The Mariners didn’t sign Griffey just to bring the fans back – they needed a DH, same as they have for the past three years – but they nevertheless wanted Griffey in part to help sustain casual fan interest while the front office cleaned up the mess from the previous regime. It’s in his contract, which has a bunch of incentives tied to combinations of playing time and attendance.
So how’s he doing? Well, on the one hand, he couldn’t even sell out his own bobblehead night, despite (predictably) homering and (unpredictably) the team coming back on the Langerhans walkoff. On the other hand, the game was practically a sellout and the best gate since Opening Day, and if we could know in advance which would be the exciting games to see, let’s just say we would have had USSM at Safeco on Friday night instead of Saturday.
But assuming you can’t have Griffey bobbleheads every night, is he having the desired impact on attendance otherwise? These questions are always a bit tricky, since it’s affected by things like the day of the week, whether school’s out, or who the opposing team is. Conveniently, to reduce the variables we have to account for, guess who we played the second weekend in August last year. That’s right, the Rays. It was a four-game series then, but to get a reasonable comparison I’m throwing out the Thursday game from 2008 and the Griffey promotion this year.
Friday – 30,220
Saturday – 27,905
Sunday – 30,336
Saturday – 28,239
Sunday – 28,490
That’s about 1,000 fewer people on average, which pretty well tracks how attendance has been most of the year. I penciled out rough guesses for the rest of the year, as I’m sure the team is doing in a more sophisticated way. The average shouldn’t change much, but there are still the two Yankees series that should draw crowds, and overall the total’s likely going to be between 2.25 and 2.3 million. Of course, after 101 losses an attendance dropoff is to be expected the next year, and arguably Griffey did his job to stave off a worse decline – the trendline since 2002 has been to lose about 300,000 a year except for Bavasi’s fluke contention year in 2007, which would have put you right at 2 million this year. That’s also where his incentives start, sensibly enough.
The other part of the formula is plate appearances, where Griffey is on a pace for 493 and the incentives top out at 500. There are also some attendance bonuses tied to merely being on the roster on July 31 and at the end of the season, but those start at 2.35 million so they shouldn’t come into play, except possibly in a scenario I’ll get to. Anyway, let’s break it down.
- 2 million, 400 PAs, $500K – the breakdown’s more detailed, but consider this earned
- 450 and 500 PAs, $250K each (regardless of attendance) – on track for the first, not the second; they might play him more down the stretch, though
- 2.1-2.3 million, 300-500 PAs, $1 million total – these are incremental, each additional 50 PAs and 50,000 fans in combination is worth $200K; right now we’re looking at $800K for 2.25 million and 450 PAs, and falling short on the last set
- Above 2.3 million, each additional 50,000 at the gate is worth $50K – unlikely
- Above 2.6 million, the same increments are worth $100K apiece up to 3 million – not going to make those numbers unless every game the rest of the season sells out
There were some award bonuses in the contract, All-Star and MVP and stuff like that, that bring the maximum payout to $5 million, but those aren’t happening. Adding in the $2 million base, Griffey stands to cost the Mariners $3.55 million right now. With a little effort on his part, Griffey could pull in $4 million, which you may recall is exactly what we paid Carl Everett.
How can Griffey put in more effort if his incentives depend on attendance, you may ask? Easy – sometime in the next few weeks, announce that he’s retiring at the end of the season. Once this officially turns into a farewell tour, that should bring the wave of nostalgic fans through the turnstiles one more time to get their final looks, and of course he’ll need to play all the time so they can see him. That could push him over the hump for 500 PAs and 2.3 million.
Not that Griffey needs that extra money, or would admit that he’s motivated by it, and he’d probably be the same Ichiro-tickling good clubhouse guy regardless. But these things do matter to the franchise and its connection with the public. That’s why, even ignoring unquantifiable team chemistry, he’s the one guy along with Ichiro who has value to the Mariners outside of direct on-field performance (maybe someday Felix too, but I’d wait on that). And that’s why Griffey’s been worth what he’s being paid this year. If the performance hasn’t been spectacular, neither was the cost, and with the alternatives unappetizing, why not pick the snack that’s tasty even if it’s not any more nutritious? There’s a limit to this approach, though – when it becomes actively detrimental to building a winning roster, you can’t indulge anymore.
You know and I know that this should be it for Griffey. Casual fans may still believe in the possibility he might be back next year. Zduriencik is no doubt anticipating possible 2010 roster scenarios already, which ought not to include Griffey at DH. That means having the delicate conversation about it now, to let Griffey decide how he wants to go out. So Junior, if you’re still planning to retire as a Mariner, just let us know.