Friday, February 11, 2000

JUNIOR COMES HOME


It's a red-letter day for Cincinnati

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Ken Griffey Jr. puts on his new cap.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Reds fans celebrated Opening Day, July 4th and the seventh game of the World Series all at once Thursday. For Ken Griffey Jr., it was Christmas.

        The Cincinnati Reds brought baseball's premier center fielder back to the city and team he grew up with. They obtained Griffey from the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Brett Tomko, center fielder Mike Cameron minor-league infielder Antonio Perez and minor-league right-handed pitcher Jake Meyer.

        “Well, I'm finally home,” Griffey said at a Thursday night news conference, prompting applause from the assortment of guests, which included his family and numerous city officials. “This is my hometown. I grew up here. It doesn't matter how much money you make; it's where you feel happy. Cincinnati is the place where I thought I would be happy.”

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Griffey clutches his 'dream' jersey.
(AP photo)
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        The Reds also signed Griffey to a nine-year, $112.5 million contract from 2000-2008 that includes an option for a 10th year with a $4 million buyout clause if the team doesn't exercise the final year. Reds management tore up Griffey's $8.5 million deal for this season that he had with Seattle. They received no cash from the Mariners to help pay the superstar's salary, previously a sticking point in negotiations.

        Though the contract's total value is the richest ever in baseball, the average salary of $12.9 million is the sport's seventh-highest.

        Griffey will receive 57.5 percent of the contract spread out over 16 years of deferred payments, which Reds Chief Operating Officer John Allen called the “secret” to the deal. Those payments begin after the 2008 season and will accelerate in the 10th year, making the final payment worth $16.5 million.

        This long-term arrangement created the likelihood that the All-Century Team member will spend the rest of his illustrious career with Cincinnati.

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Griffey was reunited with his dad.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        “Feb. 10, 2000,” Reds General Manager Jim Bowden repeated. “That day will go down in Reds history (and) major-league history, when one of the biggest trades in ... our sport took place, when the Michael Jordan of baseball came home to Cincinnati.”

        Bowden's hyperbole was justified. The deal was monumental from a variety of perspectives:

        • For once, an athlete saying “It's not about the money” genuinely meant it. In the last year of a contract that will pay him $8.5 million this year, Griffey could have opted to double his annual salary by becoming a free agent after this season.

        “As you can see by this contract,” Griffey said, “it was never about the money ... I didn't want to move around. I didn't want to be here one year and have to go somewhere else. I wanted to be able to stay put. I didn't want to have to go to some other team and come here later on.”

AT A GLANCE
  • Griffey, 30, had 398 career home runs in 11 seasons, along with a .299 average and 1,152 RBIs. Hank Aaron, baseball's career home-run leader with 755, thinks Griffey has the best chance to top his record.
  • Tomko, 26, was 5-7 with a 4.92 ERA in 26 starts and seven relief appearances last season.
  • Cameron, 27, hit .256 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs.
  • Meyer, 25, went 5-4 with a 3.67 ERA at Class-A Rockford and Double-A Chattanooga last season.
  • Perez, 18, hit .288 with seven homers, 41 RBIs and 35 stolen bases at Class-A Rockford.
        • The Reds, who finished 96-67 last year and missed the postseason by one game, added a 10-time All-Star while losing relatively little talent from their roster.

        With Barry Larkin, Griffey, Dante Bichette and Sean Casey batting consecutively in the Reds' projected order, opposing pitchers won't have any easy innings.

        Cameron was perhaps Cincinnati's most richly skilled player — manager Jack McKeon has likened him to a budding Sammy Sosa — but Griffey more than compensates for his departure. Tomko had the best “stuff” of any Reds pitcher, but had yet to harness consistency. Perez was a Top 10 prospect but not a can't-miss one. Experts did not rate Meyer among the farm system's top pitchers.

        “I felt the deal would help our team win games,” Bowden said. “That's why we made it.”

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Carl Lindner picked up Griffey at Lunken Airport in his Bentley.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        • Rarely has a star baseball player been traded at or near the height of his powers — even in this era, when economics become a factor, as in Griffey's case. The short list includes sluggers Jimmie Foxx and Frank Robinson and pitchers Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens. The Reds sent Robinson to Baltimore in 1966 and acquired Seaver in 1977.

        Noteworthy figures such as Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire were traded, but they switched teams either before or after they rose to prominence.

        Griffey owns a .299 career batting average with 1,152 RBI. He led the American League in home runs for the third year in a row last season, blasting 48, while hitting .285 with 134 RBI.

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Griffey wanted to bring his family together: Dad with Taryn, 4, and Junior with Trey, 6.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Griffey arrives at an auspicious time in Reds history. In 2003, the team will move into its new stadium, which is expected to feature a short right-field fence that will favor a power hitter such as Griffey.

        “We wanted a permanent superstar in our city to open our new stadium,” Bowden said.

        Griffey will serve as a link between the franchise's glorious past and its promising future. His father, Ken Griffey, played right field for the fabled Big Red Machine world championship clubs in 1975-76 and is now the team's bench coach.

        Growing up in Cincinnati, Griffey was a legend in every youth league he played in and was the Enquirer's Player of the Year in 1987 as a Moeller High School senior.

        Griffey might be the first player to move on while having immortality in his sights.

        At age 30, with 398 home runs in 11 seasons, Griffey is considered the active player with the best chance of breaking Aaron's all-time record of 755. McGwire has 522 homers, but he's 36 years old.

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Media, Reds officials and politicians filled the Crosley Room for the news conference.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        The arduous process that generated the deal began almost immediately after Griffey and the Mariners announced on Nov. 2 that they would explore trade possibilities. Hoping to play closer to his Orlando, Fla., home, Griffey spurned Seattle's eight-year, $135 million offer.

        The Reds appeared to have plenty of bargaining leverage after Griffey, whose major-league tenure enabled him to veto any trade, announced that he had trimmed his list to the Reds. But General Manager Jim Bowden announced on Dec. 11 that the Reds were halting trade talks with the Mariners, due largely to their unwillingness to part with second baseman Pokey Reese.

        But talks continued off and on throughout the last two months. The breakthrough came Tuesday, when Griffey's Cincinnati-based agent, Brian Goldberg, received permission from the Mariners to negotiate a multiyear contract with the Reds.

        “That's when we pursued hard,” Bowden said.

Join the discussion on our Reds forum
Griffey video clips at Majorleaguebaseball.com



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