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Originally published Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Willie Mays helped convince Griffey to come back to Seattle

Among those helping recruit Griffey back to the Mariners were Willie Mays and former Mariner Harold Reynolds.

Seattle Times staff reporte

In the Mariners' wooing process of Ken Griffey Jr., which ended in triumph Wednesday after some nerve-racking detours, give an assist to Willie Mays.

Yes, the same Willie Mays who ranks fourth on the all-time home run list with 660 — one slot, and 49 homers, ahead of Griffey's 611.

The same Willie Mays who inspired Griffey to wear No. 24 when he arrived in Seattle.

Chuck Armstrong, Mariners' team president, was driving in Arizona Wednesday afternoon when Harold Reynolds called with a question that astounded him.

"Would it be an imposition if you talked to Willie Mays?" asked Reynolds, a former Mariners' all-star second baseman and close friend of the object of Armstrong's pursuit, Griffey.

"Of course not. I'd love to talk to Willie Mays," Armstrong replied immediately.

Reynolds had been acting all week as a liaison between the Mariners and Griffey, trying relentlessly to convince his buddy that Seattle was the place for him. And Mays was his ace in the hole.

"I called Willie, and he acted like an old friend," Armstrong said. "He talked about the importance of coming back, and asked if it would be an imposition if he called Junior and talked about it.

"I said, 'Willie, you're probably the greatest player ever, and the reason Junior wore No. 24.' I gave him Junior's number.'"

Apparently, what the Say Hey Kid had to say hit the mark, because it was not too much longer before Griffey himself called Armstrong — who had just landed back in Seattle — to give him the good news.

"Ken said it was a legacy thing," Armstrong said. "When he talked to Willie, that was the word he used — legacy, and what it meant to him and the Giants, and what Junior means to this franchise. He told him that would live on long after his own lifetime, and Ken's lifetime."

Armstrong said that Reynolds was instrumental in swaying Griffey's decision, and not just by playing the Mays card.

"I don't think this would have gotten done without the great assistance of Harold," Armstrong said. "I was talking to him three, four, five times a day. He was talking to Junior and telling him why he needed to come back."

For the Mariners, the recruiting process began in earnest last weekend when Armstrong quietly slipped off to California to meet with Griffey and his agent, Brian Goldberg, at Pebble Beach. Griffey was playing in a golf tournament.

"We had a good session," Armstrong said. "That got things started off for me and Ken."

Griffey and his wife, Melissa, moved next to Peoria on Sunday to meet with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu. He also took, and passed, his physical, allowing the deal to be consummated immediately once Griffey made his decision Wednesday after a hard run by Atlanta.

It was a decision that elated Armstrong, who said the two agreed early in the process that their friendship would remain no matter where Griffey ended up playing.

"I want this homecoming to be wonderful for Ken," Armstrong said. "I get goose bumps even talking about it."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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