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Old ballplayers never die (but their memories sometimes lie)

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During the six o'clock hour of MLB Live on XM Homeplate (Channel 175), host Ronnie Lane heralded "three special guests." It was actually one very special guest, Ken Griffey Jr., along with Billy Ripken and Charley Steiner, who are XM Homeplate regulars. Junior gave a very nice interview (though it always seems a bit awkward when a player these days discusses his strength and conditioning regime), and he ended the interview with a nice line: "All my life my dad protected me, but for three weeks [in 1990, when the two played for the Mariners] I protected him."

During the middle of the interview, Ripken jumped in with a story---one of those ballplayer's stories, if you know what I mean. It involved Griffey and you could just imagine Billy Rip giving Junior a playful jab in the shoulder during the midst of it. "You remember this, right? Oh yeah, you remember!"

Ripken's story went accordingly:

Ripken was playing for the Rangers, and Griffey was playing for the Mariners. Juan Gonzalez was wearing out the Mariners, and right after he launched a 450-foot homer, Sweet Lou demanded his bat be checked by the umps. Nothing. That year, Alex Rodriguez had been wearing out the Rangers. A-Rod turned around and launched a long bomb, and Ripken's manager, Kevin Kennedy, demanded the umps check A-Rod's bat. What few people realized was that A-Rod's bat was actually Griffey's bat; A-Rod had started borrowing bats from the Griffey, who followed Rodriguez in the batting order. So the umps started checking A-Rod's bat, and when he realized it, Griffey shouted, "Hey! That's my bat! That's my bat!"

Both Ripken and Griffey---as well as Lane and Steiner---laughed at the conclusion of this story; Ripken wished Kennedy, another XM Homeplate regular, had been around for the recounting, since he would have certainly remembered it and enjoyed it.

It would be rather remarkable if Kennedy had a first-hand knowledge of the incident. In fact, this is like one of Rob Neyer's old Tracers: a neat and fun recollection that's a bit shy on the recollection part.

So far, so good.

But you might remember 1994 marked A-Rod's brief big league debut. He didn't hit a homer in 54 at-bats. What is more, A-Rod never played against the Rangers that season.

Now, Ripken returned to the Rangers in 1997, and A-Rod was still with them then. Maybe it was 1997, then? There's just one problem with that. Well, there are two, one major and one minor. First, the minor problem: Kevin Kennedy wasn't the Rangers' manager in 1997. In fact, Kennedy was out of the managing game altogether in 1997.

So maybe Kennedy was in the crowd on that night in 1997? . . . That afternoon in 1997? That . . .

Whoops. That's the real trick to this story. A-Rodnever homered against the Rangers in 1997, either. Weird, no? Just to be safe, let's cross-reference that with his 1997 gamelog. Nope. A-Rod never homered against the Rangers in 1997. Whoops.

So, to recap: no Kennedy and, what is more, no home run. The home run that, you know, precipitated the whole story.

Mind you, the story might be true. Chances are it is, given Griffey's reaction. I guess there's only two real possibilities for this story conform to its reality:

  • Kennedy---er, the late Johnny Oates---asked to have A-Rod's bat checked following something other than a home run, perhaps a long double or a towering foul ball.
  • The incident occurred after someone other than A-Rod homered.
Do those explanations satisfy you? Me neither. Other than a Sammy Sosa exploding-bat situation, when has a manager ever asked to check a bat on something other than a home run? No such incidents spring to my mind. And wouldn't Griffey have remembered someone other than A-Rod was batting in front of him and using his bats?

I suppose there is a third possibility. Rather than making the story up out of whole cloth, Ripken somehow knew of the story and projected himself into it? Nah, kind of weird.

So how about a fourth and final possibility? Let's try this: Ripken and Griffey and A-Rod were all there (although Kennedy obviously wasn't), but the game at hand didn't involve the Rangers and Mariners. Let's say . . . oh, let's say it was May 17, 1996, Mariners at Orioles. Griffey was there, Billy Rip was there, and A-Rod was there. A-Rod batted in front of Junior. And A-Rod completely wore out the Orioles: three-for six, a double, a homer, and six ribbies.

But Ripken forgot one final detail in the story: His team won, 14-13.

Now how's that for a story?