PictureMike Cameron at the dish.
Happy birthday to Mike Cameron! For fans of the Seattle Mariners, Mike Cameron is the guy who replaced Ken Griffey, Jr. in center field. Cameron wasn’t as good as the mid-1990s Griffey—not many players in history were—but he became a fan favorite just the same thanks to his terrific defense in the outfield and his ability to hit 20-plus homers and steal 20-30 bases per season. Cameron also had one of the all-time great games in Mariners history when he hit four home runs in one game, tying the Major League record.

On May 2, 2002, Mike Cameron came up to bat in the top of the first inning with nobody on and nobody out. Ichiro had led off the game by getting hit by a pitch and Bret Boone followed with a home run. Cameron made it back-to-back jacks with a home run of his own. The Mariners kept hitting and Cameron got a second at-bat in the top of the first and he and Boone hit back-to-back home runs for the second time in the first inning.

Cammy came up again in the top of the third with two outs and none on and hit his third home run of the game. He made it four homers when he hit a solo shot in the top of the fifth. In the seventh, he had a chance to set the record for home runs in a game but was hit by a Mike Porzio pitch. His last chance came in the top of the ninth. The Mariners were leading 15-4 at this point and there were runners on first and second with nobody out. Cameron was facing Porzio again. The count went to 3-0. Given the circumstances, Cameron was likely given the green light to swing if he got a good pitch even though this would go against “the unwritten rules of the game” because the Mariners had such a big lead (you don’t want to show up the other team by swinging on a 3-0 pitch when you’re ahead by so many runs). The pitch was right down the pipe, but Cammy took it for a strike. On a 3-2 pitch, Cammy flied out to right. It was a tremendous day: 4-for-5 with 4 home runs and a walk.

PictureCameron brings back a home run ball.
So what led to Mike Cameron replacing Ken Griffey, Jr. as the center fielder of the Mariners? 

When Ken Griffey, Jr.’s career with the Mariners came to an end, the team didn’t have much leverage to make a good trade. Griffey demanded a trade in November of 1999 and he had ten-and-five rights, so he could veto any deal. Although he gave the Mariners four teams to which he would accept a trade—Reds, Astros, Mets, and Braves—he made it clear that he wanted to go to Cincinnati, where his father had played for many years in the 1970s with the Big Red Machine. This put the Mariners in a bind because they were limited in the number of teams they could trade with.

The Mariners talked with the Reds often over the next few months. The M’s were looking for a possible replacement for Alex Rodriguez, in case A-Rod left as a free agent after the season (which he did). They wanted *Pokey Reese and/or Sean Casey from the Reds, but that wasn’t going to happen.

*Pokey Reese was a hot commodity for a short period of time. The Mariners really wanted him and the Reds refused to trade him, not even for Junior. Why? Pokey Reese was good in 1999 when he hit .285/.330/.417 with 85 runs and 38 steals. He was worth 4.0 Wins Above Replacement per Baseball-Reference (brWAR) that year. This would be his best season. Over the remaining five seasons of his career, Reese would hit .242/.303/.347 and be worth a total of 3.4 brWAR. Sometimes you can’t always get what you want and it’s a good thing.

PictureCammy, flashing some glove.
The Mariners eventually worked out a trade of Griffey to the Reds for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer. Griffey then signed a nine-year, $116.5 million contract with the Reds. 

How did this trade go over in the media? Here is an example of what people thought about this deal at the time: “The Mariners got fleeced last week more completely than Bo Peep's lost sheep at shearing time. For Junior Griffey, the man most likely to break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, the game's most perfect all-around player in the prime of his career, the Reds gave Seattle … bits and pieces, drips and drabs of major leaguers and wanna-bes."--Michael Knisley of the Sporting News.

Well then. Tell us how you really feel, Michael Knisley of the Sporting News.

As it turned out, Michael Knisley of the Sporting News was as wrong as wrong can be. Griffey had averaged 6.4 brWAR per season in his first 11 seasons with the Mariners. In his nine seasons with the Reds, Griffey averaged 1.5 brWAR per season, with most of that coming in just two good, healthy seasons. For most of the contract, Griffey provided little value because of injury and age-related decline.

Meanwhile, Mike Cameron had 18.3 brWAR in his four years with the Mariners (4.6 brWAR per season). Here are the numbers for Griffey and Cammy over the four years after the trade before Cameron left as a free agent:

Griffey was better in the first year after the trade, but it was all Cameron after that, as injuries took their toll on The Kid. Not only was Cameron more than twice as valuable as Griffey over this four-year stretch, he also had a much lower salary. Mike Cameron made $17,725,000 during this time, while Griffey made $42,887,000.

No one would have predicted it at the time, but Griffey for Cameron was a slam-dunk . . . in favor of the Mariners. Mariner fans were rightfully upset to lose the team’s first superstar, but they got a pretty good replacement.

Happy birthday, Mike Cameron!

Mike Cameron's 4-homer game.


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