Griffey finishes as a singular sensation
Junior ends '09 with hit. Now the question is, will he return?
SEATTLE -- When he stepped into the batter's box for the final time this season, in the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon, the emotions were running rampant inside Ken Griffey Jr.
"It was probably the most nervous and emotional roller coaster I have ever been on as a ballplayer," he said. "You never know when it will be your last."
At the end of the day, after all the standing ovations, the curtain call, and the ride off Safeco Field on the shoulders of Mariners teammates Ryan Langerhans and Matt Tuiasosopo following Seattle's season-ending 4-3 victory over the Rangers, Griffey was not sure about his baseball future.
His eyes were red as he spoke to the media.
"I am going to go back to Florida, talk to my family, and decide what is best for all of us," said Griffey, who, if that was his final at-bat, made the grandest of exits. He laced a single through the middle, then rode off into the sunset for a pinch-runner and another standing ovation.
Throughout the season finale, Griffey was serenaded with chants of "One More Year! One More Year!" from a large chunk of the 32,260.
It will be a few weeks before that is determined, but what a year this one was for Junior, the organization and the 2.2 million fans who attended home games.
"He has had a blast and I haven't seen him this happy during a baseball season in years," said Brian Goldberg, Junior's career-long agent. "The whole experience has been something he's been beaming about for a long time."
Goldberg was in Seattle this past weekend to touch base with club officials and watch the final series against the Rangers.
"I decided to come here just in case it would be the last time I saw him play," Goldberg said.
"I'm not sure. There have been some surface discussions, but that's been about it. The Mariners have to decide what they want to do, and Kenny must decide what he wants to do."
If the family decides that coming back is a good thing, and the Mariners want him back in 2010 for what could be season-long farewell tour around the American League, along with Interleague Play visits to Milwaukee, St. Louis and San Diego, then Griffey no doubt would come back for another season.
"We'll see," he said. "I'm not in any rush. We've got a long offseason and there's going to be some changes. Hopefully it works out."
Unlike this season, when Junior chose the Mariners over the Braves in late-February and signed a one-year, $2 million deal with up to $3 million more in incentive bonuses, any new contract should be finalized long before Spring Training begins.
Griffey, who will be 40 years old on Nov. 22, is eligible for free agency.
General manager Jack Zduriencik will make the final decision on whether to offer Griffey a deal to come back. As of this weekend, he was not tipping his hand.
"Our focus has been to finish this season," he said. "On any player that's a free agent at the end of the year, I would prefer not to make comments on those right now. There are too many things that tie into that."
That being said, the GM made it clear that bringing Griffey home this season worked out better than anyone could have expected.
"There are a lot of people that deserve credit for that," he said. "I would tip my hat to Chuck Armstrong and his relationship with Kenny and his individual meetings back in Pebble Beach, when he went out there to meet with Kenny. Certainly Brian Goldberg, his agent, and Kenny expressing his desire to come here.
"At the end of the day, I really thought there would be a degree of leadership that Kenny would bring. The guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. That goes without saying. We thought he would be somewhat of an offensive producer for us. We needed a left-handed bat. He's got 19 home runs, he leads the club in walks and there were some positive things that he brought.
"But what he did in that clubhouse, and what he did with his presence, I think goes beyond what any of us expected. All of you that have been here and been around Kenny for years and know him a lot better than I did can see how important he was and how he relished this opportunity to give back to an organization that he cut his teeth on, back to a community that he loves and back to baseball. I tip my hat to the effort he gave to us on and off the field this year."
Griffey ended his 21st big league season with a .214 batting average, 19 home runs, 57 RBIs and a team-high 63 walks. Most of his 387 at-bats and 454 plate appearances came as the designated hitter .
His often-injured knees held up OK, but limited him to 11 games in the outfield.
"I never heard him complain about not playing more," Goldberg said. "Not once."
Griffey was a happy camper from Day 1.
"It was a whole lot of fun," he said. "I had great teammates, some of the best teammates I've had in years," he said. "Coming back to Seattle has been everything I could have hoped for."
"There was not one bad day. I had a lot of fun."
And he helped make those around him have fun.
"I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to have a player that enjoys playing the game more than he does," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I was in this organization as a player when he was in the big leagues and I knew back then, before some of the injuries, he was one of the best players to ever play the game. But to have the opportunity to get to know him as a person, you really understand how genuine he is."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.