Ken Griffey Jr. retires
Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. announces his retirement.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One morning during what turned out to be his final spring training, Ken Griffey Jr. watched the retirement news conference of another notable player on television and shook his head.
His retirement notice, he said, would arrive as quietly as possible. A simple announcement would be sent to the media, and then he'd be gone.
So it was Wednesday as Griffey — the greatest player in Mariners history and one of the greatest in the history of the game — said goodbye to baseball.
His name was on the lineup card, as a reserve, posted outside the office of manager Don Wakamatsu for the game against the Minnesota Twins when the club held a hastily called news briefing on the field to announce that Griffey had retired.
"This has been on my mind recently, but it's not an easy decision to come by," Griffey said in a statement released by the team. Griffey wasn't at Safeco Field, and it was uncertain when he will speak to the news media.
Griffey, 40, said his diminished role with the team helped force his decision. He was batting only .184 with no home runs in 33 games and 98 at-bats and had just one plate appearance since May 23, his last start.
That came Monday when he grounded into a fielder's choice against Jon Rauch as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Twins.
"While I feel I am still able to make a contribution on the field, and nobody in the Mariners front office has asked me to retire, I told the Mariners when I met with them before the 2009 season and was invited back, that I will never allow myself to become a distraction," Griffey said in the statement.
"I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharper coming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be an unfair distraction to my teammates, and their success as a team is what the ultimate goal should be," Griffey's statement said.
Mariners President Chuck Armstrong said he was "caught off-guard today with the swiftness of the decision," and that it was solely Griffey's call. Asked if Griffey was at peace with retirement, Armstrong said yes.
Armstrong said Griffey's relationship with the team would remain strong, and Griffey's statement said, "I look forward to a continued, meaningful relationship with them for many years."
Griffey has said previously, however, that he would not envision a full-time coaching job anytime soon.
Griffey leaves with the most home runs in Mariners history (417) and the fifth-most in major-league history (630), behind only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660).
Griffey hit 398 of those home runs during his 11-year run with the Mariners from 1989 to 1999. He quickly became the face of the franchise after being taken with the first overall pick in the 1987 draft. That Seattle stint ended in the fall of 1999, when he was traded to Cincinnati, citing a desire to be closer to his family and home in Florida.
The highlights of his first Seattle career were many — including back-to-back 56 home-run seasons in 1997 and 1998.
One, however, will always stand out — his beaming smile at the bottom of the pile of happy teammates after scoring the winning run from first base on a double by Edgar Martinez. The Mariners beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series.
That run to the playoffs came during a season when local officials were embroiled in a debate over whether to build a new stadium to keep the team.
Griffey's exploits helped seal the deal to eventually construct Safeco Field.
"They say in New York that Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built," Armstrong said. "In Seattle, Washington, we say that Safeco Field is the house that Ken Griffey Jr. built."
It was that legacy the team honored in 2009 when it made the decision to bring him back at age 39 for what many figured would be one last triumphal run.
It developed almost better than anyone hoped. Griffey hit 19 home runs, and his effervescent personality helped reshape a previously sullen clubhouse to turn the Mariners into one of baseball's surprise teams, improving from 61 wins to 85.
The season ended with Griffey carried off on the shoulders of teammates. Many figured that would be it for Griffey.
Instead, he decided to return for one more season, and the team obliged. But time had begun to dim his skills, and his struggles mirrored that of a team that is 21-31 after beating the Minnesota Twins 2-1 Wednesday night.
Speculation that the end was near grew in May and included a report in Tacoma's News Tribune that Griffey had been asleep and missed a pinch-hitting opportunity in a game, a charge Griffey and the team denied.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said there was no regret over bringing Griffey back.
"What we hoped for is this would be a real good year for everyone, for Kenny," he said.
The Mariners honored Griffey before Wednesday night's game with video highlights of his career in Seattle and drawing his number 24 into the infield dirt. Mariners officials said a more elaborate celebration will be held later.
"It's always tough for great superstars like Ken, or anyone else, to make a decision to retire," said Mariners Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Lincoln. "This has been his life for so many years. But he has made his decision."
Just the way he said he would.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 206-515-5699 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org
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