EDITOR'S NOTE: WCPO is looking back on Ken Griffey Jr.'s life growing up in Cincinnati, stunning success and Hall of Fame career. See all of our coverage at WCPO.com/griffey.
February 10, 2000.
People of a certain age remember where they were when they found out John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Or what they were doing when they heard about 9/11.
I remember I was walking out of Morton Hall at Ohio University in Athens on my way back to my dorm room after class when a friend stopped me:
"Did you hear the Reds got Griffey?"
This was, of course, before Internet-enabled phones that would have quickly alerted me. I rushed to the student newspaper office where I worked so I could read all about the trade.
I remember thinking: "That's it. With Ken Griffey Jr. the next nine years the Reds are going to be really good. It will be the mid-1970s all over again. If they don't win a couple of World Series titles in the next decade, I'll be shocked."
It was like Christmas morning for Reds fans.
Back in the winter of 2000, the Reds were coming off a 96-win season. They had lost a disappointing one-game playoff to Al Leiter and the New York Mets. This was a team on the rise. A team with a future.
And General Manager Jim Bowden just dropped the best player in baseball — the best player in a generation — onto that team.
Remember the disappointment of 2012? Now, imagine if the Reds, instead of trading for Shin Soo Choo in that offseason, would have traded for Mike Trout.
Even that isn't an equal comparison. Because Griffey was the hometown Kid. He was everything that was right for my generation of baseball fans.
But instead of ushering in a new era of the Big Red Machine, the Griffey trade marked the end of a pretty successful decade of baseball in Cincinnati.
Instead, it marked the beginning of the wasteland of the 2000s.
In Griffey's nine years in Cincinnati, the Reds never made the playoffs. They finished with a winning record only once — Griffey's first year.
Little of those dreary days can be blamed on Griffey.
It's not Griffey's fault owner Marge Schott and Bowden gutted the team's farm system.
It's not Griffey's fault the team never had any pitching. To illustrate how bad the pitching staff was, before Aaron Harang emerged to start on Opening Day in 2006, here were the previous four Reds Opening Day starters: Joey Hamilton, Jimmy Haynes, Cory Lidle and Paul Wilson. Heck, Haynes still has the all-time record for highest earned-run average among pitchers with 1,000 or more innings pitched.
And it's not Griffey's fault the back half of his career was destroyed by injuries. He only played more than 140 games for the Reds twice. Three years he played fewer than 100 games.
Yes, Griffey took home a large proportion of the team's salary, leaving less money for others. But the guy even deferred money to try to free up payroll to make his hometown team a winner.
But fair or not in the hearts of Reds fans, Griffey is saddled with all of that disappointment. Every time I hear his name or see his picture, I think of what should have been.
He never put up numbers in Cincinnati like he did in Seattle. He never carried the Reds to success.
I even looked at his numbers with the Reds again tonight. He had three seasons that by most players' standards would have been considered excellent.
But they weren't what we were expecting on Feb. 10, 2000.
Griffey's previous four seasons in Seattle he had averaged 52 homers and 141 RBI.
That's what we all thought we were getting.
Griffey should have been all of that and more. He was Brandon Phillips' charisma and love of the game crossed with Pete Rose's hometown hero-ness (and a bit of his hustle) crossed with Willie Mays' talent.
He should have been the ultimate Cincinnati hero — with his family legacy to the Big Red Machine, his talent, his personality.
But we fans rarely glimpsed the Seattle Junior. The player dubbed "The Kid," who wore his hat backward and played with such joy.
We mostly got the hurt, surly Junior.
Instead of a fun-loving kid superhero, we got a very human, but still very good baseball player.
I've only lived here in Cincinnati for a year — even though I've been a Reds fan for close to 30 years now. So I can't profess to speak for a city of Reds' fans. But the fans that I have talked to have all felt like me.
Griffey's headed to the Hall of Fame?
I don't really care that much.
And that's sad.
It's sad that a player with such amazing promise never realized all of that potential.
It's sad all we really have to show for Griffey's tenure here are his 500th and 600th home run milestones.
It's sad we fans never truly got to experience Griffey the way he was meant to be experienced.
It's sad the Reds had a futile, ugly decade.
But mostly it's sad that we held Griffey to those original expectations from Feb. 10, 2000. And we never really embraced him for the player he still was.
He still had the sweetest swing I've ever seen.