Mariners DH Ken Griffey Jr. and manager Don Wakamatsu said Griffey was available to pinch-hit during the eighth inning of Saturday's loss to the Angels, contrary to a report he was sleeping.
BALTIMORE — There was no laughter, nor joking, from Ken Griffey Jr.’s corner of the clubhouse on Tuesday as he dealt with his biggest crisis since rejoining the Mariners more than a year ago.
Griffey usually employs humor and one-line quips to diffuse tension and controversies whenever one of his teammates finds himself at the center of questioning. This time, though, on a gray, wet Tuesday afternoon, Griffey’s mood was as dark as the skies outside as he was quizzed about whether he had been sleeping in the clubhouse at Safeco Field during the latter stages of Saturday’s game.
The future Hall of Famer denied that he’d been sleeping in the eighth inning and insisted he was in the dugout and available to pinch-hit when Rob Johnson went down swinging with two on and two out. But Griffey also declined to answer questions about whether he’d been asleep in the clubhouse at any point before the eighth inning.
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“I’m just hoping that whoever said it be man enough to come and say something to me,” Griffey said of whichever players leaked the story.
The (Tacoma) News Tribune quoted an unnamed player Monday saying that Griffey had been sound asleep in the clubhouse in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. The paper said that a second player confirmed that account.
The issue of whether Griffey had been sleeping just before the eighth inning — and whether it played into any decision by manager Don Wakamatsu not to use him — was the dominant topic of conversation once the media was allowed in the visitors clubhouse Tuesday. Just before that, Mariners veteran Mike Sweeney called a players-only meeting in which he stood at the center of the clubhouse demanding that whoever had been quoted in the story step forward, and even offered to fight anyone who did.
No players took him up on it.
“We all love that guy,” Sweeney said. “Everybody in this room, to a man. That’s why we had the meeting. We wanted to let him know we support him.”
Sources said Griffey was devastated by the story and barely slept at all Monday night after arriving in Baltimore.
Griffey told reporters that the newspaper’s story was “a little different than my version. Like I said, I’m just hoping that whoever said it be man enough to come to me.”
He later added: “I know what happened. There are a few other players who know what happened. And that’s it.”
But asked to spell out how the versions differed, or offer his account of what had taken place, he again declined.
“I can’t win this,” Griffey said. “I’m not trying to. So, it’s simple. There are some things that are not accurate and that’s it. I’ll leave it at that.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu insisted that Griffey had been in the dugout during the eighth inning and confirmed his slugger’s account that he’d been available to pinch-hit.
“I know that the gist of the article was that he wasn’t available to pinch-hit,” Wakamatsu said. “He was available to pinch-hit and I chose not to.”
But Wakamatsu also said he didn’t know whether Griffey had been asleep in the clubhouse before the eighth inning. Asked why two of his players would tell a story about Griffey being asleep during the seventh inning and unavailable to pinch-hit, the manager replied: “There are distractions that we’re trying to deal with. What we’re trying to focus on now is that we won a game on Sunday.”
Wakamatsu did not specify what those “distractions” were.
The team has been through a tumultuous seven-day period that began last week when Milton Bradley stormed out of the dugout and left Safeco Field while a game was still going on. Bradley apologized the next day and was put on the restricted list after asking the team to help him, through counseling, with personal issues that led to his outburst.
After losing eight home games in a row, the team fired hitting coach Alan Cockrell on Sunday, replacing him with Alonzo Powell. Seattle finally won a game later that day, only to be blindsided on Monday by the Griffey story, which included suggestions he could be pushed into retirement, or released, by the team later this month.
Griffey entered play Tuesday with a .208 batting average and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .499 — the latter figure third-worst in the American League among players with at least 70 at-bats. He was bumped down to No. 7 in the lineup on Tuesday, the first time all season he’s hit that low, and went hitless with a walk and a run scored.
During Tuesday’s scrum with reporters, with players around the clubhouse watching and listening, Griffey was asked whether he’s considered retirement.
“I’ll figure that out when I get to that point,” he said.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners