This is a dead cool photo of a second-generation Oriole outfielder in the brand-new (at that time) ballpark, with the skyline of downtown Baltimore in the background. Of particular interest is the B & O Warehouse peeking out from behind the center field scoreboard. At 1,116 feet long, it's the longest building on the Eastern seaboard. Babe Ruth grew up right around the corner. The Warehouse now hosts the club's offices and serves as a target for left-handed batters, some 432 feet from home plate. Only one man has ever hit this landmark on the fly: Ken Griffey, Jr.
When "Junior" did the deed in the 1993 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, he was the most exciting young player in the game and the favorite of scores of baseball-crazed kids. I myself had a black outfielder's glove with his facsimile signature on the heel, treasured each and every one of his cards, and loved his ridiculously entertaining 1994 Super Nintendo game. He just had fun on the diamond, beaming his trademark smile and becoming one of the first players to wear his hat backwards during warmups. Ken could just do it all: hit for average and power, run the bases, and seemingly cover 90% of the outfield. I remember when he, and not Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, was the surest bet to hit 756 home runs.
Now Ken Griffey, Jr. is available, having had his option declined by the White Sox. The kid in me would still get a cheap thrill out of seeing Junior suit up in Orioles orange and black, even at age 39 (as of Opening Day 2009). But it's bittersweet to realize that the Birds have no interest in one of my childhood heroes, and even more so to realize that they're in the right. Griffey is severely limited on offense, defense, and on the basepaths, hitting .248 with 18 home runs and no stolen bases. It's just about the end of the line for one of the greatest players I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
The encouraging note here is that the O's don't have a great need for Griffey. In Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, they have two-thirds of the outfield set in stone for (hopefully) the next decade. Barring trade, Aubrey Huff is certain to DH. I don't think anyone expects him to replicate his monster 2008, when he was named Most Valuable Oriole (.304, 82 extra-base hits, 108 RBI), but even a lesser performance would probably top Junior right now. Left field is less secure, but Luke Scott provides good power and Nolan Reimold will have a legitimate shot at contributing as a rookie. The only other place Griffey can play is potentially first base, which is a question mark. I don't expect Kevin Millar back, and no one in the minors is ready. Maybe there will be a trade for a Billy Butler or the like. There are certainly cheaper, younger alternatives to the ex-Mariner great.
In past years, the O's would jump at a fading titan like Griffey (Sammy Sosa, anyone?) just to make an empty splash. I'm relieved that they have a steady hand like GM Andy MacPhail to resist the temptation. Though it hurts to admit it, time doesn't stand still for anyone - not even a man with 611 career home runs.