Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Reds more important than 1 game




By TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATLANTA — Ken Griffey Jr. gets a pass on this one. He has a sore knee, a doctor's excuse and 75 games left on his regular-season schedule. These are legitimate grounds to miss the All-Star Game.

        Baseball's mid-season exhibition is a showcase, not a summons. It does not deserve higher priority than the pennant race and Griffey does not deserve any fresh grief for missing it.

        He deserves the benefit of the doubt here rather than the widespread cynicism his injury has engendered. Ken Griffey Jr. has as much right as the next man to patella femoral syndrome, and maybe more. The ballplayer who runs into walls in pursuit of fly balls earns some allowances.

        “This whole thing with the All-Star Game is a real pain in my (posterior),” said Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Reds team physician. “Does Junior need an operation? No. Does he need daily treatment? Yes.

        “I thought holding him out of the All-Star Game was the right thing to do, but he hasn't exactly endeared himself to the media and there's a suspicion that this is one of Junior's ways of manipulating the system. The answer to that is no.”

Needs to be there
        Though as many as eight of the elected starters may ultimately be scratched from tonight's tilt at Turner Field — they're dropping like flies did during the Kal Daniels era — Griffey has been singled out for skepticism. This owes to his peevish personality, his controversial 1998 All-Star experience, his curious presence in Monday's Home Run Derby and the bill of good health implicit in the eight runs he drove home Saturday afternoon at Cinergy Field.

        The lightning rod he has become is largely of Junior's own making, but some of the thunderbolts aimed at him would appear to be misdirected. To disappoint fans is not to dupe them.

        “If this were a Kid Glove game, no one would say a thing about it,” Kremchek said. “Being the All-Star Game, people are raising their eyebrows a little about it.”

        That Griffey participated in the proceedings at all was in part a pre-emptive strike against criticism. For once, he was well-served by his hypersensitivity. He recognized that Mark McGwire's forced absence had already diminished the Home Run Derby, and that some player of stature should pick up the slack.

        “If Mark was in it, I might have felt differently because of my knee,” Griffey said. “This is a game we all love. If one of us can't do it, then somebody else has to do it.”

Still stinging from '98
        Though amateur physicians still wanted to know how he could be well enough to swing a bat but not to play the outfield (Answer: No running), Griffey understood that skipping the All-Star events entirely would have fomented full-scale rips. In 1998, a Denver columnist declared Griffey a “punk” for his decision (later reversed) to skip the Home Run Derby at Coors Field.

        Once burned, Ken Griffey Jr. never stops smoldering.

        “Day in and day out, everything I do is negative or not good enough,” he said Monday afternoon. “I don't do something that someone thinks I should and I get cheap-shotted. So what happens if I didn't show?”

        A streak of self-pity runs through many of Griffey's remarks, and it gets a tad tiresome when contrasted with his blessings. Yet it is hard to see how that has any relevance to a tender knee or to Kremchek's recommended treatment.

        If a second opinion is required, let it come from a doctor.

        E-mail Tim Sullivan at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE