It was a big deal, of course — getting a superstar player into the ultra-clubby baseball ownership stratum is close to a national milestone — but Ken Griffey Jr. was taking himself and the moment too seriously. Not once did he flash the legendary grin during his introduction Monday at T-ball Park by Mariners chairman John Stanton, nor during his own opening remarks, nor answering the first few questions about becoming a minority owner in the Mariners.
I felt obliged to loosen him up:
“When a young Mariners superstar comes up to you as a part-owner and asks, ‘Where’s my pitching?’ what are you going to say?”
He grinned. He hemmed and hawed, finally saying, “I got nothin’.”
Welcome to pro sports ownership. Few questions are easy, no credit is given when something goes right, and all blame goes in your direction when failures persist.
Perhaps the most difficult task for ownerships in any team sport is managing high-maintenance, high-profile athletes whose successes makes them popular, expensive and hard to satisfy.
Hey, longtime Seattle sports fans: Sound like anyone you know?
Now it’s Griffey’s turn to cajole, coddle and mollify those youngsters who would be him.
The mind reels.
As does Griffey’s.
“Let’s put that for later,” he said. “You know, the main thing is that the we’re going to go out there to win games.”
Question dodged. Indeed, the man already is showing ownership skills.
The question in the question came from Griffey in his mid-1990s heyday when, because of him, the Mariners were often the talk of baseball nationally and subject of persistent queries from local media about whether the then “small market” Mariners (there’s no small markets in a monopoly) could win enough and pay enough to keep him happy in Seattle.
Early on, Griffey came to embrace the leverage he had over management. The “where’s my pitching” comment was made to a reporter ahead of a trade deadline when the club, still in the Kingdome, was forever on the margins in acquiring talent.
The subsequent national headlines suggested that Griffey, in his 20s , was already running the Seattle show. So maybe, at 51, it wasn’t such a leap after all.
Stanton said the idea of becoming a part-owner came up jokingly at first, when Griffey accompanied the team to Japan for season-opening games in 2019 featuring Ichiro’s farewell. Later, the talk became business-like. Stanton said the ownership partnership has an annual period starting July 1 when the partners can sell or buy one another’s shares. When one minority owner, whom Stanton did not identify, wanted to sell most of his shares for personal reasons, the sale was made to Griffey, terms undisclosed.
“This is a dream come true,” Griffey said. “You look at where I started, where I was born (Donora, PA), a steel-mill town. And it gives hope for kids to be able to reach this point — being a part of an organization, being a part of a group that wants to win. And we are going to win.
“I don’t like losing. Guys who played with me, and the guys I played against , know I’m a very bad loser. I take this responsibility to the highest level.”
Griffey and Stanton were vague about whether one of the greatest players in baseball history would have any baseball responsibilities, which typically never happens because of long-established protocols in collective bargaining between ownership/management and the players union. Baseball decisions are made between Stanton and baseball ops president/GM Jerry Dipoto.
Griffey said he might be an asset in explaining to owners how players think, and what might happen in a clubhouse responding to public controversies.
The Mariners had a couple of dandies in 2021 — disparaging public remarks about players made during spring training by club president Kevin Mather, who was subsequently fired, and a mid-season trade of popular reliever Kendall Graveman to rival Houston that upset the clubhouse.
Asked what he might have contributed ahead of the Graveman imbroglio to mitigate the tumult, he said, “Nobody wants to be traded. Nobody wants a fan favorite to leave. But sometimes what’s in the best interest of the ballclub is the bigger picture. People forget that (bosses) have to make tough decisions. There’s gonna be decisions that people don’t like, that are not fun, not fair, and everything else.
“But they’re gonna have to be made. Sometimes you don’t want to be the guy doing it, but it happens.”
Sounds like Griffey already has made the transition to his latest iteration — sports mogul.
By spring training, he’ll have had sufficient owner training to have something to say when his latest successor in centerfield, Jarred Kelenic, asks him where his pitching is.