The “Kid” who helped make baseball cool, the All-Star center fielder who helped keep baseball in Seattle, the Hall of Famer who has a statue of his oft-imitated swing in front of T-Mobile Park will now be something more than an icon and special consultant to the franchise he made recognizable.
On Monday, Mariners chairman John Stanton announced that Ken Griffey Jr. has become part of the franchise’s ownership group.
“On behalf of all of the partners, I want to welcome Ken,” Stanton said in a team statement Monday morning. “Ken has been an icon of our franchise, on and off the field, for over three decades and we are thrilled that he is joining us as a partner. His knowledge of the game, love of the Mariner fans, his experiences as a player, his passion for community service and his desire to help grow our sport will be a welcome, and invaluable, additional voice.”
“As I said in my Hall of Fame speech, I’m very proud to be a Seattle Mariner,” Griffey said in a statement. “I’m excited for this incredible opportunity to join John and the rest of the Mariners partnership group. This is a dream come true because of the relationship I’ve always had with the team, its fans and the city of Seattle. I view this as another way to continue to give back to an organization and community that has always supported me and my family. I’m looking forward to continuing to contribute to this organization’s success in any way possible.”
During a news conference Monday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, Stanton and Griffey made opening statements and provided some clarity to the situation.
“Ken is the second new investing partner in the Seattle Mariners in the last 30 years, and the first in over 20 years,” Stanton said. “When we look at any issue with the Mariners, we start with what our mission is. Our mission is to win championships, to delight our fans and to serve our communities, and Ken joining the partnership helps us do all three things.”
Stanton mentioned the iconic photo of a smiling Griffey under a dogpile of celebrating players after scoring from first base on Edgar Martinez’s double to left field during the 1995 American League Division Series against the Yankees.
“There is no one I have ever met that wants the Seattle Mariners to win a championship more than Ken Griffey,” Stanton said.
The few gray whiskers sneaking through the manicured hair on his chin are a reminder that Griffey, who turns 52 on Nov. 21, and the Mariners are a long way from that franchise-defining moment. And since then, the Mariners have qualified for the postseason only three times — the most recent in 2001. Griffey made it clear he expects it to change.
“I really don’t know what to say,” he said. “You don’t really think of this as a kid. I mean this is a dream come true. You look at where I started, where I was born in Donora, Pennsylvania — a steel-mill town. And it gives hope for kids to be able to reach this point — being a part of an organization, being a part of a group that wants to win. And we are going to win. I don’t like losing. The guys who played with me and the guys I played against know I’m a very bad loser. I take this responsibility to the highest level.”
It is unclear how large Griffey’s ownership stake is with the team. But sources indicated he isn’t buying the forfeited ownership shares of Kevin Mather, who resigned as team president amid a self-created scandal in February.
After offering a flat and blunt, “No,” to answer a question about Mather’s shares, Stanton offered some background.
“We have a routine process that was included as a part of the buyout of the partial buyout of Nintendo in 2016,” Stanton said. “Every other year, there’s an opportunity for owners to make the decision if they want to sell part, or theoretically, all of their interest, or if they want to buy more. This was part of that.”
Griffey had made it clear to Stanton in recent years that he wanted to be a part of the ownership group.
“We stuck to our process where the time clock on it starts on July 1,” Stanton said of changing of ownership shares. “We had a conversation and it really didn’t take very long. One of the partners wanted to sell some of their interests for personal reasons. Ken bought most of those interests.”
The addition of Griffey as a partner required a unanimous vote from the other partners in the ownership group, which was basically a formality given his stature and what he has done for the organization, the community and MLB.
Though he’s served as a “special consultant” to the front office since 2011 after his midseason retirement in 2010, often talking with prospects and minor-leaguers, he’s now part owner of a franchise that many believe is on the rise. Following a season in which the MLB team finished 90-72 — just out of the second AL wild-card spot — and the farm system rose to No. 2 in MLB, there is an expectation of success in seasons ahead.
“You always want to be part of something special, and these guys did something special,” Griffey said. “If you look at the beginning of the year, if you look at all the rankings and stuff, there was no way that this could happen. They grew together and understood, ‘Hey, we can really do something special here.’ “