list.

So, we sigh, another dream down, but with no time for regrets. The dream just didn't work out. Does that mean we stop dreaming?

Contact Bill Petrson: letters@citybeat.com



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