Ichiro thrilled that Ken Griffey Jr. is back for another Mariners season
Mariners outfielder "very happy" after learning Griffey signed to returned to Seattle in 2010.
Seattle Times staff reporter
News of Ken Griffey Jr.'s return to Seattle for 2010 reverberated Wednesday among Mariners fans, who fiercely debated the pros and cons of the move.
However, the M's announcement of a one-year contract for Griffey, who turns 40 on Nov. 21, received an unequivocal endorsement from one important resident of Mariner Nation.
"Ichiro told me many times throughout the '09 season that he was just thrilled to be on the same team as 'George' [Griffey's given first name; Kenneth is his middle name]," said Ichiro's agent, Tony Attanasio, in an e-mail.
Attanasio added that Ichiro "is very happy with the choice both Junior and the Mariners made."
Attanasio related the reaction of Ichiro, who is now in Japan: "What Junior brings to our team is professionalism and experience of a great player, but more than that, a great and wonderful person. Junior is good for the team, good for the young players, good for the city. He is a wonderful man, and I am honored to be his teammate."
Griffey's impact on the previously dysfunctional Seattle clubhouse — including a warm relationship with Ichiro punctuated by periodic tickling sessions — was cited by Mariners officials as being a major factor in their decision to bring him back.
"I thought he would be a good influence; he went beyond that," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "He went beyond anything I would have expected.
"He's a great guy, a fun guy. He loves life, loves baseball, loves the Mariners, loves his community. It's a real bonus to have him back."
Griffey could not be reached for comment, but his agent, Brian Goldberg, said that his client made no demands about playing time. It is possible Griffey will be asked to take a reduced role in 2010 after hitting .214 with 19 homers and 57 runs batted in in 117 games last year. Griffey served as the left-handed bat in a platoon at designated hitter.
"Junior is adamant that he will be ready for whatever role Don [manager Don Wakamatsu] has in store for him on the field, large or small," Goldberg said.
Wakamatsu, reached in Peoria, Ariz., where he is watching Mariners prospects in the Arizona Fall League, said it is too soon to project Griffey's role. Griffey had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two weeks ago to remove a bone spur that bothered him periodically during the '09 season.
"One thing I've learned — you can't predict the future," Wakamatsu said. "I'm happy to have him back. What I'm looking for now is that he has no problems with the knee and is able to come back in good shape.
"You know me: If a guy can do it, I'll put him in that situation. We still have a lot of time to figure that stuff out."
Goldberg said negotiations this week came together rapidly and without rancor.
"It took only a few conversations to figure out the Mariners wanted Junior back, and he wanted to come back," Goldberg said.
"Both sides had the same impression of what they wanted to accomplish."
Goldberg said the one-year contract has a similar framework to last year's deal, which earned Griffey $2 million in base salary and another $1.15 million in incentives tied to playing time and attendance. It appears this year's base salary will be higher, with fewer incentives.
"I said all year long: This guy has had a huge impact, and he deserves to finish his career in Seattle," Wakamatsu said. "He still has love for the game, and I think he rekindled that a little last year. He helped the club, and the club helped him.
"We have a great relationship. As a manager, you want guys that are a positive influence in the clubhouse. In my short career, he's been a joy. This is where he belongs."
Asked if 2010 would be Griffey's last year, Goldberg said, "You never know. I'm sure he's taking it one year at a time, but you don't want to lock yourself in to say it's the last year if something happens during the year to change that."
Goldberg added that Griffey came back only after getting the blessing of wife Melissa and his three children. But he never considered negotiating with another team besides the Mariners.
"At this point, it was not a matter of where to play, it was either come back for another year with the Mariners, or he wasn't going to play," Goldberg said. "He has no desire to play anywhere else."
Griffey is fifth on the career home-run list with 630, trailing Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660).
In the news release announcing his signing, Griffey said:
"I'd like to thank the Mariners organization for inviting me back to play in 2010. While 2009 was an awesome experience for me, my ultimate goal is for the Mariners to get to and win the World Series. To that end, I look forward to contributing in any role that Don sees fit on the field and any manner I possibly can off the field."
Zduriencik said Griffey assured him he would come back in 2010 "in great shape. I believe that. ... There's going to be a lot of players on this club excited right now that they're going to be teammates of Ken Griffey Jr. next year."
Including one ticklish outfielder in Japan.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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