Junior's still Junior: Charming, stubborn and unapologetic
Ken Griffey Jr. came back to the Mariners' fold on Wednesday, and it was as if he had never left.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ken Griffey Jr. came back to the Mariners' fold on Wednesday, and it was as if he had never left.
In his first public comments since he drove off into the sunset last June — 20 minutes of interrogation while sitting on a table in the press room, a solemn expression on his face most of that time — Griffey was by turns defiant, stubborn and unapologetic. He also had flashes of charm, humor and empathy.
In other words, the whole Griffey package, the complicated personality mix that has polarized Mariners fans for as long as I can remember.
If anyone thought nine months of reflection at home in Florida was going to lead him to an epiphany of contrition, then you don't know Griffey.
In Griffey's mind, his abrupt departure had been forewarned, and doesn't warrant the apology that many fans are seeking.
"I mean, you want me to apologize for something I felt was right?" he said. "I felt it was right for me to leave. I'm not going to do it. It was not intended to hurt people. It was a decision I made that 15 years ago (to retire without a news conference). It wasn't like it was something you guys hadn't heard before. I mean, you guys have heard it from day one. There are some people that are upset, and there are some people that are not. I can't worry about it. I had to do what I thought was best for me."
Griffey had an explanation for why he "gave himself a bit of a head start" with his two-day, cross-country drive home, during which he was mostly incommunicado: He was afraid his friends might talk him out of retirement, and he was ready to quit — for the good, Griffey said, of the team.
He bristled a bit when asked why, if he left without hard feelings, as he said, he hadn't called manager Don Wakamatsu since his retirement.
"My phone rings," he said pointedly, implying that he was waiting for Wakamatsu to make the first overture.
And Griffey insisted that he did not regret his decision to return for the 2010 season, even though, in retrospect, his legacy would have been so much cleaner if he had retired after being carried off the field by teammates following the last game of 2009.
It was a year in which he contributed at the plate and in the clubhouse, bonding with Wakamatsu and helping the Mariners go from 101 losses to 85 wins. It would have been the perfect feel-good send-off to his Hall of Fame career, erasing all the residual hard feelings that had festered after his first departure from the Mariners in 2000. It would have been the ideal Seattle closure.
Yes, I wrote at the time that it wasn't a bad thing for Griffey to give it another go in 2010, expecting that the Mariners would use him as a role player on a team that looked every bit like a contender.
I was wrong, on all counts. It turned out to be pretty much a worst-case-scenario disaster for Griffey and for the team. Serving as the primary designated hitter until being benched by Wakamatsu in May, Griffey's slowing bat was sadly evident. The team was far worse than anyone expected. And then the napping story hit, setting into motion the turmoil that preceded his departure.
Yet Griffey said firmly he wasn't sorry he came back. "I mean, things happen. No fault of its own. Things happen. I got to meet some great people last year. Am I sorry? No."
Your reaction to Griffey's comments on Wednesday no doubt depended on the mindset you brought into the discussion, which were probably entrenched long ago. He certainly didn't say anything to win over his detractors, and the proponents don't need any winning over.
My belief is that as time passes, the controversy over Griffey's departure will slowly fade — as it should. It would be a shame to let a messy end undermine what was such a fabulous and vibrant career.
Griffey is a "special consultant" now, a nebulous job title for which the specific duties are still being formulated — a little coaching, a little broadcasting, a little advising, a little corporate schmoozing.
In essence, however, it seems his job is to be Ken Griffey Jr. — and as was evident yet again on Wednesday, that's a multifaceted venture.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.