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Catching up

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 8, 2010 04:57 PM

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0608griffey.jpg
If I were a more devious beast, I might insinuate that TATB been on hiatus these past seven days because I was pouting that the Ellsbury Militia (a subdivision of the Tek Army, but with pinker helmets) turned my last post turned in to a referendum on the dastardly and sessile sports media simply because I used the Red Sox' preciously delicate center fielder as an entry point to write about Fred Lynn.

And then you would definitely feel bad for me, I just know it.

OK, maybe not. But no matter. I am a simple man, one who appreciates cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right and however else that song my wife listens to all the time goes, and simple men who like beer and jeans do not make excuses. So I'll say this the best that I can. First post in the week. Gah. Got my excuses, gonna keep 'em to myself. Now what the hell is chicken fried?

Anyway, I want to use this post to catch up on some extremely outdated topics I've meant to write about. As a bonus for your patience -- if you consider such a thing a bonus -- I'll pop back here after Game 3 tonight for some instant half-considered analysis. After listening to Mike Breen for four quarters, I'd like to imagine my NBA chatter will seem adequate by comparison . . .

* * *

Thumbnail image for 0608mays.jpgThe many things that make me feel old, Vol. 40:

1. Watching Rasheed Wallace run, because that's how I run. Methodically, to put it gently.

2. Ken Griffey Jr., "The Kid" of our generation, retiring.

3. Pretty much everything else, up to and including the success of Lady (Are We Sure About That?) Gaga.

But mostly the second one, at least in recent days. In a certain way, it was almost appropriate that his abrupt (Wakamatsu-aided?) retirement last week was overshadowed by Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga's more-than-perfect performance that night.

Griffey has been a bit of an afterthought in recent seasons, injuries and that most unusual affliction for a player of his era -- the natural aging process -- eroding those gifts and transcendent skills that made him the closest thing to Willie Mays we'll ever see. One estimate -- it might have been by Joe Posnanski -- suggested that Griffey lost upwards 100 home runs to injuries. Considering he finished with 630 despite hitting more than 22 just twice since 2001, you can't help but wonder what heights he might have achieved has his body not deceived him.

The argument can be made -- and has been by writers I respect such as Dave Cameron -- that Griffey stayed too long, that the Mariners brought him home for an appropriate farewell last year and he never should have stuck around for another season. I'm not one to suggest any ballplayer should retire -- I understand the notion of making 'em tear the uniform off you -- but it was tough watching him swing through fastballs he would have destroyed in his youth, or erode to the point that the fiercest center fielder when have ever seen became a sore-legged DH, a Cepeda-in-'74. In that way, perhaps the Mays comparison is valid in another sense. There is something to be said for an elegant exit.

While you wish Griffey had gone with more grace, the final scene doesn't ruin the film. In an odd way, his departure may enhance our memories of him, since we'll no longer see him aging in real time. He's now forever 24 years old in the mind's eye, still at the peak of his powers, still in the breezy heyday of his youth: The natural charisma, the famous smile peeking out from the bottom of the pile, the joy he found playing alongside his proud dad, the grace and fearlessness in center field, the it-can't-get-any-more-gorgeous lefthanded swing, the hat turned backward as steam came out of Buck Showalter's clenched ears (yes, he could actually clench his ears. Now that's uptight!)

Sure, we'll miss watching Ken Griffey Jr. play. But then, we have for a while now. He's much more fun to remember.

* * *

0608deshields.jpgYou remember the first big leaguer younger than you -- I think it's the moment you really realize you're not going to make the majors after all, that that scout is never going to discover you playing Wiffle Ball on the beach and sign you on the spot even though you stopped playing organized ball at 16. (Not that I ever thought that, of course.)

For me, it was Steve Avery, born six months later than me, who debuted with the Braves in 1990. If the haze of Orono, Maine hadn't been so fun at the time, I might have been jealous. (Griffey, and yes, I'm going to continue to pretend you care about this, is one day younger than me.)

I bring this up not only out of a nitwit's narcissism, but also because of yet another Hey, Geezer, Yeah I'm Talking To You moment from the past couple of days, one that was nearly enough to convince me to start mainlining metamucil. Delino DeShields, once traded straight-up for Pedro (only one of Dan Duquette's impressive list of heists) and forever that speedy young Expo in my mind, is apparently old enough to have a son old enough to be selected yesterday in the MLB Draft.

For my own mental health, I'm going to pretend he became a dad at age 8, even though all records indicate that Delino DeShields was a man of 23 when Delino DeShields Jr. was born.

Ugh. It's almost enough to make me hope Mariano Rivera, allegedly 40 (and nine days younger than me) but apparently ageless, never gets old. Almost.

* * *

Indians Tigers Baseball.jpgBefore I get to other such other timely and topical issues such as whether Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA is a sign the mound should be lowered and whether Pete Rose has a shot at the all-time hits record, I have to comment on the Galarraga/Jim Joyce feel-good story of the season.

And make no mistake, a feel-good story is exactly what it was. Joyce genuine, heart-wrenching reaction to calling Cleveland's Jason Donald safe when he certainly was not was a lesson in accountability. If you couldn't sympathize with a man making an honest mistake in a crucial moment, you've lived a sheltered existence.

But the truly extraordinary reaction belonged to the only person who had a right to be angry, or at least outwardly disappointed. Galarraga's matter-of-fact grace and forgiveness in a moment of what we all thought was crushing disappointment was welcome surprise, one that will make me and a lot of other people root for the guy for the rest of his career. I know I wasn't the only one who recognized the irony of Galarraga repeatedly saying "Nobody's perfect" while sticking up for Joyce. Somebody raised that kid right.

To put it another way: Can you imagine how, say, Roger Clemens would have handled such a circumstance? Authorities would have found Joyce strangled with Ninja Turtle shoelaces and/or stabbed with Mike Piazza's broken bat in the wee hours the next morning.

The blessing is that in the end, this game -- and the pitcher who threw it -- will be remembered more than perhaps any perfect game in baseball history other than perhaps Don Larsen's in the '56 World Series. For what happened after Joyce's mistake as much as Joyce's mistake itself, this game will be cherished and its story retold far, far more often than it would have had it been 27 up, 27 down. It may not have been a perfect game in the record books, but it's more than perfect in our minds. Bud Selig, in his accidental wisdom, was correct in not changing a thing.

The MLB Network showed the masterpiece again Monday. I watched, and I was glad there was no alternate ending. In its own way, the original was more than perfect.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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