Cincinnati's love affair with Junior went south

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CINCINNATI --- Imagine Junior chasing Hammerin' Hank in his hometown.

Perfect, no? Sure seemed that way.

When Ken Griffey Jr. joined the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, giddy fans flooded the team's phone lines with ticket requests and started daydreaming about championships and records to come. The city already had one of its own as baseball's career hits leader -- the banished Pete Rose -- and could ruminate about another one of its own powering past Hank Aaron for the home run record, as well. Such a perfect match.

Instead, it turned out to be a very poor match, this private superstar and his adoring hometown. Griffey never really felt at home in the place he grew up. When he was traded to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, few tears were shed.

"I'd say he's a very good player, but he's getting old," said Bryan Lamers, a 43-year-old consultant and longtime Reds fan. "It's time to move on."

On a number of levels, the relationship never worked, turning out to be more bitter than sweet.

The city was expecting to see a lot of Griffey's smiling face and his affable "Junior" persona when he arrived. Instead, Griffey -- a very private person away from the field -- appeared overwhelmed and suffocated by the outpouring. Griffey pulled back, creating a chill in the relationship. Then, the injuries did him in.

It didn't help that the team was struggling on the field. When the Reds narrowly missed the postseason in 1999, losing a one-game playoff to the Mets for the NL wild card, better days seemed ahead.

But instead of getting the starting pitching that could keep the Reds in contention, former general manager Jim Bowden went after his all-time favorite player. The club gave Griffey a nine-year, $116.5 million contract that severely limited what it could do with its pitching staff.

It wasn't Griffey's fault that the Reds fell into a rut of seven losing seasons in a row, with the lack of pitching a consistent thread.

At age 38, Griffey has lost a lot and his speed and range in the outfield have diminished.

The trade provided a chance for a clean break.

"Ken Griffey Jr. was a big part of this franchise for a long time," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "So this is the beginning of a new era, I guess."


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