Griffey's outlook is healthier, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SARASOTA, Fla. - Ken Griffey did little more than snarl and grunt at the media when he showed up for spring training. The Cincinnati Reds beat writers put up with the surly superstar for about a week.

Finally, Hal McCoy, a 30-year veteran of the Reds beat from the Dayton Daily News, stuck a blue Post-it note into Griffey's locker. It read: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be misquoted and used against you."

Griffey has been a teddy bear ever since.

He was in a playful mood again yesterday morning, as the Reds prepared for a split-squad game against the Orioles at home and another 90 minutes away in Fort Myers against the Boston Red Sox.

Griffey went against the grain for a baseball veteran, deciding to make the road trip, even with Pedro Martinez scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox.

"Why wouldn't I?" Griffey said, smiling. "[Shortstop Barry] Larkin's going, too."

Last week, Griffey was the subject of more trade rumors, when The Sun reported that Orioles owner Peter Angelos has given his baseball people the approval to take on the $79 million remaining in Griffey's contract - if the Reds are willing to trade him.

So far, there have been no substantive trade talks between the teams, but the story caused quite a stir. McCoy, who will be honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, introduced a reporter from Baltimore to Griffey yesterday, and Griffey said, "Uh-oh. ... It wasn't me."

Griffey started packing his bag for a moment, and then he hopped up and sat down on a big, black trunk. Barry Bonds has a recliner by his locker; Griffey has this trunk, and that's where he sat yesterday, talking about the good life.

"I was 19 when I came up [to the big leagues]," Griffey said. "I had no wife, no kids, nothing to worry about but me. Now I have a wife, two kids, I'm 33.

"Things that you smile about at 19, you don't smile at 33.

"I think people have forgotten that I am a grown man. They still think I'm a 19-year-old running around. This is my 15th year in the big leagues. They think I'm supposed to stay this happy-go-lucky kid, you know, smiling all the time."

The smile vanished when injuries started wrecking his homecoming. He originally signed a nine-year, $116.5 million deal with the Reds after being traded from the Seattle Mariners in 2000. Cincinnati got its hometown discount, but Griffey didn't get a no-trade clause because nobody thought he'd ever need it.

He hit 40 homers that first year with the Reds despite being bothered all season with hamstring and knee injuries. In 2001, he hit 22 home runs as injuries limited him to 111 games. Last year, he made two trips to the disabled list with a torn patella tendon in his right knee and a torn right hamstring, limiting him to eight home runs in 70 games.

Reds manager Bob Boone was matter-of-fact yesterday when asked why the club thought about trading Griffey this past winter. It had a deal made with the San Diego Padres - Griffey for outfielder Phil Nevin - but Nevin used his no-trade clause to reject it.

"It's the business we are in; it's the contract [Griffey] has," Boone said.

"People who are paying the contract want a little bit more of a sure thing. ... I know what he means to our ballclub. I also know if he gets hurt again what it means to our chances."

By that, Boone was talking about the Reds' long-term chances for success.

Cincinnati would have saved $55 million in the Nevin deal, and as Reds general manager Jim Bowden said, that could buy a lot of pitching.

Boone on Griffey

Upon orders from upper management, Boone contacted Nevin and tried persuading him to accept the deal. Boone had known Nevin as a kid growing up in Southern California but couldn't change his mind.

Griffey has said he understands the money issue, but wishes the Reds had presented it to him as such. Boone hadn't said much about Griffey until yesterday, when he opened up at length when asked if Griffey seems happier this spring.

"Junior's always been a happy person," Boone said. "The only thing that's happened to Griffey in the last several years is it's the only time in his life he hasn't been a poster child. He had some real reality set into his life and somebody actually criticized him and some fan actually booed him, and that never happened to Junior before.

"There was no reason for it to [happen]. And that's set his mood back toward the media, toward the outside world."

Griffey has had reason to smile again this spring. For one thing, he appears fully healthy, after spending the offseason working out with former Orlando Magic trainer Darren Oliver, trying to strengthen his hamstrings.

One day after the Angelos report, Griffey hit three home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including two off starter Kris Benson.

Yesterday, with the Orioles on their way to a 7-4 loss, word came from Fort Myers that Griffey had doubled off Martinez in his first at-bat.

"If he's healthy, he's certainly in the category of Barry Bonds," Boone said.

"He's the top. He's what we revolve this team around, and at this point, I'm Paranoid Bob, and I want to put him in a jar and just go, 'OK, everything's fine right now. Go home, go to sleep, we'll bring you out March 31.' "

If the Reds can keep Griffey healthy, they might be able to keep him happy.

But the Nevin deal has left them helpless against the rumor mill. The Orioles heard Griffey was available again this spring, so they made a call. The Reds said he wasn't available, and that was that.

"We call all the clubs with players we're interested in," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said, refusing to get into specifics. "If we make one call and we ask about a player and another team says he's not available, did we have a trade discussion? No."

Bowden was clearly agitated when asked about the Griffey trade rumors yesterday.

"I can't control the media and what they write," he said. "All I can do is tell the facts. With Ken Griffey Jr., we're not talking to any clubs about dealing him. He's going to open up Great America Ballpark in center field.

"He's healthy. He's in the best shape probably of his life. He's swinging the bat like he did in his prime in Seattle, and we're expecting him to have a career year in Cincinnati this year."

Asked if he gets calls about Griffey, Bowden started raising his voice from his first-row seat at Ed Smith Stadium.

"We're having no discussions, zero discussions. We're not taking any discussions," he said. "You can ask me the same question 50 different ways. We're not trading him ... and that's it."

Focus on field, not O's

Even with a new ballpark about to open, not much has changed in the Reds' financial forecast in the four months since the Nevin deal collapsed. The only thing that has changed is Griffey's injury status. So far, this spring, he looks like the player who entered his 30s with 10 Gold Gloves and 398 home runs.

Sitting on the black trunk, Griffey stared straight ahead when asked about the Orioles' rumors.

"It was one-sided, from what everybody said," he said. "It just came from the Baltimore side, and that was it. Nobody commented over here about it.

"I don't worry about it. I've got a job to do. I can't be sitting there worrying about what Bowden says or what happened in the offseason. Spring training's here, we've got to get ready, and basically that's the bottom line."

Griffey said he thinks this Reds team, featuring Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Larkin and Sean Casey, has a chance to start a new tradition for the franchise in the new ballpark.

The reporter from Baltimore asked Griffey if he likes Camden Yards, where he is a career .265 hitter with nine homers in 162 at-bats, Griffey said: "That's a loaded question.

"If I say, 'Yeah I like that ballpark,' it's, 'Well, he wants to play here,' " Griffey said, changing his voice, having fun.

"From the fan's point of view, there's not a bad seat in the house. From a player's point of view, when you have 33,000 people there, it's a lot easier because there's somebody there to watch you play. It makes it tough when there's only [5,000] or 6,000."

A few minutes later, Griffey hopped off the trunk, grabbed his bag and threw on his cap - backward, in his trademark style. The blue Post-it was still hanging in the locker, but Griffey obviously has given up his right to remain silent.

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