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Originally published February 15, 2011 at 10:01 PM | Page modified February 16, 2011 at 12:56 PM

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Steve Kelley

There's a place in Mariners' organization for Ken Griffey Jr. — after he apologizes

Ken Griffey Jr.'s first act as a "special consultant" with the Mariners should be to explain his sudden departure last year.

Seattle Times staff columnist

His leave-taking last season was like something out of a country-western song.

Ken Griffey Jr. walked out of the Mariners' clubhouse last season without saying goodbye, without even leaving an explanatory note.

He got in his luxury vehicle and drove off into the night, leaving Seattle in his rearview mirror.

It was straight out of Nashville, all broken hearts and disillusionment.

Griffey felt he'd been disrespected by manager Don Wakamatsu, and instead of going into Wak's office and asking for an audience, Griffey just disappeared.

That night in early June was the beginning of the end of the 2010 season. Partly because of Griffey, the clubhouse became a house divided. Partly because of Griffey, Wakamatsu lost control of his team.

It was an ugly, unsatisfying way for Griffey to leave the franchise that birthed him. It left a hole in his legacy here.

At that time, I wondered if time would heal this wound, if the bitterness that Griffey felt toward the franchise, and the disappointment many fans felt in the way he departed, could be fixed.

I wondered if we'd ever see Griffey's stadium-lighting smile again inside Safeco Field.

But Tuesday the Mariners announced that Griffey has been hired as a "special consultant." According to the M's news release, he will be involved in major-league operations, player development, marketing, broadcasting and community relations.

He should arrive at their Peoria training camp some time in March. And the first thing he has to do if he's serious about staying in the organization is call a news conference and explain himself.

Before he becomes a Mariner again, he needs to tell the fans why he left the way he left and why, now, he has decided to return. He needs to fix his reputation.

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I doubt if Tuesday's announcement will be greeted with great fanfare. There wasn't a stampede at the ticket office on Tuesday afternoon. The fortunes of this coming season didn't suddenly improve.

This still is a troubled team with a grumpy fan base. And the unseemly way Griffey left last year eroded much of the goodwill he had recovered in his homecoming season of 2009.

Hiring Griffey for this nebulous position is a way to put a Hall of Fame face on another Mariners rebuilding season. It's a marketing ploy for a team that did nothing dramatic in the offseason to give its fans hope for 2011.

I mean, can you really see Griffey spending weeks in Everett, rolling up his sleeves and working with rookie-league players, teaching them the fine art of base-stealing? Do you think he's going to hunker down in the swelter of Clinton, Iowa, teaching Mariners prospects the correct way to hit the cutoff man?

Is he really going to attend staff meetings and evaluate talent? Is he going to sit on an aluminum bench on a raw, windy spring day in the Midwest looking for the next Joe Mauer?

Griffey will be a figurehead.

But as someone who has watched him from the beginning, who saw what he did for baseball in this town, I believe that bringing Griffey back, even as a figurehead, feels like the right thing to do.

He meant too much to this region and to this franchise for his last act to be a disappearing act. He gave all of baseball so many thrills that it wouldn't have felt right to never see him again, to never get the chance to celebrate what he did in the game.

And now when Griffey comes back, he can right all of his wrongs from last season.

He can spend time in the clubhouse, lightening a mood that turned dark as February last season. Maybe, with his goofy sense of humor, he can take the edge off a losing streak, or maintain the momentum of a winning streak.

He can be a sometimes-part of Mariners broadcasts, joking with Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims and having fun with former teammates like Mike Blowers and Dave Valle.

Most of all, hiring Griffey sets the stage for a special day when the team and the town can celebrate his career and retire his No. 24.

There should be a place for Griffey in Seattle. But first, he owes all of us an explanation and an apology.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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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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