The recent induction of Ken Griffey Jr. into the Mariners Hall of Fame was a powerfully nostalgic moment for me, as for many. Coming at a time when I was transitioning to this new columnist post at The Seattle Times, it caused a flood of reflection and seemed somehow to be a fitting symbol for the closing of a wonderful phase of my professional life.
After 17 baseball seasons in Seattle — long enough for a baby to be born and make it to her senior year in high school, as my middle daughter has; but, alas, not long enough for a playoff Mariners season to be hatched in the sentient life of my youngest, who was born the day after Safeco Field opened in 1999 — I’m moving on to keener pastures.
Unlike Mariano Rivera, who was just transitioning from starter to setup man when I moved here in 1996, there will be no farewell tour. Just a farewell column, which conveniently doubles as an introductory column, making me as efficient as most Danny Farquhar closing stints (if I may be allowed to get the last tortured baseball analogy out of my system).
The good thing is that after so many years on these pages, I think you know me and my foibles by now. So, technically, it’s not really an introduction at all; let’s call it a recasting, or a reinvention. An extreme makeover, if you will.
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Rest assured I still plan to plunge deeply into the Mariners, who offer no shortage of juicy story lines even as the losing seasons mount. Especially as the losing seasons mount. But no longer will I live and breathe (or spit and scratch) major-league ball.
I was fortunate to come to Seattle at a time of unprecedented baseball fervor — just one year removed from the joy ride of 1995, which I watched jealously from afar while covering the Giants in San Francisco. After spending one year as the Seahawks beat writer during the glorious Rick Mirer era, the demand for baseball coverage was so heavy that a new position — national baseball writer — was created at the Times. I was fortunate enough to fill it.
In 1997, I walked into a Mariners milieu just teeming with legends and characters (sometimes, in the same body), from the quietly regal Edgar Martinez to the crudely boisterous Jay Buhner. There was a young Alex Rodriguez, not yet the nation’s pariah but with signs of his smarminess already beginning to seep out; the ever-petulant Big Unit, a mass of scowling angst but the most intimidating pitcher I’ve ever seen; Lou Piniella, the irascible leader of the group, just as charismatic as his players; and, especially, Junior.
Covering Griffey was a trip, at once a joy, a privilege and, on occasion, a huge hassle. I’m so thankful I got to be around, on a daily basis, the two pre-eminent players of the generation, Barry Bonds and Griffey, one who went astray and the other, I’m convinced, who did it clean.
What great memories I leave behind — talking baseball with the great Dave Niehaus on the back fields of Peoria; visiting the boyhood home of Martinez in Dorado, Puerto Rico; covering a dozen World Series (still none with the Mariners), as well as major-league games in Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico … and Detroit. Lots and lots of games in Detroit, which for some reason the beat writers, Bob Finnigan and Geoff Baker, always seemed to find reasons to skip.
Mostly, though, I’ll miss the timeless rhythms of the game, and the bursts of radiance amid the mundane, sometimes mind-numbing, routines of baseball. I’ve yet to attend a game that didn’t offer some small moment of pleasure, a redeeming thrill or oddity or anomaly that continued to make the venture worthwhile.
But now it’s time, after 33 years in the business, more than 25 of them devoted solely to baseball, to broaden my horizons beyond the diamond. The retirement of Steve Kelley in January provided the opening, and I’m grateful to my bosses for choosing me to attempt to fill that daunting absence by joining Jerry Brewer as a Seattle Times columnist.
All sports are in play now, but I’ll continue to tackle the job with the same mindset: To find the most compelling stories, the most interesting people, and the most relevant themes.
It was the esteemed writer Red Smith — not to be confused with the immense rusher Red Bryant — who once gave this morbid description of writing a sports column: “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
That’s certainly the romantic notion of the craft: All that anguish as the necessary labor pains before giving birth to creativity. But with all due respect to the great Red, I’m not buying it.
I’ve always tried to view sports as, at its core, a joyful escape from the stress of real life. Oh, there are scoundrels, rogues and incompetents in our corner of the world (but enough about Clay Bennett). We won’t ignore those, and we’ll tackle all the tough issues, hopefully with fairness and without malice, but with a hammer and a vengeance when necessary.
I want to make sure, however, that the wonder and joy shines through above all else. There will be some bloodletting at the computer keys, no doubt, and irritation, perhaps even anger, at your end; but I’m hoping there will be even more smiles and laughter, nods of recognition, and shivers of conveyed excitement.
But much less spitting and scratching.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com