Monday, June 2, 2008

The Bruce Bounce

Last week the Cincinnati Reds called Jay Bruce up from Triple A Louisville and the young OF has been simply scintillating. In six big league games Bruce has gone 13-for-22 (.591) with six walks, two homers, two steals and six RBI. Even better, the Reds are 5-1 in those six games, and three of the wins were against perennial NL East heavyweight Atlanta. In the five wins Bruce has scored an 11th inning game winning run, and smacked a 10th inning game winning homerun.

The team and the ballpark seem energized by the rookie's arrival. His hot bat as also helped Junior at the plate. Sandwiched in the order between Bruce and Brandon Phillips, Junior is beginning to hit and is now one homer shy of being the sixth member of the 600 homerun club. (In should be noted; however, that he will be the fourth member who is not tainted steroids - Barry Bonds - and/or a corked bat - Sammy Sosa.)

It has been exciting to watch Bruce explode. The crowds in Cincinnati chant "Bruuuce" with every plate appearance and every play in the outfield. He has received more than one demand for a curtain call. Therein is the one negative aspect of Bruce's otherwise spectacular debut, and it has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with the fans of Cincinnati. The fickle Reds fans are ready to make room for Jay Bruce, not only in the Reds Hall of Fame but in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Meanwhile, the ballpark cannot sell out as Ken Griffey, Jr. inches closer to a historic MLB milestone. After belting his 599th homerun on Saturday there were cheers but no curtain call. In fact, most Reds fans are angry that Junior is a Red and Josh Hamilton - the AL triple crown threat - is a Ranger.

This is too bad. Ken Griffey, Jr. is one of the greatest outfielders of all time; if not the greatest all-around outfielder of all time. It is extremely unfortunate that he experienced the injury problems that have plagued his tenure in Cincinnati, but that is just how it is. Why he is blamed for those injuries I will never understand. While Junior was in Seattle every Reds fan would wish upon a star that the Reds could somehow work a trade for the Cincinnati native. Once the hoped for trade was consummated in 2000, the euphoric (and foolish) fans immediately predicted a World Series victory. It didn't happen, even worse, Griffey only hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBI.

Reds fan was incredulous, and when Griffey pulled his hamstring rounding third and heading for home in the final pre-season game of 2001, Reds fan was disgusted. The antipathy has only escalated. The anti-Junior sentiment has developed to the point where I actually heard a sports-talk caller refer to Junior as the worst outfielder on the team.

Good grief.

The Bruce Bounce has been fun, but he will not be able to sustain this incredible pace. No baseball player could. I hope, though, that we are watching the dawn of a career that will be comparable to Griffey's.

I hope the Reds are able to trade Griffey to Seattle sometime after he belts historic number 600; though not because I dislike Junior. I love seeing him in a Reds uniform, and he still has the sweetest left-handed swing ever. I'd like to see Griffey traded to Seattle because there he will be appreciated. Something he only experienced in Ficklenatti during his inaugural year, and not even for that entire season.

Griffey could extend his career with an AL club, and realistically reach 700 homers; becoming the fourth member of that exclusive fraternity, and only the third with no hint of steroid usage. In the meantime I'll enjoy him as a Red, and hoping that the new Kid will come close to playing as well as the original Kid.

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