Just For The Sake Of Reference

Jeff Sullivan · August 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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

The players:

  • Griffey/Rodriguez
  • Gehrig/Ruth
  • Gehrig/Ruth
  • Gehrig/Ruth
  • Lajoie/Turner

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.


26 Responses to “Just For The Sake Of Reference”

  1. SonOfZavaras on August 9th, 2013 7:31 pm

    Great post, Jeff.

  2. SonOfZavaras on August 9th, 2013 7:36 pm

    Do ya ever get the feeling that looking back at Rodriguez’ famous “consoling Joey Cora moment” after getting eliminated in ’95, Joey now thinks it was like the equivalent of the devil whispering in his ear?

  3. djw on August 9th, 2013 9:06 pm

    I’ve rooted against Rodriquez as a player for a decade. Now this damned witchhunt is forcing me to root for him in some sense (root for him to beat this ridiculous exception to the rules ban, and take his fair share of Steinbrenner crazy money, at least; not necessarily play well). Another addition to my very long list of reasons to hate Bud Selig.

  4. Slippery Elmer on August 9th, 2013 9:09 pm

    That was surely a blessed season — individual-success-wise, at least. Too bad the Mariners’ collective success didn’t follow suit. Exhibit A in the “it’s a team game” line of rhetoric.

  5. Choo on August 9th, 2013 10:07 pm

    “Last year, Trout and Cabrera played for different teams. The 1996 Mariners basically had Trout and Cabrera.”

    Wow. I mean, seriously. Freaking wow.

  6. Westside guy on August 9th, 2013 10:11 pm

    I didn’t really get the A-Rod hate in Seattle. He played hard as a Mariner and didn’t complain much at all, right up until he left – unlike Seattle’s favorite son Junior. And then there’s Randy, who pouted his way out of town.

    I don’t like who A-Rod has become, but I don’t think we really have much to complain about regarding his time with the Mariners.

  7. Breadbaker on August 9th, 2013 10:38 pm

    I agree with Westy. A-Rod played hard every day he was here. His last moment in a Mariner uniform is a moment I will never forget, at the end of the 2000 ALCS, basically willing Edgar to drive him in and extend the season from second base. You could take all the shots and pills in the world and not be standing on that base in that situation unless you were a ballplayer who cared.

    What he became, almost immediately, is a different thing. Griffey learned some things in his time in Cincinnati that made him appreciate his time in Seattle; he had a true epiphany when he came back to Safeco for the first time and realized how much the fans here meant to him and how much his time here meant to him.

    It’s hard to say if Randy was more sinned against than sinning; everyone screwed up in his last half season here. And the M’s medical staff that was sure Randy’s back wouldn’t stand up through his next contract after 1998, and who rejected Omar Vizquel when we were going to trade Carlos straight up for him, have a lot to answer for.

    It would be pretty close to impossible for A-Rod ever to have a moment in Safeco like Junior had in 2007, or in 2009 or will have tomorrow, or like RJ had in 1999 and 2010.

  8. diderot on August 9th, 2013 11:33 pm

    I will always believe that A-Rod and Griffey left for the same reason: they got one look at the fences in Safeco…decided they would never top Aaron’s home run record hitting there…and left town as soon as they could.

  9. bookbook on August 10th, 2013 3:03 am

    Griffey’s forced trade to Cincinnati was truly ugly. A-Rod left under classier circumstances. Since? I don’t know anymore.

  10. GLS on August 10th, 2013 3:27 am

    A-Rod was a fantastic player. While it seems at times like he’s gone out of his way to make sure we all know what a douchebag he really is, I could always look at the numbers and just sort of marvel at the production and the greatness. Now it just makes me sad. What a mess.

  11. 3cardmonty on August 10th, 2013 3:56 am

    The Mariners of the late nineties must be the most underachieving team in baseball history. Four Hall of Fame caliber players, all in their primes, plus a bunch of good role players. So frustrating that they never even won a pennant.

  12. SeattleSlew on August 10th, 2013 6:00 am

    “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..”

    Maybe Aaron Hernandez did kill someone but hey many players in the NFL have committed, or conspired, murder.

    Does indicating other people’s wrongful acts really make it more incurious?

  13. californiamariner on August 10th, 2013 7:52 am

    I’m so excited to be at the game today and watch the ceremony!! Always loved Griffey as a player.

  14. Chongo on August 10th, 2013 10:35 am

    I remember it altogether differently…Griffey left to go ‘home’; took less money to do so. It was a break-up, but ugly it was not. Griffey wanted to play where his Dad played in his golden youth. Big Deal.

    Arod, conversely, after talking ad nauseum about how much he wanted to be like Cal Ripkin (begin bitter convulsive laughter here) and play with integrity, did exactly what his idol NEVER did: follow gaudy money in the most unbecoming fashion, become a tabloid joke and a chump among his peers, and later take up majestic forms of dishonesty.

  15. djw on August 10th, 2013 10:54 am

    I didn’t really get the A-Rod hate in Seattle. He played hard as a Mariner and didn’t complain much at all, right up until he left – unlike Seattle’s favorite son Junior.

    Agreed. I was embarrassed and mortified by the fan reaction to Rodriguez when the Rangers came to town in the early years after he left. The throwing around of monopoly money and “Payrod” stuff was contemptuous; the vast majority of baseball players take the most lucrative contract, as would virtually all the sanctimonious people tossing monopoly money around.

    Fan outrage over the way Griffey left would have been perfectly justified and reasonable; he was utterly unprofessional about his contractual obligations. It’s not like he just left; he essentially refused to honor the terms of his contract. Whether he took less money or not to play where he wanted is immaterial to me; different people value $$ vs. living in one’s preferred location differently, and there’s no moral superiority or inferiority to any particular weighting of those variables.

  16. rick m on August 10th, 2013 11:10 am

    I have nothing but good memories of ARod’s time here. When he left, it was like getting dumped by the hottest girl in the world. He went for the money, but lost the happiness and true love for a lifetime that we offered him.

    Thanks for reminding us that the Mariners truly are a storied franchise. 1995, 1996, and I would add 2000, when ARod carried this team to a near crown. And of course 2001. No World Series, but some remarkable seasons we hadn’t seen for decades, and haven’t seen since.

  17. Westside guy on August 10th, 2013 11:12 am

    I think our memories of Griffey’s departure are also softened by the fact that, while we didn’t know it at the time, the team got back another fan favorite and a very good center fielder in his own right – Mike Cameron. Cammy is one of my all-time favorite Mariners!

    … And then Bavasi decided that a good reliever was much more important than a good center fielder, and Mike had to move on. Sheesh – I really liked Shiggy, but boy was that a stupid move.

  18. Paul B on August 10th, 2013 1:55 pm

    If ARod hadn’t been a douche, he would have taken the home town discount (but still incredible riches) the Mariners offered, instead of saying how much he loved it here and he wouldn’t leave.

    Of course, if he wasn’t a douche, he wouldn’t have taken the drugs, either.

    One of the tragedies is that players like ARod and Barry Bonds would have put up hall of fame careers without the drugs, but they just couldn’t resist taking them so they could have the best numbers of all time.

  19. MrZDevotee on August 10th, 2013 2:31 pm

    Only problem I have with any of what you wrote is that you talked about “the darkness beneath A-Rod”– I would argue that A-Rod is actually beneath the darkness, looking up at it.

    Way, way down there…

    And I disagree with folks who were “embarrassed” when we booed and threw fake money at A-Rod upon his return…

    A-Rod was quoted, straight from his lips, as saying “It’s not about money, I wanna play for a winner…” in that last “glorious” year with the Mariners. It was his mantra, talking about free agency…

    He then signed the largest contract in the history of pro sports– ever– to play on the worst team in the AL West. The perennially worst team in the AL West…

    Again, what did he say to us…?

    “It’s not about money, I wanna play for a winner…” (Year: 2000)

    Mariners tie record for all time “winner” (Year: 2001)

    A-Rod cashes the highest paychecks ever in baseball history while coming in last in the AL West (Year: 2001)

    If A-Rod had an ounce of value/dignity, we would have probably broken the record of 116 games in 2001, and he would have been a member of the MLB team that won the most games ever. And we probably could have made it further in the playoffs. And he still would have made more money than anyone playing a game deserves.

    He’s scum. Maybe it’s just me. People can say a lot of things about Scottish people, and it doesn’t bother us… But don’t ever betray us. Don’t lie to us. Don’t forsake us for greener gardens.* And if you ever do, don’t be so naive as to come back expecting our respect.

    * One of my favorite quotes that sums this attitude up perfectly was from Ewan McGregor… “I’ve never understood Americans… You look up at the rich guy on the hill’s house and say ‘One day I’m gonna be that guy’… A Scot looks up at the same rich guy’s house and says ‘One day I’m gonna GET that guy!'”

    PS- I’m taking my 5 year old to Jr’s ceremony tonight! 15th row seats… Can’t wait.

  20. Westside guy on August 10th, 2013 3:06 pm

    MrZ – if you’re going tonight, don’t take I5 cuz it’s a mess. Take Airport Way or 99.

  21. SeattleSlew on August 10th, 2013 4:55 pm

    For those folks who say they were “embarrassed” by the fan reaction to Rodriguez when the Rangers came to town, its worth noting that shortly after he left Seattle he wrote a letter to Boeing saying, “I moved to Dallas-Fort Worth to improve my future and so should you.” Obviously Boeing employees were not very pleased. As it turned out his first game back was Boeing Employees Credit Union night so the fans responded with a lot less than rolling out the carpet for him.

  22. SeattleSlew on August 10th, 2013 5:11 pm

    That’s the A-rod we know. A man who has always been willing to go out of his way to be a douche. Now he goes on TV to say that the past months in his life has been a nightmare. Well that nightmare was brought on by himself. It is the consequences of the decisions he made in his life and most likely his iniquities will be passed on to his children.

  23. NorthofWrigleyField on August 11th, 2013 12:47 am

    When Alex Rodriguez left for Texas, he said it wasn’t about the money. That was a joke. He said Texas was in a better position to win. That was a joke. He said they had a better farm system. That was a joke. Then he tried to convince Seattle businesses to relocate to Dallas. There was absolutely nothing funny about that. On his way out, he buried Seattle, the Mariners and their fans… all for money.

    Much like David Stern, the city of Seattle has much more scorn left to give Alex. Unfortunately, it will probably be 2015 at the earliest until we get another chance to give him what he’s earned.

  24. darthbuhner on August 11th, 2013 6:37 pm

    Re: A-Rod’s MVP snub in ’96 – I was livid that two of the Seattle sportswriters who cast ballots made it clear they were casting their votes for Griffey, knowing good and well that it would tip the race to González over A-Rod. All because they felt A-Rod hadn’t put in the work and time that Griffey had with the club, and that awarding him a deserved MVP that year would be somehow showing up Jr. Smash-cut to 2010, when the Tribune humiliated Griffey, prompting his departure. No wonder Griffey took a subtle shot at “the media” in his speech Saturday.

  25. amnizu on August 12th, 2013 1:50 pm

    Griffey for all his faults and selfishness during the forced trade made baseball relevant in Seattle. He was the first true superstar MLB player in Seattle. Had he not panned out like so many of our draft pics before the franchise may have moved. He will forever receive the credit for saving baseball in Seattle.

    Rodriguez, was and is in the second superstar. I liken it to Gehrig and DiMaggio, DiMaggio was hated early on in NY for holding out and contract disputes while Gehrig quietly performed in the latter years of his career. The difference of course is DiMaggio stayed in NY long enough to be forgiven whereas A-Rod proceeded to douche it up all over the AL.

  26. LongDistance on August 12th, 2013 10:55 pm

    I can hardly wait to read Lou’s take on A-Rod and Junior, the day he gets around to writing an autobiography.

    In any case, like it or not… where the game of baseball is concerned, during the season it’s the stats. But where a career is concerned, and especially in terms of the memory of that career, it’s other things as well.

    Griffey is the stuff of Hall of Fame. A-Rod, now, is not. The same way Pete Rose fucked up a dazzling career. Too bad. But, in any case, he made it abundantly clear a long time ago: for him, money has become his be all and end all.

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