Pity

One thing Ken will always get is the respect and dignity he deserves in this game,” Zduriencik said. “And he’ll always get that from this organization and this community, and he deserves that.

You should read Dave Cameron’s recent rant at USS Mariner, simply titled Respect. In the growing genre of the anti-front office polemic, the post stands out for both its eloquence and the firm ground on which Cameron’s argument is planted. It’s the kind of essay you can only write when you are absolutely sure that you’re right. In other words, Christopher Hitchens would be proud.

But as somebody decidedly less invested in the ongoing saga of Ken Griffey’s role with the Seattle Mariners, there are a few things I’d like to add about the above quote, even after its able shredding at Cameron’s hands. There is a difference between respect and pity. From what I have seen this season in Seattle, Griffey has crossed the threshold from the former to the latter. In the eyes of Mariners fans, his presence on the team and in the starting lineup is more about guilt than deference.

Recently, I was forced to fire a person from a job for the first time in my life. I had no particular fondness for this person, and I was confident that the firing was entirely merited. And yet I spent an entire day thinking up ways to get around it. I rationalized, and I hemmed and hawed. Maybe I could offer one more chance. Maybe it’s too soon.

The unsettling issue, the one that racked my conscience, was not how to do it. I got some good advice on that front from my dad: eye contact, few words, whiskey for afterwards. And my nerves weren’t stirred by the fact that I was taking away this person’s income or career. I was not shattering dreams – this was a part-time, short-term job.

The hard thing about it was coming up with a way to tell somebody that they were simply not good enough. Because what it comes down to in the end is that some people can do the job and some people can’t. And to hear that you can’t, to hear that you are incompetent, is a hard and painful thing. We all have our weaknesses. Coming to terms with them is another story. Especially when the job at which you are incompetent, in Griffey’s case, is a job that made you rich and famous – a job that you once performed better than anybody on earth.

Griffey’s former magnificence is not the only exacerbating circumstance. There is a great deal of emotion at play here. He is a man with feelings, on a team of men with feelings, surrounded by fans with their own feelings. There is a financial bottom line. There is still the issue of respect to deal with, and more than just respect–love. It’s not hyperbole. Griffey–at least historically–is beloved in Seattle. So maybe it’s not a firing, since you don’t fire the ones you love. Maybe it’s something more personal.

Telling Ken Griffey Jr. that he can’t play baseball is like telling a senior citizen that they can’t drive a car. Even broaching the subject is an insult and no geriatric just hands over the keys to his or her Buick. But as arduous as the task is, you know it is necessary. You know it is in the best interest of the driver (Junior), the family (the Mariners), and those with whom he shares the road (pained baseball fans). You only hope he bails out before the inevitable crash.

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