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02/19/09 12:44 AM EST
Griffey headed back to Mariners
Future Hall of Famer returning to where storied career began
By Jim Street / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ken Griffey Jr. is coming home. The future Hall of Fame outfielder, who began his Major League career with the Mariners 20 years ago this year, has decided to return to Seattle. "I can't begin to tell you how ecstatic all of us are," said general manager Jack Zduriencik after announcing the deal in the press room at the Peoria Sports Complex at about 6:30 p.m. MT. "He is as well. I spoke to Brian [Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg] a few minutes ago, and he said that Ken is relieved and he is excited about coming back to Seattle." Griffey accepted the Mariners' one-year contract offer, which includes a $2 million base salary and up to $2.5 million in incentives -- based on at-bats and attendance. His return to Safeco Field is expected to lure at least 200,000 additional fans this season. Exactly when Griffey will report to Spring Training was not immediately determined. But the mere fact Griffey decided to return to his MLB roots has the organization on cloud nine. "I can get rather emotional about things, and I definitely got emotional this afternoon when I got off the plane [in Seattle] and got a phone call from Brian," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said. "He asked if I was on the ground and outside the plane. I told him I was, and he said, 'Ken wants to talk to you.' "Ken got on the phone and kind of played with me a little bit before telling me he was coming back. I am not ashamed to tell you I teared up." The 39-year-old Griffey is expected to bring No. 24 out of storage when he arrives and goes to work providing run production and leadership in the clubhouse. "With his experience, he's been there, done that," Zduriencik said. "There's not going to be anything he's going to see that he hasn't been through before. He's going to relate to some of the young players on this ballclub. He's going to relate to some of the veteran players and those who are in between, those players who are just about to take off. "If I'm a young player on this ballclub, I've got to be pretty excited. I'm going to have my ears open, I'm going to listen to what he says and I'm going to watch him. He's going to bring a lot to the table that you're not going to be able to measure in the box score." Zduriencik said the Mariners decided several weeks ago to pursue MLB's active home run leader. "It was a baseball decision," Zduriencik said. "His health was probably the most important thing because at the end of last year he had the physical issues, and not a lot of us knew that. We had conversations with Brian, and it became clear that he [Griffey] was not 100 percent healthy [during most of the 2008 season]. "More than anything else, a few weeks ago we made this decision that this was the guy, and we were getting excited about the medicals we were getting. When we sat and talked, it kept becoming clear that it would be a good fit for us." Armstrong traveled to Monterey, Calif., last week to meet Griffey face-to-face and gauge his desire to return to Seattle. Junior, playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament, told Armstrong that he wanted to come back and why. Griffey met with Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu for about two hours on Sunday during a stopover on his return flight to Orlando, Fla., and he underwent a complete physical at the Peoria Sports Complex. Griffey passed. Meanwhile, across the country, the Braves also decided Griffey would be a good fit in their lineup and used Chipper Jones as the primary lure. In fact, for the past several days, it appeared that Griffey would sign with the Braves. Negotiations were moving at a steady pace until Tuesday afternoon, when the veteran outfielder learned of a report in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that indicated he'd already decided to play in Atlanta. But Griffey told MLB.com in a telephone interview later that morning that he had not made his decision and was "still kicking things around with my family." Between the newspaper story and a phone call Wednesday morning from Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays, Griffey decided mid-afternoon on Wednesday that his career was making an about-face, going back to where it began. "We've talked all along about coming up with a left-handed hitter, and we have an opportunity to do that in bringing back Ken Griffey Jr.," Zduriencik said. "His leadership, his experience and him coming back is a tremendous, tremendous thing for this organization. From top to bottom, we're very excited about him coming here." Griffey began his storied career in Seattle 20 years ago as a 19-year-old kid with a fabulous personality and smile to match. He hit home runs -- 398 of them -- and made spectacular catches. He was selected to 10 consecutive All-Star teams, won 10 Gold Gloves and one Most Valuable Player Award (1997). He no longer is that player, but the surgery he had on his left knee last October to repair a partially torn meniscus -- apparently injured when he hit his knee against a truck inside the Reds clubhouse -- has completely healed, and he's ready to go. The methodical Mariners were the last organization interested in signing Griffey to request a medical report on the operation. Junior received a clean bill of health and lost about 15 pounds. "This is the one player, at the end of the day, that we thought we needed to bring home," Zduriencik said. "Chuck's relationship with Ken was fantastic, but at no time were we pressured by either Chuck or Howard [CEO Howard Lincoln] to do this."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.