Ken Griffey Jr. is going back to Seattle and I think most fans, at least those outside of Atlanta, are pretty happy about this. I can’t say for sure why things like this matter so much to baseball fans like me, but they do.
For me, like many others, I prefer it when a player spends his entire career with one team. I think maybe it goes back to my years as a kid collecting baseball cards. When you looked on the back of a baseball card, it always looked so cool when the same team was listed in every year. I think it also says something about the quality of the player. It says this guy was so good that his value to the team was always evident and they wanted him back year after year. It also says that the player was happy and well treated by the organization. (At least this can be said since the dawn of free agency, not necessarily prior to it.)
Almost every organization has a couple of players who spent their entire career with them and generally that role call is filled with hall of famers. I think of Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Robin Yount, Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Stan Musial, and so many others. I find myself hoping that guys like Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols never leave their current teams because they would make such fine additions to this amazing fraternity of ball players.
The next best thing to spending your entire career with one organization is coming back home to where you started, whether it is the same team or in some famous instances, the same city. Hank Aaron started with the Milwaukee Braves, moved with them to Atlanta, but then played his final years back in Milwaukee with the Brewers. Willie Mays started with the New York Giants, moved with them to San Francisco, but then played his final year back in New York with the Mets. Even Babe Ruth went back to the city where it began for him, only he went to the Boston Braves rather than the Red Sox. Phil Niekro returned to the Atlanta Braves, Reggie Jackson finished back with the Oakland A’s, Don Sutton returned to the Dodgers. And, even Gary Carter left the USA to return to the Montreal Expos to close out his hall of fame career.
But for every one of these heart warming homecomings, the game has also been filled with some very strange final teams for guys that you just couldn’t imagine wearing another uniform. I will always picture Juan Marichal pitching in a Giants uniform, but he finished his career playing for the rival Dodgers. Ron Santo was a consummate Cub but actually finished his career playing for the cross town rival White Sox. Hank Greenberg finished a Pirate. Ty Cobb finished with the Philadelphia A’s. And for me personally, the strangest is Harmon Killebrew who played in the Twins organization dating back to 1954 while they were in Washington all the way through the 1974 season, only to finish his career in 1975 playing for the Kansas City Royals. (Its amazing to think of him as a teammate of George Brett but they did play together in KC that year.)
Sadly, perhaps, we are adding another name to this roster of oddities this season in John Smoltz. Seeing him in the American League is odd enough, but thinking of him as a member of the Red Sox instead of the Braves is like trying to accept the fact that The Terminator is now the Governor of California, I am sure I will get used to it, but its going take some time.
Ultimately, when Ken Griffey Jr. is in the opening day lineup for the Mariners wearing the number 24, I think it will just feel right. And who doesn’t like it when things feel right?