Ken Griffey Jr.'s stunning decision Wednesday to come back to the Mariners, might have been his ultimate walkoff blast.
Well, Junior always did drama better than anyone else. On and off the field.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s stunning decision Wednesday to come to Seattle, however, might have been his ultimate walkoff blast.
When it comes to eliciting pure, adrenaline-filled, forehead-slapping, giggle-inducing reactions, this ranks right up there with his romp around the bases on Edgar Martinez’s double.
In a perverse way, it’s better that it happened in this convoluted, tortured way, isn’t it?
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Any average Joe or Garret could have quietly agreed to a contract and benignly announced his decision.
But this was so Junior — making all his Seattle faithful sweat and wiggle and squirm, but coming through in the end.
What a tantalizing ride these last two weeks have been. Griffey’s prospects of coming back to Seattle, so promising a week ago, looked pretty grim just 48 hours ago. It seemed that he was signed, sealed and delivered to Atlanta.
But it wasn’t over for the Mariners when the Angels took a 13 ½-game lead in 1995, and it wasn’t over this time.
“All signs are good,” Braves star Chipper Jones, who has been Griffey’s sounding board, had said as late as Wednesday morning before adding, presciently, “but I’m not going to smile until he signs on the line.”
Jones and the rest of the Braves’ organization are frowning right now. Meanwhile, there is jubilation in the Mariners hallways, and if not dancing in the streets of Seattle, at least a lot of fist pumps.
You could say that Griffey followed his heart, and it’s true, but that’s also what made this such an agonizing decision for him. Because Junior’s heart was in many places.
It was in Atlanta, where he reveres their manager, Bobby Cox, and had always longed to play.
It was in Orlando, where he maintains a full-time residence and loves nothing more than reveling in the lives of his three children. On Wednesday, soon after calling Mariners president Chuck Armstrong — who closed this deal more efficiently than vintage Mariano Rivera — to inform him he was going to be a Mariner, Griffey went out to shoot hoops with his son, Trey.
The Braves offered both Cox and proximity to Orlando with the opportunity to shuttle back and forth for important events and milestones. Griffey supposedly made an overture himself to the Braves, who like the Mariners, had put him off much of the offseason.
But it turned out Seattle tugged even harder on Griffey’s heartstrings. Those raucous cheers from his 2007 return with Cincinnati continued to resonate. Armstrong, who had become as close to Griffey as an uncle over the years, played all the right notes in making the Mariners’ case, with major help from Griffey’s old teammate and friend, Harold Reynolds.
The M’s may have made it more difficult on themselves by stringing Griffey along this winter, but part of that was budgetary. As the economy nosedived and free-agent asking prices plummeted, Junior’s included, he was able to fit into their bottom line better in February than in December — particularly with knowledge of the fans Griffey will induce back to Safeco Field.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik wasn’t here during Griffey’s heyday, but he’s a full-blooded baseball man, and knows full well his stature in these parts.
“You’re talking about arguably the greatest athlete that’s ever played in the Northwest — certainly the greatest athlete in Mariners history — and probably the best athlete that’s ever played in the city of Seattle,” said Zduriencik.
You may debate his conclusion, but it’s not wild hyperbole, either.
The word that kept cropping up Wednesday from those close to Griffey, and close to the decision, was “legacy.” A chance to cement his stature as the city’s prevailing icon, and bring closure to his career.
Griffey, had once promised, don’t forget, “that I owe it to the fans of Seattle to retire a Mariner,” in the wake of his exhilarating return two years ago.
It was a rocky path to get there, with some Junior-esque ebbs and flows, and the attendant drama that refreshed our memory of how, uh, eventful life with Griffey can be.
In the end, Griffey followed his heart, and his heart led him to Seattle.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org