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Originally published Friday, February 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Bring back Griffey — just do it

The Mariners shouldn't sign Ken Griffey Jr. merely to keep some deeply sentimental contact with the franchise's past glories. They should sign him because he could help in the team's evolution.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The long-running Hot Stove League debate is coming to an end. A resolution is imminent. The future of Ken Griffey Jr., whether or not he will finish his career as a Seattle Mariner, is about to be decided.

The Mariners appear to be warming to the idea of one last summer in the Seattle sun for Junior, and I believe bringing Griffey back to Seattle is the right thing to do.

Seeing him in a Mariners uniform for one more season would be something to celebrate for a city that needs a celebration.

Of course, any enthusiasm must be tempered. Griffey no longer is the quicksilver, charismatic kid who used to outrun line drives in the outfield gaps; who once ran the bases as if he were making an instructional video, who used to bury high-arching game-winning home runs deep into the Kingdome's upper deck.

He is approaching the final act of his remarkable career. He has lost several steps in the outfield. He has lost some of the pop in that magic wand of a bat he has waved in the big leagues since 1989.

But he still is Junior, and by all accounts, he is healthier than he has been in years. He is 39, but he isn't done.

The Mariners shouldn't sign him merely to keep some deeply sentimental contact with the franchise's past glories. They should sign him because he could help in the team's evolution.

Griffey can give the clubhouse, which for the past few years has been one of the most somber, dark, unhappy places in professional sports, some credibility.

He isn't the sometimes-petulant kid, nestled in a recliner, sitting in some private clubhouse corner anymore. He isn't going to be demanding and aloof.

The Kid has grown up. He won't be an emotional drain when he hits the inevitable slump. He won't be high-maintenance. In fact, he could help with the team's maintenance.

What if he can find one more season like Frank Thomas found in Oakland in 2006? At the age of 38, Thomas slugged 39 home runs and drove in 114 runs.

Isn't it worth gambling on that possibility with Griffey?

Money shouldn't be an issue. If he signs for $5 million, he will make that up in ticket and merchandise sales. He could add 200,000 people to next season's attendance. And he will create a level of excitement and expectation this franchise that lost 101 games last season could use.

New general manager Jack Zduriencik has pushed every correct button this offseason. After years of failed attempts at quick fixes by his predecessor, he is reconstructing the farm system and building the Mariners from the bottom up.

Signing Griffey wouldn't be a detour from that philosophy. He won't be taking up the roster spot of some high-priced prospect.

In a perfect world, a healthy Griffey would play three or four games a week in left field and a game or two at designated hitter. He may take at-bats away from veteran Endy Chavez, but he won't take many away from DH/catcher Jeff Clement.

And if the Mariners are worried about the health of the left knee he injured last season, they can send their medical team to test Griffey.

They should discover that he is as healthy as he was in 2007, when he played in 144 games with Cincinnati, hit .277, had 93 runs batted in and 30 home runs.

Even last season, playing on a swollen knee, Griffey had 18 home runs and drove in 71 runs.

Signing Griffey wouldn't be a step back for Zduriencik. It isn't some misguided trip down memory lane. Griffey is capable of adding 25 to 30 home runs and 80 to 90 RBI to a lineup desperate for more pop.

The Mariners should sign him. Pay him $5 million, add some incentives if he plays, say, 140 games.

Don't bring him back because it's gimmicky. Bring him back because he can be a necessary bridge as the team begins the climb back to American League West respectability.

Bring him back because he's Junior and he's healthy and he's still capable of some Hall of Fame wizardry.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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