Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. offers no apologies for sudden exit
"I had to do what I thought was right for me," Ken Griffey Jr. said Wednesday in Peoria, Ariz., of why he left Seattle without telling anyone.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — More than nine months after retiring in silence, Ken Griffey Jr. returned to the Mariners with something to say.
With a hushed voice and subdued look, Griffey explained Wednesday why he drove off into retirement last June without telling his teammates, manager or general manager beforehand. Griffey is in Mariners camp in his new role as a special consultant to a team that hopes he'll make his voice heard to younger players.
But before he could speak to them about the future, Griffey knew he had to address the past. His explanation to reporters at the Peoria Sports Complex was brief, and he insisted he wouldn't talk again about the topic that shocked Seattle during a disastrous 2010 season.
Griffey said he told team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln "that if I become a distraction or feel that I would be a distraction, then I would retire, because that's the one thing that I didn't want.
"Second, I gave myself a little bit of a head start. There are a lot of people that are friends of mine that would have tried to talk me out of it. And I just felt that it was best for me and the organization to retire. Through no fault of its own. Things happen. I'm not upset. I think people thought I was upset about certain things, but that's not the case."
Still, Griffey has yet to speak to former manager Don Wakamatsu, despite the close relationship the two shared during the 2009 season. When asked why he still hasn't contacted Wakamatsu, his reply was blunt.
"My phone rings," he said. After pausing several seconds, he added: "That's just the way it is."
Several players, sources and Wakamatsu himself have said that the two stopped speaking in the weeks before Griffey's retirement.
One player said last summer that Griffey initially believed that Wakamatsu had leaked to the media a story that he was asleep in the clubhouse during a game in May. Griffey learned after his retirement that he was mistaken and that Wakamatsu was not the story's source.
Still, Griffey said Wednesday that the decision to retire without fanfare, or a news conference, was something he'd been telling people he would do for years. He added that he doesn't believe he owes fans an explanation, or apology, for his actions.
"You want me to apologize for something that I felt was right?" he asked. "I had to do what I thought was right for me."
Griffey said he always knew he'd rejoin the Mariners after he retired if a job ever came up for him. Griffey will spend most of his time here speaking to younger players and minor-leaguers about what it takes to succeed.
He said his message to them will be: "Hard work doesn't start during the game. Hard work starts the night before."
And Griffey said he's prepared to do some hard work now to help the Mariners rebuild. It's an organization still reeling from the death of longtime broadcaster Dave Niehaus last November at age 73.
Griffey said it's hard knowing he won't hear Niehaus' voice opening day.
"Yeah, it's odd," he said. "If somebody tells you it isn't, it is. Definitely, looking around and not seeing those white shoes, those tight pants he wears and that semi-tight shirt. And that voice. I think that's the biggest thing. That voice saying hello to you, teasing you, having a good time at the ballpark. ...
"I've known him since (age) 17, so like I said, in Seattle he's like the grandfather to a lot of guys. I know he was one to me, so I'm going to miss that. You're not going to be able to replace that. You can replace a player, but that voice, you can't do it."
Griffey insisted he has no regrets about the decision to return in 2010 after the emotional send-off fans gave him the previous year.
"If I wouldn't have done it, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to meet some of the people in Seattle that I did meet ... and who still call me today," he said. "So, no, I'm not sorry that I came back."
• RHP Michael Pineda gave up three runs — two earned — over four innings against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Mariners sources indicated this week that the final spot in the rotation is Pineda's to lose, but the 22-year-old got rocked for four doubles and a triple by the Brewers while striking out three and walking one in a 63-pitch outing.
• Milton Bradley was ejected for the first time this spring after arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Mark Buchanan in the third inning. Bradley had just taken a called strikeout and was walking back to the dugout, muttering loudly with his back turned to the umpire when he was tossed.
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