February 10, 2000: Jr comes home
What a day it was.
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."
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 that lasted 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 every single day 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.”
I look back and wonder about so many things: Jr hit 40 homers and drove in 118, with a .942 OPS in his first season in Cincinnati. But the Reds won 85 games, 11 fewer than 1999, and finished 10 games out in the NL Central in 2000. Here were 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.