But you know what, the fact that Joyce might have made one of the top 2 worst calls in the history of the game is part of the reason why we love baseball. It’s imperfect and it gives us something to debate without being wrong. Sure, it’s probably no fun to be Jim Joyce or a major league umpire these days, but everyone is going to come out of this OK. Already people view Joyce’s mea culpa as dignified and have come to learn about Galarraga and the classy way he dealt with adversity.
Of course there was no real adversity for Galarraga. He’s seen as a hero who pitched a perfect game plus one extra out. It wasn’t quite the Pirates’ Harvey Haddix going 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, or Pedro taking a perfect game into the 10th inning in 1995, but it was pretty good nonetheless.
In fact, just the thought of a perfect game was compelling enough for me to ignore Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final happening right in front of me in the Wachovia Center press box and dial up the game from Detroit on the laptop. Interestingly, it is the flaw of the perfection we’re going to remember forever. We might not have known a lot about Joyce or Galarraga, but we sure do now.
What was most disappointing about the imperfect perfecto was the fact that it went down not long after the news of the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. At age 40 and nursing a .184 batting average in 33 games, The Kid decided he didn’t want to hold back the Mariners any longer. Moreover, he wanted to go home to be with his kids.
After all, it was his kids that motivated Griffey as he came down toward the end of his career after the injuries had thwarted his chance at 800 career homers.
Just typing that—800 home runs—seems unbelievable. But considering Griffey lost parts of six years of his career to injuries, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could have rewritten the record books.
As it stands, Griffey’s numbers aren’t too shabby. He hit 630 homers, with 1,836 RBIs, an MVP Award and 13 All-Star Games, including the 1992 game where he was the MVP. Statistically, Griffey’s numbers sit next to Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and he could be the first unanimous Hall-of-Fame inductee five years from now.
Griffey’s allure goes far beyond statistics, though. The truth is that during the 1990s there was no more compelling or interesting athlete in America than Ken Griffey Jr. For those of us that only ever saw Willie Mays on grainy, black-and-white highlight reels and grew up watching thick-legged and paunchy players like Lou Piniella or Greg Luzinski play the outfield, Griffey spoke to us. Not only could he blast one off the warehouse during the Home Run Derby at Camden Yards, but also could run down a fly ball anywhere on the diamond or jump over the outfield wall to pull back a homer.
His smile was like a neon sign and he was riotously funny on an episode of The Simpsons. He wore his hat backwards and went on those silly MTV Rock-n-Jock things. Better yet, he wasn’t that much older than us. He was from our generation and until he broke into the majors when he was 19, we had no representation in big-league sports.
Griffey was kind of one of us.
He was a ballplayer, too. Actually, he was the son of a ballplayer and grew up playing with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the rest of his dad’s teammates on The Big Red Machine. His was a charmed life that seemed like a dream until it became too much.
Writer types who had been around said the attention and hero worship made Griffey surly. When he showed up in a visiting ballpark with the Mariners or Reds, there were always hundreds of press types waiting and waiting for him to walk into the clubhouse so they could fire questions at him. It could have been a Tuesday night in Cleveland during August, but everything stopped when Griffey showed up.
Then the injuries came. He had his hamstring put back together with titanium screws in an experimental surgery now called, “The Junior Operation.” The hamstring problems were followed by foot and knee issues that required surgery, and a groin injury cost him much of the 2007 season.
Interestingly, Griffey seemed happy during the last few years of his career. After he slugged his 500th career homer and the constraints on his time dissipated dramatically, Griffey turned into a guy who held court with some of the out-of-town writers in the Reds clubhouse. One day I even asked him about the old days with thousands screaming his name to these twilight years where only a few of us wanted to talk about baseball with him.
And you know what? We couldn’t get him to stop. He was like a sieve, waxing on about how his kids loved football more than baseball and how he had no interest in soccer. He joked with teammates, telling Adam Dunn that he looked like the lead character in the ‘80s TV show, “The Greatest American Hero.” He told Todd Zolecki that if he frosted the tips of his hair he might look exactly like Cole Hamels. Actually, he just talked about whatever like he was one of the guys. Still, no matter what, you couldn't get him to stop talking about his kids. It always came back to the kids.
Age mellowed Griffey. He loved being a ballplayer, but loved being a father even more. Being a father to Trey, Taryn and Tevinis what it’s all about to the man they called The Kid.
So as he heads off into the sunset in a season where the pitchers are in control, it’s nice to remember Griffey on the field as the joyous face of the game. At home with the family it sounds like it’s the same deal.