Ken Griffey Jr. returned to Seattle on Friday to meet with the local media after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mariners announced they will retire Griffey's No. 24 throughout the organization as part of Ken Griffey Jr. weekend on August 5-7.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s whirlwind ride of baseball celebration made its final stop at the place where his professional career began.
Two days after being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the highest percentage in history (99.3 percent) and a day after confirming that he would go into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Mariners, Griffey returned to Seattle and Safeco Field.
The Mariners had a surprise for him.
Team president Kevin Mather announced that Griffey’s No. 24 will be retired as part of three days of festivities labeled “Ken Griffey Jr. Weekend” at Safeco Field on August 5-7 in a series against the Angels. It’s the Mariners’ first homestand following the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
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“Ken Griffey Jr. was the first player selected in the 1987 draft, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the first player in Hall of Fame history to amass over 99 percent of the vote and the first player to wear a Mariners cap on his Hall of Fame plaque,” Mather said. “It seems only fitting that he be the first Mariners player to have his number retired.”
The Mariners had a framed No. 24 jersey from Griffey’s playing days unveiled during the press conference.
“For them to say, we don’t want anybody to wear this number, it’s overwhelming and scary,” Griffey said. “But it’s one of those things that makes you feel good as a person and player that they respected what you did.”
But Griffey’s No. 24, which has never been worn by another Mariners’ player since he was traded to the Reds before the 2000 season, won’t just be retired at the big league level. It will be retired throughout the organization for every minor league team.
“No player in our entire organization will ever wear No. 24 again,” Mather said.
Griffey was told Thursday evening over the phone about the Mariners’ decision to retire his number.
“I went, ‘huh?'” Griffey said. “They said we have a little surprise: ‘We are going to put your name up next up to Jackie Robinson.’ That’s when things hit me.”
Every team in baseball has retired the No. 42 in honor of Robinson, who helped break baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947. To honor Robinson, the Mariners – like all teams – have the No. 42 inside a baseball displayed prominently on the wall in left-center at Safeco Field. They are uncertain of where Griffey’s No. 24 will be displayed, but if he has his way, it will be near Robinson’s number.
It is a sentimental honor that isn’t without coincidence or meaning to Griffey.
For the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s first game in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1997, Griffey asked to wear the No. 42 in honor of Robinson. MLB officially retired the No. 42 for all 30 teams as part the anniversary. But in 2007, Griffey asked if baseball would un-retire the jersey so he could wear it in honor of Robinson on the 60th anniversary. Baseball encouraged several other players to do the same. Now every year for Jackie Robinson Day, every player in baseball wears the No. 42 in honor of Robinson.
Griffey’s respect for those that came before him in the game has always been one of his most admirable qualities. And as an African-American player, the importance of Robinson and his accomplishments were personally significant.
“If he didn’t do what he did, maybe none of this would be possible,” he said. “Baseball wouldn’t be the same. If he didn’t do what he did, who knows if this would have happened.”
And now his number will be next to Robinson’s at Safeco Field.
“Having my number next to him?” Griffey said quietly, while pausing and collecting his thoughts and emotions. “I don’t think I did half of what he did. Baseball-wise, yeah, you can look at the numbers and things like that. But the way he went about his life and the things he did off the field nobody can compare to that. He’s a trailblazer in more ways than one. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Joe Black, who would tell me stories about how Jackie played and what he meant to the guys off the field.”
Besides having his own weekend in August, Griffey will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the home opener on April 8 against the A’s. The Mariners are going all out for their first-ever hall of fame player.
With a slick celebratory logo honoring his induction into the hall of fame that features a silhouette of his trademark follow through on a home run plastered to a banner behind him and large action photos on each side of him, Griffey answered questions and reminisced on the podium for 35 minutes and then held court with local writers for another 20 minutes.
Given that he opened the New York Stock Exchange on Friday morning, along with Mike Piazza, and then flew to Seattle for the press conference, Griffey was surprisingly relaxed and playful and open.
Asked again why he chose to go in as a Mariner, Griffey reiterated his reason.
“I played 13 seasons here, did most of my damage here, I was drafted here and it’s the right the thing to do,” he said.
The importance of Griffey to baseball in Seattle has never been questioned. He provided relevancy to a lifeless, middling and moribund franchise.
Griffey was generally perplexed as to which of the many Mariners iterations of hats and logos he would be on his hat on his hall of fame plaque.
“I have a choice?” he said. “I haven’t really thought about it. I just get asked about wearing it forward or backward. I’m having a debate on that. I have no idea on that. Hell, I don’t know.”
If they give him the option to have his plaque featuring his hat on backward – a look mimicked by kids of and fans of every age – would he do it?
“I don’t know,” he said. “We may have to leave that to a fan vote.”
Griffey was still not upset with the writers from the BBWAA that didn’t vote for him that would have made him the first unanimous selection in Hall of Fame history.
“It’s their opinion,” he said. “It is what it is. You can’t control it. You just have to be thankful for the guys that did. That’s what I’ve tried to focus on.”
And it continued from parenthood, to injuries, to superstitions and the trade to Cincinnati. He talked and smiled and joked.
It wasn’t till teammate and friend Jay Buhner broke up Griffey’s explanation of songs he uses for ringtones for specific people that he finally exited the media room. He had a date with a television to watch the broadcast of the women’s’ basketball game between Arizona and Washington State in Pullman. Griffey’ daughter, Taryn, is a starting point guard for the Wildcats.
But he summed up the ride in one sentence: “This definitely caps a long, wonderful week.”
The planned events for Ken Griffey Jr. weekend.
- Friday, August 5, 7:10 pm vs. the Los Angeles Angels – Ken Griffey Jr. Hall of Fame Bobblehead Night (first 20,000 fans will receive this special bobblehead)
- Saturday, August 6, 6:10 pm vs. the Los Angeles – Ken Griffey Jr. Number Retirement Ceremony (pregame) and Replica Hall of Fame Plaque (first 20,000 fans will receive a replica plaque)
- Sunday, August 7, 1:10 pm vs. the Los Angeles – Ken Griffey Jr. Replica Jersey Day (first 20,000 fans will receive a replica jersey)