Monday, June 25, 2007

Wrong Again! But With an Explanation.

A long time ago, Michael Silverman of the Herald and myself made a bet. I bet Michael that Frank Thomas would end his playing days with more career home runs than Ken Griffey, Jr. As we go to cyberspace, the scoreboard reads Griffey 584-Thomas 499. I'd like to offer Michael my formal concession. I lose.

And I know why I lost. Not just because Michael knows more baseball than myself, which I'll stipulate. What's embarrassing is I lost sight of the economic side of Griffey and Thomas' careers, which was supposed to be my specialty at the Herald.

My motive for picking Thomas over Griffey should be obvious. I thought Junior would just be injured far too frequently to pile up massive career homer numbers. This reasoning was sound as far as it went; Griffey's had more more medical problems than an entire season of "Grey's Anatomy." Of course, the reasoning omitted the possibility Griffey wasn't the only player in the bet who get hurt.

My real blunder, though, was forgetting how baseball's lengthy guaranteed salaries affect the medical decisions made by both oft-injured players and the teams which employ them. Back in his father's day, a run of misery such as Griffey's endured for most of the 21st century would prompt a player to think of starting a new life. It certainly would prompt his team to tell him to find that new life somewhere else.

The financial incentive for a player to keep attempting to come back from chronic injuries is obvious. But the incentive for a team to allow, no, encourage, that player to do so is even more binding. The Reds had no recourse but to hope Griffey could come back. No business executive can keep a non-performing asset of that magnitude on its books and keep HIS job. Ask Steve Phillips. Or Mo Vaughn.

Griffey's 2007 revival is a nice story. It surely doesn't amortize Cincinnati's investment in him. But it's getting them some return on all those millions. Something is always better than nothing-unless it's some blogger served a heaping plate of boiled crow.


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