Good morning, sweet and delicate, KSR readers and welcome to your Thursday News and Views – a post that is going to be dished out with a heavy heart this morning, as both my childhood and baseball waved goodbye to one of their most pivotal figures. I have spent 26 years on this fine planet of ours and, for nearly 22 of them, Ken Griffey, Jr. has played Major League Baseball and owned a sizable piece of real estate in my heart (though just a bit smaller than Eric Davis and Nolan Ryan). When Junior abruptly retired on Wednesday with a statement that I firmly believe has a “I’m still willing to play” element to it, he did so as an overweight fourth outfielder hitting .184 in 33 games. On numbers alone, it was a roster move fit for the “Other Transactions” section of the sports page (those are still around, right?), but, as we all know, it was so much more than that. Though Junior’s seemingly never-ending list of accomplishments cement his status as a Hall of Famer, there was so much more about him that made him a sports icon.
Along with Michael Jordan, he was one of a select few athletes who used off-the-field marketing and personality to change the way athletes presented themselves. If you were a 90s kids like myself, then you mimiced his every move as he helped set the tone for the “empire” talk we hear these days when people talk about LeBron James. Plenty of great players have played the game since Junior broke into the majors in 1989, but there was no one who truly transcended the game like Griffey, Jr. did. It wasn’t that he owned the most beautifully perfect swing I’ve ever seen and had all of us lefty Little Leaguers swinging a bat in our front yard, then casually strutting toward first base before busting into a jog. It wasn’t just that had his own video game that was, arguably, the best baseball video game ever made (no disrespect to RBI Baseball) or the backwards hat that had our Little League coaches yelling at us all to turn our bills around to the front. Though it’s possibly the greatest sign of how much an athlete’s image has transcended his sport, it wasn’t even so much that he had a shoe that my parents deemed a waste of money and refused to pay for. It wasn’t even that he ran a presidential campaign so successful that my college roommate still had the poster on his wall (hey ladies, what’s up?). The thing that made Ken Griffey, Jr. one of a kind is that he was “The Kid” who played a kid’s game like, well, he was a kid. And that’s why, as a kid, this Texas Rangers season-ticket holder rooted for the Mariners for four or five at-bats per game and why, as an adult, this Tampa Bay Rays season-ticket holder wore a Junior t-shirt jersey under his BJ Upton jersey during the ALDS and had a little bit of remorse when his childhood hero struck out to send the Rays to the ALCS.
Though I will openly and honestly admit that it was frustrating to see how his contract handicapped a Reds franchise that seemed on the verge of a breakthrough when he was introduced in 2000 and I was sometimes angry at how his body seemed to be breaking down when no one else’s was, my feelings are a little different today than they were when he was struggling through injury-lagued seasons. No one ever wants to see a legend like Griffey, Jr. drift into oblivion, but retiring at 40 – an age when Barry Bonds had what might have been his greatest season – with a meager .184 average has a bit of sweet nostalgia to it. It’s almost dignified in a way, given the way baseball stars have left the game in recent years. (See, Gregg Doyel, I didn’t mention the “S” word).
Baseball has its fair share of young stars, some of them who will be compared to Griffey, Jr. in the coming years. However, I doubt we’re going to see anyone capture the baseball world (and non-baseball world for that matter) the way that Griffey did.
Now that we’ve gotten that excessively long ramble out of the way, onto some UK news…
– The SEC meetings are underway in Destin and Coach Cal had a little session with the media that he used to essentially issue no comment regarding the Eric Bledsoe story in the New York Times. Cal deferred back to the statement released from UK and would not expand on anything further, not that he really had any reason to. At this time, there is no Eric Bledsoe investigation and, in the eyes of the NCAA, he was an eligible player. All indications are that this will eventually fade away from the headlines and life will resume as normal and any comment by Cal would likely serve no purpose to sway those who have taken issue with either him or the university in the media or court of public opinion. Cal said it perfectly when he made what was the closest thing to a statement on the subject, saying “One thing I will say is that coaching at Kentucky is like being in politics. You’ve got your core group that absolutely loves you and the others are trying to unseat you. That’s just how it is if you’re at Kentucky.” With in mind, if there is anything said on the matter by Kentucky’s head coach at any point in the near future, I’d be shocked. As I said, it’s a non-issue with the NCAA at this time and that’s the only place that really matters. Trying to sway anyone else is likely an exercise in futility.
– If it’s possible that anything hasn’t been said regarding the Bledsoe story and subsequent internet uproar, it’s that I think those lumping blame on Kentucky or Calipari or even Bledsoe for that matter are overlooking an important little caveat. What was the intent of leaking the transcript? From what I understand, there were a number of schools – not just the ones recruiting Bledsoe – that had a copy or saw the transcript and none of them turned it into the NCAA, who apparently had already investigated it, along with UK. Instead, it was sent to the media. If we’re going to continue this paragraph of assumptions, can’t we assume that the real concern wasn’t about a student-athlete’s eligibilty?
– One interesting note from Cal’s chat with our media buddies was the revelation that he could start five freshmen next season. Given the calculated and seemingly rehearsed nature of Calipari’s appearances, it seems this statment could be a little public motivation to Darius Miller, who, as a junior, will be needed as a leader this season. The reports out of last year’s pre-season camps were that Miller was grasping the dribble-drive better than anyone else on the team and, coming off a summer with the U19 Team USA, was primed for a breakout season. He was up-and-down as a sophomore and, given the expected return to a true dribble-drive for Cal this season, could be getting primed for a breakout season this year. I take this statement to mean that Calipari intends to motivate Darius to reach that point.
– On a football note, expansion has been the hot topic in college football this off-season as most conferences are believed to be prepping themselves to respond to the Big 10’s play for expansion and a larger viewing audience for their network. Clay Travis spoke with SEC commissioner Mike Slive and got a pretty important piece of news out of him: the SEC does stand to benefit financially from their TV deal if they have more teams. Tennessee’s head cheerleader goes all lawyer on the subject and breaks it down pretty nicely and appropriately terms a possible SEC expansion as a “counterpunch” to the Big 10. Check out the article.
– On another football note, Rivals released their Top 100 for the class of 2011 and UK had a player on the list. Glen Faulkner, a four-star defensive back, comes it at #83 and is the Cats’ first representative on the list since Micah Johnson in 2006 (#36).
– On Wednesay, Coach Cal also said his mother is doing better in her battle with cancer. As we’ve mentioned countless times on here, cancer has affected us all in one way or another (some of us with our own moms) and, no matter who it is, it hits home and we wish nothing but the best. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Calipari family.
– In, perhaps, the biggest news in sports, it was a tough night to be Jim Joyce. Good for him for apologizing and for Armando Gallaraga for being a big man about it, but there’s no way you make that call. In a situation like that, the tie goes to the perfect game. This is no time to be fair. This is baseball. It’s a game of unwritten rules and that’s just how it’s supposed to shake out. Although, I give Jason Donald credit. I’ve never seen a team look so resigned to getting a perfect game thrown against them with give-up at bats and he hustled down the line to make it a close play. I was shocked.
– Since I missed last night’s post, we might as well talk Justified. It was a throw-away episode. Nothing happened, though the table was set for a big-time season finale. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
– Incredibly, there were 296 entries to the blogger contest, which is just a few more people than participated in the live blog that, if you’re reading this Matt, totally didn’t happen at 1am. To paraphrase Coach Cal, you people are crazy. You do know that this doesn’t pay, right?
That’s it for now. I apologize for the rant and the late start. However, I will not apologize for a Griffey man crush. Stay tuned throughout the day for all things UK and some things not. We’ll just have to see. See you in a few…