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OnBaseMachine
08-31-2008, 11:19 AM
He's 'One of the Guys'
For a change, Griffey not expected to carry team

By John Erardi jerardi@enquirer.com August 31, 2008
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CHICAGO - Elvis Night at the Cell.

Sellout crowd at U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox are in first place in the American League Central Division.

As soon as Ken Griffey Jr. comes to the plate, the flash bulbs behind home plate start popping.

Sure, some bulbs pop when other White Sox hitters come to the plate - 500-plus home run man Jim Thome, Most Valuable Player candidate Carlos Quentin, the effervescent Nick Swisher - but not as much as when the new No. 17 comes up.

"He's a presence - even in just the on-deck circle," Swisher says of Griffey. "I don't know what went on in Cincinnati right before he got traded here, but I know he'd had a lot of injuries. All I know is he's a great teammate."

"He fits in," Swisher added. "Over here, he doesn't have to be 'the guy.' He just has to be 'one of the guys.' "
Debuts in 7 hole

It is the second thing you notice here: Junior as "one of the guys."

Tonight he is batting seventh. Did he ever bat seventh with the Reds? He batted seventh on the first night he joined the White Sox, as though Sox manager Ozzie Guillen were saying: "Welcome to Chicago. You're not in Cincinnati anymore."

Guillen never called Griffey aside, not once, to ask him if it was OK to bat him seventh ... or to use him as a designated hitter ... or to give him a day off ... or to pull him from a game if the circumstances dictated.

And yet, all of those things have happened - and Griffey hasn't squawked, not once.

One day, Guillen switched Griffey three times before the game even started. Center field, then right field, then DH.

"Are you shaping up Griffey?" I ask Guillen.

"Why, was he out of line in Cincinnati?" Guillen responds.

"Yeah, he was out of line - big head," I say, kidding Guillen.

"Yeah, well, he's a Hall of Famer, 700 home runs," says Guillen, exaggerating a bit. "He's been great with me. Awesome! I can't say anything bad about this kid. You know I will say if something is bad."

So, we've heard.

"I thought it might be a little difficult bringing him over here," Guillen continues. "But no, no difficulty at all. I've taken him out in the seventh, eighth inning, no problem. Maybe it's because of the teammates. Those guys take care of each other; they like each other."

Guillen is reminded that Griffey picked up about 30 games in the standings when he was traded.

"It's all good - good place to play, good people, good chance to win ... Hey, where would he rather have a day off - here or in Cincinnati?" Guillen asks.

Chicago, my kind of town.

"People don't fly to Cincinnati on a day off, do they?" Guillen says. "This is the best city on earth. The only thing bad about this city? Managing the (expletive-deleted) White Sox."

Everybody laughs.

When Griffey finally hit his first Sox home run 10 days ago, Guillen shot back, "About time."

Griffey loved it.

No Griffey shift

The third thing you notice about Griffey as a White Sox - and it doesn't hit you until Griffey's second at-bat - is that the Tampa Bay defense does not shift its shortstop behind the second base bag and the third baseman where the shortstop normally plays.

No Griffey shift.

Who knows what Griffey thinks about this. Before the game he wanted to talk mostly about his buddy, Jay Bruce. After the game, Griffey is gone, probably to join his son Trey to watch the big fireworks show, choreographed with Elvis music and Elvis images on the big video board at the Cell.

"He was one of the first guys out of here," a White Sox media relations person says.

But one probably can guess what Griffey thinks about the shift: Chances are, he loves it.

In his first week and a half here, Griffey had nine hits, all of them singles. Rest assured, some of them went over the second-base bag or into the first-base/second-base hole in short right field where the second baseman played him when he was in the National League.

In 21 games entering Saturday, Griffey was batting .266 with three doubles, one home run, 10 walks and nine RBI.

On this night, Aug. 22, Griffey hits the ball on the screws in three of his four at-bats - a double, single, lineout to shortstop and a called third strike - and makes a really good (and in no way routine) running, over-the-shoulder catch.

"That ball could have easily gotten over his head," announcer Steve Stone says up in the White Sox radio booth.

Stone isn't sugar-coating.

If there is one thing Stone is not - ask the cross-town Cubs - it's a sugar-coater.
Misses his buddy

Griffey misses Jay Bruce.

And Bruce really misses Griffey.

Bruce was among the first Reds to replace Griffey Jr. in the marquee 3-hole in the batting order.

Yes, Bruce - the new "Kid," the once and future (but not right now) phenom, who has been shooting the rapids in a six-man boat since Griffey and Adam Dunn got tossed overboard and are now playing for first-place teams - misses his big brothers.

"That's who I want to see in the World Series - the White Sox and the Diamondbacks," Bruce says.

Mike Schmidt once said it's a totally different feeling when you're "The Guy," because visiting pitchers come in to your ballpark thinking about you.

"You'd better be ready," Schmidt said.

That discussion took place a few years before Dave Parker got traded to the Oakland A's for Jose Rijo. Eric Davis had time to gradually evolve into "The Guy."

Not so for Bruce; the departures of Griffey and Dunn changed all that.

On the day in Chicago when Griffey hit home run No. 609 to tie Sammy Sosa for fifth place on the all-time list, Bruce texted him. The Reds were playing cross town at Wrigley Field later that night.

"I texted him back," Griffey says. "I told him, 'Say hi to Mom and Dad for me.' "

Texting isn't the same as Griffey being here in person, though.

"Yeah, he had somebody who had been through a whole lot, and we could talk about everything," Griffey agrees, referring to Bruce. "It wasn't about what I'd done in the game. It was just about keeping him focused and having fun. You could see the joy he still has in playing the game of baseball."

The biggest thing with Bruce, says Griffey, is that Bruce puts so much pressure on himself.

"I'd tell him, 'Just relax,' " Griffey says. "You could see it on his face (how much he wanted to do well). It's easier said than done when you tell somebody, 'Relax.' "

Griffey says it was easier for him when he broke in. He had great teammates - Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Alvin Davis, Mickey Brantley, Jeffrey Leonard - "and every visiting guy who my dad had helped out during his years" - among them, Chili Davis, Kirby Puckett.

"They'd call me in the hotel and say, 'Hey, whatcha doin?' I'd say, 'Nothin'.' They'd say, 'OK, I'll be there in 10 minutes; we're going to eat.' That makes things easier."

Bruce's fast start with the Reds helped his confidence of knowing "he could play here," Griffey says.

"But it hurt him, because now fans think he's supposed to be the savior of the organization," Griffey says. "No, that's not how it works. There's a whole bunch of people who should be the saviors of the organization. Jay may be the face, but it takes 25 guys and six coaches and upper management to win a championship."

We talk a few more minutes. Griffey asks about the passing of Joey Votto's father. He nods when I tell him what I know, and he shakes his head in sadness.

"OK, well all right, I've gotta go stretch," he says, extending his hand. "Tell everybody I said hi."
Now a teammate

The new Bruce - although he's six years older than the Reds right fielder - is White Sox outfielder Nick Swisher.

"When did Griffey break in, 1990?" Swisher asks.

"1989," somebody answers. "He was 19."

"I was 9," says Swisher, shaking his head. "Geez, I had pictures of that guy on my wall when I was growing up."

Now Griffey fills not a wall, but a niche. No duplex accommodations, no huge trunk, no bigger-than-the-city aura. Just one locker, just like everybody else.

"What I love about him most," Swisher says, "is his attitude in the clubhouse. I've always told myself, 'I'm the biggest kid in the locker room.' Well, he's giving me a run. I heard a great quote a couple of years back. It was 'As long as you put that uniform on, you have a lifetime pass to be a kid as long as you want to.' Well, it couldn't be more true in this clubhouse than for No. 17 of the Chicago White Sox."

Which comes first, I wonder: The winning or the niche? The White Sox have a clubhouse full of guys filling niches.

Without the winning, there are no niches, just everybody trying to establish themselves. That's the Cincinnati Reds, Griffey's old team.

Manager Guillen sets the tone here, but it's not like there are no personalities beyond his.

Swisher, though young, fills one of the "character" niches.

After his two-run homer on Elvis Night - the blast scored Griffey - Swisher is the focus of the cameras and notebooks.

He reaches behind him to pull an Elvis wig out of his locker. It looks like something no self-respecting skunk would wear. Swisher realizes it's a bad look, and quickly discards it for a plastic pompadour that he puts on his head. Perfect. Swisher nods.

"OK, ready," he says, cueing the cameras.

"Well, I'm enjoying Elvis Night - obviously," he begins.
Why not as a Red?

The fourth thing you notice about Griffey - well, it's not really something you notice, but rather it's something you are forced to think about, because you really don't want to think about it - is how this is the way it should have been in Cincinnati.

Griffey should have been on a team where he was just one of the guys, playing for a manager willing to bat him seventh. And then Griffey could have chattered on good-naturedly about some teammate's outfit or his own kids or his late buddy Frank's driving habits or the things that happen when his wife gets hold of the credit card.

If Griffey had been just one of the guys in Cincinnati, it could have been like it is here now.

You want to ask Griffey about this, but he's gone.

The 38-year-old center fielder, who bats seventh and is just one of the guys, has disappeared.

Elvis has left the building.

http://news.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080831/SPT04/808310411/1071

top6
08-31-2008, 11:47 AM
Yet another great article by John Eradi. It is so refreshing to read his articles. He is heads and tails above anyone else in this market, in my opinion.

indy_dave00
08-31-2008, 12:44 PM
A well written article by John Erardi. Points out the value of both Junior and Dunn to the Reds that went beyond the field , providing an experienced sounding board for the younger Reds phenoms.

Jettisoning both so early in Jay Bruce's career has forced him to man up with no support system , hopefully in the long run it makes Jay all that much better. But for now its left him floundering and starting to doubt himself.

Guillen's treatment of Junior as one of the guys would have the best thing the Reds management could have done here , but they all seemed to lack the guts to do so.

I'm in agreement with Jay , my hope is the Diamondbacks and White Sox meet in the World Series.

Marty and Joe
08-31-2008, 01:05 PM
I've wondered who (of the players) is playing that sounding-board role or watching the young guys to gauge their states of mind now that Junior is gone. I often thought he wasn't a large, vocal leader type in the clubhouse, but was excellent for these 1-1 types of things and might have had a feel for the right things to say in those situations.

In the dugout from watching FoxSports, it seems the pitchers that are always sitting together and talking are all the young guys (Volquez/Cueto, etc.). And, the key youngsters on the hitting side are usually talking together also (Bruce, Votto).

I'd expect to see Harang, Arroyo, Cordero hanging around Volquez and Cueto, but, haven't seen it (not that it's not happening). And, I'd expect Valentin, Bako, Phillips (not much older, but, seems to want to take a leadership role) talking with Bruce, Votto, Edwin, Dickerson types - but, it hasn't been overly evident either.