Griffey inspires Mariners' quest for ring
If Junior calls it career, team wants to send him out on top
At some point, probably sooner than anyone wants, Ken Griffey Jr. will remove his Mariners uniform for the last time.He turned 40 last November and many believe the 2010 season will provide the final chapter of a storied 22-year Major League career that has been so good that he's a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. But not even the Major League's active home run leader knows when he will go from being a baseball player to a full-time husband and father.
"I have been asked twice this spring [about retirement], and I haven't answered either time," he said. "There is no answer. A lot of factors go into a decision like that, and once you make it, you try to stick with it.
"We have to play 162 games and hopefully that's enough to get us in the playoffs. Once you get in, anything can happen. It's just a matter of us doing the little things, get everyone ready for the season, and go from there."That's what I think about. If you look ahead and think 'this is the end,' then you don't take things as serious as you should." The Mariners are serious about challenging for a playoff spot, the first step toward getting a World Series ring that Griffey has been pursuing for more than two decades. Ask anyone who has been around Griffey since the beginning of last season and they'll tell you that "winning one for Griff" would top just about anything they've accomplished on a baseball field. "Man, that would be incredible," catcher Rob Johnson said. "He is one of my best friends on the team and I really respect him. You get the media guide in Spring Training, look at the things he has done in his career, and it's absolutely amazing." The George Kenneth Griffey Jr. bio consumes a team-high 13 pages of the 360-page media guide. Among the highlights: He ranks fifth on the all-time home run list with 630, 30 behind Willie Mays. He's seventh on the all-time extra-base hit list with 1,190. His 55 multi-home run games rank seventh all-time. He has hit at least one home run in every inning of a nine-inning game, 111 of them in the first inning -- his most productive long-ball frame. Tuesday (107), Sunday (103) and Friday (100) are his most powerful days of the week.
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
|5||DH||Ken Griffey Jr.|
But that darn ring finger on his right hand remains empty."I know he has been in the playoffs a few times in his career and it seems only fair that with the career he's had, he should walk away with a ring," Mariners closer David Aardsma said. "I hope we can help him get it." Griffey has participated in the postseason three times, most recently in 2008 with the White Sox. He went 2-for-10 during the American League Division Series against the Rays, who won the best-of-five series in four games. The closest Junior has come to reaching the Fall Classic was in 1995, when the Mariners fell two wins short, losing a six-game AL Championship Series to the Indians. The window of opportunity is closing quickly on the club's most respected player. "I don't know what his plans are," Johnson said, "but for him to go out with a bang would be special for him and for the guys who play with him." Griffey's take on it: "It would be something special for everybody here, not just me. It would be special for the city, the organization and everybody who has been a part of this from day one. Yeah, it would be great for me, but it would be great for the millions of people that are Mariners fans." There are some areas of concern heading into the regular season, especially the health of starting pitcher Cliff Lee and Seattle's ability to score enough runs to ease the burden on the pitchers. But just as the franchise slogan -- "Believe Big" -- suggests, hopes are high inside and outside of the Mariners clubhouse. "We have a good club," Griffey said. "I think we can be a little more explosive in certain things, but we probably have the best one-two punch in baseball -- pitching and offense." He was referring to Felix Hernandez and Lee -- who figures to miss at least the first two weeks of the season -- at the top the rotation, and Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins at the top of the lineup. "It's a matter of those guys getting on base and everybody else swinging the bats to make the job easier for the next guy," Griffey said. "I think that's the biggest thing for us -- making the job easier for the next guy behind them. If that means sacrificing yourself to make sure the guy behind you is able to do the job, then so be it." The offseason surgery to clean out his left knee has improved Griffey's mobility this season. He might play a few games in left field, but his primary focus will be on the designated hitter role and the run-challenged offense will need key hits from everyone -- including Junior. The .214 batting average he had last season was offset somewhat by his .324 on-base percentage. The Mariners don't expect 30 home runs from him, but 20-some would be nice. "I can still play the game, but not every day the way I used to," he said, "and I'll do whatever skip [manager Don Wakamatsu] wants me to do. I'll even pitch and DH, like I did in Little League, until Cliff comes back." He laughed the laugh that someday will be missed around here.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.