Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source July 2004

Mystery surrounds Ben Grieve

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He was selected second overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 1994 draft. The son of a former major leaguer, he had the pedigree. In 1998, at age 22, he was named to the American League All Star team and took home the league's Rookie of the Year award. In his first three big league seasons, he averaged 24 homeruns and 93 RBI.  Then he was traded to Tampa Bay, where in three seasons, he hit a total of 34 homeruns. What happened to Ben Grieve?

"I can't really think of anything in particular as why I didn't put up the numbers (in Tampa) that I did in Oakland," said Grieve, who is in his first season with the Milwaukee Brewers.  "I don't know. For whatever reason, I couldn't find it there. I had some spurts where I was hitting well, but it just didn't last as long as it used to."

Injuries are partly to blame for Grieve's lack of production. On July 18, 2003, a blood clot was discovered near his right shoulder. To correct the problem, doctors removed a rib near his collarbone. After just 55 games, Grieve's season was over.

"When you have something internal like that, involving blood getting to your heart, it's definitely scary," The native Texan said of the ordeal.

"Everything is fine with it now," Grieve went onto say. "It wasn't like I had cancer or anything real serious like that. It was serious, but it didn't make me sit back and thank my lucky stars or anything like that."

Yet, even when healthy, Grieve hasn't produced. In 2001 he played in 154 games and hit just 11 homeruns while striking out a career high 159 times. In 2002, he hit 19 long balls, but his average dipped to .251.

"Why Benny's struggled the last three years, I am not really sure and I didn't want to dwell on it with him," Brewers hitting coach Butch Wynegar explained. "We went back and looked at tapes when he was with Oakland, and there were some things that we picked out and worked on. If he just keeps working the way he is and doing the things he's doing, there is no reason he can't get back to the numbers he had in Oakland his first three years."

One thing Grieve doesn't need to tinker with is his swing. His fluid, graceful stroke gives you the impression he was born with a bat in his hand. While watching the left-handed hitter casually smash powerful drives to all fields during batting practice, you can't help but wonder, "Why isn't this guy a superstar?"

"It's a tough swing to teach, because either you got it or you don't," Wynegar commented. "You see guys in the big leagues -- a Alex Rodriguez or Raffy Palmerio -- that are smooth and effortless and that's kind of what Benny is -- Benny is a smooth, effortless swinger. A lot of his problems come from timing; he's cut his leg kick down a little bit to try to get that front foot down a little earlier."

Instead of super stardom, Grieve finds himself platooning in the Brewers outfield with journeyman Brady Clark.  "My first six years I was playing consistently, and over here I am splitting time," the 6'4", 220 lb outfielder commented. "Given the way I played my three years in Tampa, I didn't expect to just be given anything. I am happy just to be here and contributing when I get the chance. Obviously you want to play as much as you can, but I am having fun, the team is playing good -- we are winning games. I think (Milwaukee) is a good fit for me."

Wynegar agrees, "I think the biggest thing for Benny right now is getting the opportunity to play in a relaxed atmosphere and that's one of our biggest things here," the former All Star catcher said. "Ned Yost, our manager, does a great job of creating a fun atmosphere. When you come to the park, you enjoy the game."

A free agent this past winter, Grieve should have been at the stage of his career where a multi-year, multi-milliondollar contract was in order. Instead, he was simply hoping to land a job. "(I was looking for) someone that wanted me," the easygoing Grieve said with a laugh. "There were a few (teams that did). I got a call from (Brewers GM) Doug Melvin and had a good conversation with him and felt that this was the best fit for me."

While he may not have lived up to expectations so far, Grieve does feel that time is on his side. "I've played seven years," he said. "I did come up at a young age....people that follow baseball know I'm 27, but the normal person might think that I am just washed up or whatever. These are the years where you are supposed to be in your prime physically, so I feel good health wise."

One criticism that has dogged Grieve throughout his career, is that he is too passive. He however, says that we shouldn't always let his cool exterior fool us, "I am definitely laid-back," the seven year veteran explained. "I think it's more that I don't want people to know how I am feeling inside. If I am pissed off or in a bad mood, I don't want people to know that so I just hold my emotions inside. I've been that way my whole life, so I don't think it's going to change."

Whether or not Grieve can rejuvenate his career remains to be seen. At a time when most expected him to be a perennial All Star, just entering his prime, he is instead, a part-time player with a modest one year, $700,000 contract.

He admits that if he doesn't produce this season, many more uncertain days will be ahead of him. "I'd like to play for Milwaukee (in 2005), if they want me," Grieve said. "I'm sure that all depends on what happens the rest of this year."

-David Zingler

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Grieve's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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