Just For The Sake Of Reference
These days, both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. are in the news, like the legendary athletic icons they are. Rodriguez is in the news due to further evidence that he’s missing…something, something critical, something the rest of us have that makes us all human. Alex Rodriguez, basically, is Bart after selling Milhouse his soul, except A-Rod lost his soul a few decades ago, and these days he’s more like a human-ish entity occupying the uncanny valley, leaving the rest of us unsettled. Griffey’s in the news for more positive reasons — he’s being formally inducted into the Mariners’ Hall of Fame, which sounds like a comical institution but which is not, at least not anymore, not now that it’s going to have Ken Griffey Jr. in it. Griffey grants any institution immediate legitimacy.
It’s an interesting contrast — Griffey, in some small way, is cementing his baseball immortality, while Rodriguez fights against professional excommunication. The Mariners want to make sure no one ever forgets about Ken Griffey Jr. If Bud Selig had his druthers, he’d make sure no one ever remembers Alex Rodriguez. Griffey promoted the game while Rodriguez tried to hurt it, and while Griffey had his own dark side, his issues were more that he was kind of an asshole sometimes. On occasion, Griffey could be standoffish. On occasion, Alex Rodriguez has told the truth, maybe. The darkness beneath Rodriguez flows deeper, flows faster, and while I used to think Rodriguez didn’t get enough credit for his Mariner accomplishments, it’s become easier and easier to understand why people don’t go out of their way to remember the good times. There was always something off about A-Rod, and now we’re finding out that something is A-Rod himself, the whole of who or what he is.
That’s all the commentary part, and people are perfectly justified to cheer Griffey on while booing Rodriguez away. There’s a reason Griffey and Rodriguez drew such disparate responses upon their initial returns to Seattle. Beyond the commentary, though, I’m just here to quickly highlight one thing. I don’t know why I was looking this up, but I looked it up anyway and now I’m going to share it. We can’t erase what Griffey and Rodriguez did on the field, nor should we want to. Regardless of how we feel about the players, the players generated their statistics, and for a time they did so in Mariners uniforms. Maybe there was some chemical influence, but there was chemical influence everywhere back then, so it’s probably safest to just assume everything more or less balanced out. Look at the Mariners in 1996.
That team finished second in its division, and Randy Johnson missed a lot of time with injuries. Those Mariners were famously loaded with talent, and they played 161 games. Had they played 162, they might’ve reached a total of 1,000 runs scored. Edgar was the DH, with a four-digit OPS. Jay Buhner was the right fielder, with a .926 OPS. But the standouts, of course, were Rodriguez at short and Griffey in center, the two combining to miss a few dozen games but the two also combining for an unthinkable level of performance.
According to Baseball-Reference, here are all the teams in baseball history to have two position players reach or exceed 9 WAR:
- 1996 Mariners
- 1930 Yankees
- 1928 Yankees
- 1927 Yankees
- 1906 Naps
Griffey was amazing in every single facet. Rodriguez, too, was amazing in every single facet, actually out-hitting Griffey while playing the toughest infield position. Griffey, that year, turned 27 years old. Rodriguez turned 21.
Juan Gonzalez won the 1996 American League MVP while posting a WAR under 4. That’s laughable, but that’s also not the point. Here’s the point I really wanted to get to: remember last year’s MVP debate about Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera? Remember how Trout had the WAR, and Cabrera had the Triple Crown and the playoff berth? Last year, Trout and Cabrera played for different teams. The 1996 Mariners basically had Trout and Cabrera. Everyone knows those Mariners were stacked, but I think it’s helpful to bring up more current examples to help shed light on what they really had. Last year, Trout was amazing. Last year, Cabrera was amazing. The Mariners essentially had both. They also managed to miss the playoffs.
It’s been a long time since Griffey’s peak. After the Mariners traded him, he had only one more season with a WAR over 3. It’s been less time since Rodriguez’s peak, but no one thinks about that A-Rod anymore, and certainly few people still think about his days with the Mariners. It’s incredible, however, how blessed those Mariners were. These days, it’s clear that one of those superstars isn’t quite human. Back in the 90s, neither of them were.