The Kid comes home: Ken Griffey Jr. picks Mariners
Ken Griffey Jr. is returning to the Mariners, team officials confirmed Wednesday, spurning an offer from the Atlanta Braves.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Five memorable Griffey moments in Seattle
Oct. 8, 1995
Sliding into home on Edgar Martinez's double to beat the Yankees in the 1995 AL Division Series.
Sept. 14, 1990
Following father Ken Griffey Sr.'s first-inning homer with one of his own against the Angels' Kirk McCaskill.
July 28, 1993
Belting a home run for the eighth consecutive game, against the Twins, tying the major-league record.
May 26, 1995
Leaping into the Kingdome's right-center wall to make a catch, shattering his wrist, later returning to help fuel miracle playoff run.
June 22, 2007
Getting a 10-minute ovation at Safeco Field as a Cincinnati Red in his first game back in Seattle since the 2000 trade.
PEORIA, Ariz. — At times this week the Mariners could sense their master plan for a Ken Griffey Jr. reunion coming apart.
A torn Griffey had finalized contract details with two different teams, taken physicals for them as well and had only to decide between the Mariners and Atlanta Braves.
But before Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik received a phone call Wednesday night confirming the deal, it seemed the slugger would choose family ties back east over repatriation to the franchise he began his career with.
"Yeah, certainly there were emotions tied into it and many discussions we had internally here," Zduriencik admitted after the one-year, incentive-laden deal was announced. "You only control one side of the equation. The person at the other end controls the other side."
But the Mariners kept up hope, with often-maligned team president Chuck Armstrong manning the phones repeatedly in an effort to sway Griffey back Seattle's way. Armstrong and Griffey share a special bond, dating back to when the fatherly Armstrong embraced a 19-year-old as the franchise's future cornerstone in 1989.
In the end, with Braves officials apparently preparing to welcome Griffey to a team workout Wednesday morning, Armstrong's words to the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer began to hit home.
Griffey began leaning back toward rejoining a Mariners team he left after the 1999 season, and he was apparently pushed even further in that direction by an emotional phone call from Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays late in the day. Once his wife, Melissa, gave her blessing, Griffey finally came to a decision and opted not to join a Braves squad that trains within minutes of his Orlando home and plays regular-season games an hour's flight time away.
"You really have to put the human element in this thing," Zduriencik said. "Ken probably in his heart of hearts wanted to be here all along. But that lure of being in spring training at home, where you don't have to get up and leave your family. The fact that he would have been closer, certainly, to Orlando than he would be here was obviously important for him."
Armstrong was the first person Griffey called to share the news.
"I am elated," Armstrong said. "The icon of the Seattle Mariners' franchise is coming back to Safeco Field where he belongs. It's just wonderful."
Mariners pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, who grew up watching videocassettes of Griffey and a handful of other baseball stars in his native Australia, said the clubhouse had been buzzing with news of Griffey's pending arrival over the weekend.
But the past couple of days, he said, talk had stopped as players began to feel Griffey would head to Atlanta.
"I'm sure tomorrow it will be a main topic of conversation," he said.
Griffey won't report to Mariners camp until the weekend as he ties up loose ends in Orlando. And while there is no confirmation he'll wear his traditional No. 24, Zduriencik said: "I can't imagine him wearing any other number but that one."
For a while though, it appeared that number would be worn in Atlanta. Braves GM Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox, a pair of men Griffey had lobbied to consider him for their team, met with the slugger Monday night. And while Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, was said to be meeting with Wren on Tuesday night as well, sources say it didn't happen.
There were reports that Griffey was angered by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story on Tuesday afternoon stating that he'd already made a decision to play for the Braves. He is said to have perceived that Braves officials were leaking details of the negotiations to the media and quickly text-messaged Mariners officials denying that the story was true.
Griffey's close friend, Braves slugger Chipper Jones, seemed confident throughout Tuesday and Wednesday that he would be headed Atlanta's way. But that never happened, and a source with the Braves, who confirmed late Wednesday afternoon that Griffey was headed elsewhere, seemed bewildered by it all.
"Last I heard, they were expecting him on the field this morning," he said. "Seattle must have upped their offer."
But other sources indicated the Mariners had not changed their offer from the one presented to Griffey last weekend.
MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, a former teammate of Griffey's in Seattle, reported Wednesday night that Hall of Fame outfielder Mays may have tipped the scales in the Mariners' direction as well.
"Obviously, he met with his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., and he has been bombarded by friends and different players from all over the league calling him, trying to help him make this decision," Reynolds said on the air. "Late today, Willie Mays calls him. Willie basically said 'Ken, at the end of the day, at the end of your career, your legacy is going to be with the Seattle Mariners.' And it really hit home with him.' "
Whether it was Mays, Armstrong, the Atlanta media or just sentimentality that turned the tide, the Mariners have finally welcomed back their original franchise star. Zduriencik admitted there was no real Plan B and that he hadn't planned on adding any other free agents had Griffey turned him down.
Zduriencik said he expects Griffey to play some games in the outfield, as well as serve as a designated hitter, depending on what spring training shows and how his body holds up.
For now, though, all of that seemed secondary.
"He's returning to his roots," Zduriencik said. "That's a terrific thing. It doesn't happen real often."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 8:27 PM
Catcher Gregg Zaun retires after 16 seasons