Free Ken Griffey Jr. And do it for Christmas.

For the good of everybody involved, as well as baseball in general, it's time for the Seattle Mariners to trade the best player in the game back home to Cincinnati. Grant his wishes. Play Santa. It's as easy as saying, "Throw Pokey Reese into the deal."

Come on, guys, you can do this. Let Junior play next season on the same Reds team where his father is a coach. The Kid just wants to go back to where he grew up cavorting in the locker room of the Big Red Machine. Is that hard to grasp?

Let Griffey's young children play on Grandma's knee. Let Griffey hit his 50 or so homers a year--and, maybe someday, No. 756--in the Eastern time zone, where his charisma can help baseball the most. And, for once, let the game's premier athlete go to a medium-to-small market team instead of one of the Big Franchises.

Some potential trades, when they involve big contracts, tangled swaps and trade-veto clauses, can get hopelessly messed up. This time, there's no need for it.

For the past couple of weeks, baseball people have been scratching their heads. What's the hang-up here? The Mariners have to trade Griffey now or lose him to free agency after the 2000 season. They know they can't get equal value. In this era, you either let a player go as a free agent after six seasons, or you trade him for the best available deal after five years. This "accelerated free agency" scenario is the reason Juan Gonzalez will be a Tiger, Shawn Green a Dodger and Dante Bichette a Red next season.

Seattle General Manager Pat Gillick reportedly has made a sane offer to the Reds. Give us all-star reliever Scott Williamson (12-7, 2.41 ERA), fifth starter Brett Tomko (5-7, 4.92), mediocre outfielder Mike Cameron (.256, 66 RBI) and second baseman Reese.

The Reds have screamed, "Pokey? Unthinkable. A deal breaker."

Sometimes, you can't believe what you're hearing. You break off trade talks on the eve of the winter meetings because Pokey Reese--not Pee Wee Reese--may be your shortstop someday after Barry Larkin retires?

What if the Tigers could have gotten Babe Ruth from the Yankees in a trade in 1925 for outfielder Red Wingo (68 RBI), Ken Holloway (13-4), Ray Collins (4.56) and second baseman Blackie O'Rourke? Would that have been a good trade?

Obviously, it would have changed baseball history and, perhaps, have made the pretty good Tigers a powerhouse. Well, that's the chance the Reds have now. But won't take. Statistically, you could hardly dream of constructing a trade that's as perfect a parallel as Wingo to Cameron, Williamson to Holloway, Tomko to Collins and, especially, Pokey Reese to Blackie O'Rourke.

You never heard of Blackie O'Rourke? Of course not. In 1925, he hit .293 with 52 extra-base hits, 88 runs scored, 57 RBI and 391 assists in 124 games. Last season, Reese hit .285 with 52 extra-base hits, 65 runs, 52 RBI and and 425 assists in 149 games. They were practically clones. Except O'Rourke--whoever he was--was better in '25 than Reese was in '99.

Somebody wake up Reds GM Jim Bowden. After three years in the majors, Pokey Reese is about the 20th-best second baseman in baseball. He has little power and average range, can't turn the double play and, in a few years, will be forgotten, just like Blackie O'Rourke, Red Wingo, Ken Holloway and Ray Collins.

But, in 100 years, Ken Griffey Jr.'s name will still stand beside Ruth, Hank Aaron and very few others. He'd draw millions of extra fans to the Reds over the next 10 years. He'd be a free agent magnet, attracting other stars to play with him.

Because the similarities are so eerie, here's another one. What if, as Aaron turned 30 after the 1963 season, the Braves offered to trade him to the Phillies for reliever Jack Baldschun (11-7, 2.30), spot-starter Art Mahaffey (7-10), outfielder Tony Gonzalez (.306, 66 RBI) and second baseman Tony Taylor (.281, 102 runs, 396 assists)? It's practically the reincarnation of the same trade, with Taylor a clone of Reese. (Aaron still had another 413 homers in him.) Should the Phils have taken such a hypothetical deal? Think they'd have 'Pholded in '64 if they had?

Of course, with hindsight, we see the answers. If you're offered Ruth or Aaron or Griffey at their absolute peak--and at a bargain price, too--you should kill to make the deal. Yet in pro sports, it's easy to miss the forest for the trees. Two years ago, the Angels could have traded Jim Edmonds for Mark McGwire, who'd hit 58 and 52 homers the previous two seasons. The Angels balked. The "price" was too high. Now, the Reds are making the same mistake, thinking that pepper-pot Pokey is invaluable to their chemistry. Forget chemistry. Go for physics. Griffey is the superstar in motion who is going to tend to stay in motion--toward 800 homers.

Winter is the time for baseball executives to think big, paint in broad strokes, prove that they have vision. Some actually do.

Unfortunately, many teams frustrate themselves by thinking small or taking frightened half-measures. Look at the Orioles. Their avowed plan this offseason was to pursue Chuck Finley--one of only four quality southpaws (11 or more wins) in the American League last season. With Finley, whose 200 strikeouts were second in the league, the Orioles thought they could be contenders in 2000 with a starting rotation almost as good as the Yankees'. Optimistic? Sure. The Orioles are a whole lot more than one pitcher shy of being the Yankees. But Finley might have made them a 90-plus-win playoff contender.

With their current going-nowhere reputation, the Orioles' best chance to grab a Finley would've been to bid high and act fast. For equal money, why would Finley pick Baltimore and all its problems over Cleveland and all its obvious World Series potential? Instead, the Orioles acted slowly and sensibly. And, thus, paralyzed themselves for weeks as they awaited an answer. Finley signed for three years with the Indians yesterday for $26 million--about what the Orioles were offering.

Of all this winter's Think Big decisions, however, none comes remotely close to the obvious deal that the Mariners and Reds need to work out.

Let's see, on one hand we have Griffey with 398 homers before he turned 30 last month. On the other, we have Pokey Reese, who, if he keeps improving, may someday be pretty decent. Yup, that's a tough one. No wonder they're stumped.

CAPTION: The Reds have a chance to get Ken Griffey Jr., but don't want to part with Pokey Reese.

CAPTION: Cincinnati's Pokey Reese may be about the 20th-best second baseman in baseball.