Disappointing Griffey era ends in Cincy

Disappointing Griffey era ends in Cincy

The Ken Griffey Jr. era in Cincinnati opened to rave reviews nine years ago, but when the curtain finally came down on Junior's run in the Queen City on Thursday, it marked the end of one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history.

Reds fans will remember the excitement that February day in 2000 when the Reds announced the team had acquired hometown hero Griffey from Seattle for Brett Tomko, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Jake Meyer.

At the press conference Junior was beaming, GM Jim Bowden was grinning like a 1950s Buick and fans and media had lofty expectations for the Reds.

The consensus was a very bright future awaited the Reds. It was certainly understandable at the time. It seemed logical from every aspect.

After all, Junior, then just 30 years old, had averaged 52 homers and 142 RBIs over the previous four seasons with the Mariners. There was no reason to think he wouldn't maintain a similar pace in the National League and one day threaten Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.

Griffey was joining a team that had won 96 games the year before, when the Reds came within a loss to the New York Mets in a play-in game of making the '99 playoffs.

Griffey's bat added to a lineup that had hit more homers than all but two NL teams the year before and had finished fourth in runs scored. His Gold Glove strengthened what was already an above average defense with shorstop Barry Larkin and second baseman Pokey Reese up the middle.

The Reds won the World Series in 1990. In the spring of 2000, some were predicting another title for Cincinnati and the first for Junior.

Back then it all seemed entirely plausible. Plus there was the added attraction of Griffey's hometown ties.

Griffey, as Cincinnati's center fielder, would sell on the field and at the box office: Griffey, the '97 American League Most Valuable Player, bringing his unparalleled skills to the same outfield his father, a starter on the Big Red Machine, played two decades earlier.

If this wasn't a perfect fit, it would at least wear well for many seasons.

Sadly, it fell out of fashion far too prematurely.

Griffey started off as expected in 2000, hitting .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBIs in 145 games, but the Reds finished 85-77 and missed the playoffs. It would be the only time during Griffey's nine years in Cincinnati the Reds finished a season with a winning record.

After that first taste of winning, things went steadily downhill for the Reds and Griffey. The gifted outfielder made eight trips to the disabled list, missing more than 400 games, over the next seven years.

During the six-year period including the 2001-2006 seasons, Griffey's injuries limited him to average of 92 games per season. Excepting the 2005 season, when Griffey batted .301 with 35 homers and 92 RBIs, Griffey's season batting average topped .264 just one other time (2007) during his final six years with the Reds.

During his final seven seasons with the Reds he drove in more than 75 runs only two times.

When Griffey went down, so did the Reds. His arrival heralded the return of perennial contender status to Cincinnati, but instead contributed to a disappointing string of losing teams and frequent turnover.

Griffey played for seven managers in Cincinnati: Jack McKeon, Bob Boone, Ray Knight, Dave Miley, Jerry Narron, Pete Mackanin and Dusty Baker. Four men -- Bowden, Dan O'Brien, Wayne Krivsky and Walt Jocketty -- served as GM while Griffey was with the team. Two CEOs, Carl Lindner and Bob Castellini, owned the Reds during Griffey's tenure.

Griffey's hefty contract, not an issue in 2000, eventually grew to become the albatross that shackled at least one former GM's plan to turn things around. For a small market team trying to rebuild, the obligation to Griffey limited the GM's trade options as well as the amount of resources available to spend on free agents. Let's just say it was not always the ideal situation.

A few years ago, Griffey was almost dealt to the Padres, a year ago he was thought to be headed to the White Sox.

This time, with a club option for 2009 the Reds were not going to pick up and the Reds below .500, Griffey was finally traded to the White Sox.

As he played what was probably his final National League game in Houston on Wednesday night, Griffey still showed that smooth swing that has long been his trademark. He hit an upper-deck home run off Wandy Rodriguez at Minute Maid Park to help the Reds beat the Astros.

For Griffey, it was homer No. 608 of his 20-year career.

Griffey did not know until well after the game that it would be his final homer as a Redleg. There would be no curtain call on his last act for the Reds. No tip of the cap to the end an era that a decade ago seemed so limitless.

At least his time in Cincinnati will always have the memory of the milestone homers -- Nos. 400, 500 and 600. That's something, but Griffey will tell you he'd rather have a ring.

And yet there is no way anyone could have predicted then the disappointment that would mark his reign in Cincinnati.

Sure he was too often injured, but he didn't dog it on the field either. He doesn't run as well as he once did, and the arm is not what it was during his heyday, but Griffey was never tainted by steroid accusations either. Not the player he was five years ago, he remains a dangerous slugger who could help the White Sox get back to the World Series.

Things just didn't work out with Griffey and the Reds. Place the blame wherever you wish. The simple fact is Griffey went home to Cincinnati in 2000, with player, team and community caught up in great expectations that would have been difficult to fulfill even under the best of circumstances. We couldn't know then that when it was all said and done the anticipation would eclipse the reality.

A series of setbacks gradually dimmed the lights on Griffey's bright beginning with the Reds, and now that it is over the Reds and Junior are left to wonder what the last nine years might have been like had Griffey stayed healthy.

In the answer to that question lies the biggest disappointment of all.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.