Mariners president Chuck Armstrong says he's happy to have Ken Griffey Jr. back in the organization.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ken Griffey Jr. will be returning to a different Mariners organization than the one he walked away from eight months ago.
And the man responsible for bringing Griffey back as a special consultant says that’s just as well.
Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, who said Tuesday the hiring of Griffey for an off-field job was two years in the making, noted that an almost entirely different coaching staff is part of the transformation that has occurred since Griffey bolted into retirement last June.
Several players on the team at that time have also left as the Mariners rebuild from the ashes of yet another 100-loss season. And Armstrong says he hopes that bringing Griffey back can help show the players still here what being part of the organization is truly all about.
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“He wants to tell the kids coming through our system what it means to be a Mariner,” Armstrong said. “And why that’s special to be a Mariner. And I can’t think of anybody who can better deliver that message than Ken Griffey Jr.”
Griffey is to attend part of spring training in March, after he finishes some overseas commitments. He’ll also make several trips to Seattle and visit Mariners affiliates during the season.
“I’m looking forward to staying very involved with the Mariners, working with the players throughout the organization, staying involved with the community and assisting in other areas of the organization,” Griffey said in a release put out by the team. “It’s an exciting time and I’m appreciative of the opportunity.”
Armstrong also said talks are under way to possibly have Griffey make an appearance at Safeco Field for the home opener in April.
But there remains a bit of unfinished business from Griffey’s last go-round with the team that might need addressing before he embarks on his future role. Griffey has never spoken in public about the reasons he abruptly retired last June 2, driving off on a cross-country trip to his home in Orlando, Fla., without bothering to tell either manager Don Wakamatsu or general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Griffey’s playing time had been cut to virtually nothing at the time, and he and Wakamatsu hadn’t spoken for two weeks. Sources close to Griffey said he was furious over his treatment and that he initially suspected Wakamatsu of leaking a story to a newspaper in May about his being asleep in the clubhouse during a game.
A player told The Seattle Times last season that Griffey shared his suspicions with several veterans on the team. It wasn’t until several weeks later that Griffey apparently realized Wakamatsu wasn’t the leak and that — as the newspaper story said — two young players had been the sources.
But by then, Wakamatsu’s already-tenuous hold on the clubhouse was spiraling out of control.
The Mariners fired Wakamatsu, pitching coach Rick Adair, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and performance coach Steve Hecht in August. They did not renew the contract of bullpen coach John Wetteland after the season, nor did they invite third-base coach Lee Tinsley back to the major-league squad.
Armstrong said last year that Wakamatsu’s firing had nothing to do with Griffey.
But it remains to be seen how fans will react to a player some perceive to have quit on the team twice: once when he helped orchestrate his trade to the Reds a decade ago, then again last June.
On Tuesday, Armstrong said that Griffey would address the media upon his arrival at camp and explain his reasons for leaving.
“He and I talked the day that he did leave,” Armstrong said. “We might have wished that he did it differently. But in his mind, he did it the right way for himself and for the franchise. He claimed he was thinking about the franchise. But that’s in the past, and I’d like him to address that when he comes to spring training and then I think we can put that behind us.”
The Mariners were left reeling last year after the 101-loss, turmoil-filled season, then the death of Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus in November. There’s a sense that with the Mariners facing a difficult task in placating fans during what looks to be a difficult 2011 rebuilding year, bringing Griffey back could help from a community-relations standpoint.
“He’s volunteered to become involved with our corporate business partners,” Armstrong said. “He’s volunteered to participate in any types of activities that seem like they would be good fits. We know what a generous man he is. We know what he’s done even after he left Seattle as a player. I think he is so smart and just so savvy about things. And he said, ‘I just want to help.’ He said, ‘I just want to do what you guys think would be a good fit.’ “
New Mariners manager Eric Wedge said it’s key for former players like Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson to help keep today’s players up to speed on the team’s history.
“I want our players to understand, first and foremost, the history of baseball and have a good understanding of what’s gone on before them. I think you have to respect that,” Wedge said.
“But ultimately, you have the history of the Seattle Mariners, too. It’s a short-term history. It’s not going to be a thick book like some of these 100-years-plus organizations. So there’s no reason not to understand the short-term history of Seattle and some of the things that have happened here.”
And team president Armstrong said he doesn’t believe history should get in the way of Griffey helping to carry the team’s legacy forward.
“As far as I’m concerned, all that’s behind us,” he said. “I’m just happy to have him back and welcome him back home.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org