Ken Griffey, Jr, known affectionately as Junior, retired from baseball yesterday. After 20 plus seasons and 600 plus homeruns (5th on the all time home run list), Junior is a sure bet first round hall of famer. He came to Seattle as a 19 year old kid and stayed for 11 years playing at such a high level it is said he saved baseball in Seattle. Safeco Ballpark is the park Junior built. Since playing for Seattle he has been with the Reds and a short stint with the White Sox. Seattle brought him back last year. It was the feel good story of last baseball season. Griffey brought his infectious love for the game and his fun loving style to the Mariners team and they over achieved. But not this year. The pop in Griffey's bat was gone. There was no bounce left in his legs. He put on too much weight. Rumors circulated he needed naps between innings. He got up to bat almost 100 times this year and got 18 hits for a paltry .184 average. He hit only 2 doubles and no home runs. Not hall of fame numbers. He could not play the outfield. First, he dh'd and then he rode the bench nearly grounding into a doubleplay in his last pinch hit attempt. Sports journalists -mostly tactfully- hinted he had stayed one year too long. It was time to retire. So, he did. Yesterday, was the first day in many years he did not show up to a ballpark. His absence spoke volumes. Some players cried. Everyone spoke fondly of the Griffey years.
How do you know when to retire. Most of the great ones stay too long. Babe Ruth did. Bonds did. Griffey mostly embarrassed himself and put the team management in a tight spot this year. How can you fire a hall of famer? Everyone was waiting for him to bow out gracefully. Which he did, finally.
So how do you know when to retire? Ballplayers can look at their stats and they tell the story of diminished abilities. Ballplayers, especially those of Griffey's caliber, have millions to fall back on and a wide range of options for their post baseball careers. Not so for most of us. Some of us hold on until the "retirement age" doing our jobs even when we've lost the joy of working. Griffey had said when the joy was gone he would retire. Most people don't have that option. Many people today don't even have the choice of retiring; their company chooses to lay them off in a move to downsize. Many more people have seen their retirement portfolios considerably downsized, as well, over the past few years so their retirement plans have been put on hold.
Then there are those who retire only to start a second career. And those who retire and are sorry they did because they forgot to plan for something to do. Travel, or golf, or puttering around the house grows old too.
Griffey seems fortunate to have so many choices in retirement. He would never have to work again if he saved some of the mega millions he has made playing baseball. Hard to feel sorry for him. He had his run and it was a good one. He can find his joy again now that he has more time with his family, or if he joins his fellow retired athletes in the broadcast booth.
His retirement is front page news today. Hardly anyone noticed most of the other people who retired yesterday or those who were forced to retire. How do you know when to retire? Other than athletes and politicians, most people in our society don't have the luxury of asking that question.