Jr comes home: February 10, 2000
What a day it was. I don't think any other single sports day over the last 19 years can top it in terms of excitement level. Cincinnati was turned upside down with hope and excitement. Chris Haft, who was covering the Reds for the Enquirer, said it best in the next morning's paper: "Reds fans celebrated Opening Day, July 4th and the seventh game of the World Series all at once Thursday."
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The best players in baseball decided to come home, and take less money to do it. "All" the Reds had to give up was RHP Brett Tomko, CF Mike Cameron, minor-league infielder Antonio Perez and minor-league RHP Jake Meyer.
I remember the day to day rumors and reports leading up to the deal, lasting over three months. The 1999 Reds had won 96 games, but suffered the heartbreak of a one game tiebreaker vs Al Leiter and the Mets. The addition of Jr. had visions of championships dancing in our heads. Griffey was just 30 years old and coming of a 1999 season of hitting .285 with 48 homers, 134 RBI, 91 walks and 24 stolen bases. He was sitting on 398 career home runs with a .299 average and 1,152 RBIs.
He was considered to have the best chance to top Hank Aaron all-time home-run leader of 755. The Reds were moving into a new stadium three years later, which was expected to feature a short right-field fence, perfect for Jr's swing.
I remember talking about Jr. trade rumors daily on the show, "could he?, would he?, should they?, who would you give up?" I remember owner Carl Lindner meeting Jr. at the airport and driving him in his Bentley to the announcement. I remember how Ken Griffey Sr. looked like such a proud father at the news conference at Cinergy Field.I remember how incredibly packed the room was, with every city politician that could fit. I remember GM Jim Bowden's famous words as he stepped to the podium: “February 10, 2000, a day that 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.”
I remember Jr stepping to the podium and saying: “Well, I'm finally home.”
19 years later I look back and wonder about so many things:
Keep in mind, in his first season with the Reds, Jr hit 40 homers and drove in 118, with a .942 OPS. But the Reds won 85 games, 11 fewer than 1999, and finished 10 games out in the NL Central in 2000. Here are the starting pitchers, by starts on that team: Steve Parris (33), Rob Bell (26), Ron Villone (23), Pete Harnisch (22), Denny Neagle (18), Elmer Dessens (16), Osvaldo Fernandez (14). Sadly, Jr's first season would be the only season of 8+ spent with the Reds that the Reds would finish with a winning record. The story has so many What If's? to it.
-Jr didn't have to deal with the injuries that would follow?-Ownership had delivered on a promise to spend more money, rather than tie the hands of Bowden?
-Fans had taken their frustrations out on ownership rather than Jr?-Fans had treated Jr throughout his time in town, like they did on day one?
-Jr had opened up and embraced the city more in his time? -The Reds had upgraded their starting pitching for 2000, instead of trading for Jr.?
I've always wanted a "do-over" for Jr, the city and ownership...a chance to get it right and do it right.
Keep in mind....Jr. deferred nearly 60% of the contract to help the Reds payroll situation at the time. It is hard to believe ownership got the best player in the game, at a discount, and did nothing else to improve the team. Ownership lied to GM Jim Bowden and handcuffed him. The Reds won 85 games in Jr's first season, the only winning season in his eight full seasons with the team. What a shame.
As part of the salary deferral, the Reds have paid Jr. $3.5M a year since 2009 and will make those payments through 2021.
Here are some archive stories I found from that day.....
Chris Haft, Cincinnati.com “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.”...........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.
Cincinnati.com Feb. 10, 2000: The Reds and Mariners finalize one of the biggest trades in baseball history. The Reds get Junior, and in return Seattle gets four players: Right-hander Brett Tomko, center fielder Mike Cameron, minor league pitcher Jake Meyer, and minor league infielder Antonio Perez. Also, the Reds reach an agreement with Griffey on a new contract: nine years, $117.5 million, with a club option for a 10th season. The contract, which will keep Griffey in his hometown through the 2008 season, is dramatically backloaded, with more than half the total money to be paid after the contract's ninth year.
Allen Howard, Cincinnati.com While Reds officials would not say how many tickets they have sold the past two days, they acknowledged ticket demand has been “overwhelming.” Besides ticket windows and the Internet, the Reds phone lines were jammed all day Thursday and Friday by ticket seekers.
Mike Ball, Cincinnati.com “You never know if (Griffey) is going to put (the Reds) over the top. Obviously, they have to fill the five spots in the rotation. They'll get an upgrade in center field, even though many people believe (Mike) Cameron has a pretty high ceiling.
John Fay, Cincinnat.com Griffey replaces Cameron in the lineup. Griffey hit .285 with 48 home runs and 134 RBI, compared to .256, 21 HRs and 66 RBI for Cameron. Bichette replaced Greg Vaughn. Bichette hit .298, 34 HRs and 133 RBI, compared to .245, 45 HRs, 118 RBI for Vaughn.
Scott MacGregor, Cincinnati.com The Griffey deal — along with talk of signing former American League MVP Juan Gonzalez to as much as a $140- million deal in Detroit — to some degree changes the perception that small-revenue teams can't compete for superstar players. “It's good for the game if stars are distributed throughout the industry instead of to a handful of teams,” Tigers General Manager Randy Smith said. “It gives fans the hope you're going to go out and play with the big boys, that you can attract premium and elite players to your cities.”
(Photos courtesy Getty Images)