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Former Reds great Ken Griffey Jr. announces retirement

posted 6/2/2010 11:10:19 PM |
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  StraddleMyNose

The 40-year-old Griffey told the Mariners that he was done playing, and manager Don Wakamatsu made the announcement before Seattle faced Minnesota.

"While I feel I am still able to make a contribution on the field and nobody in the Mariners front office has asked me to retire, I told the Mariners when I met with them prior to the 2009 season and was invited back that I will never allow myself to become a distraction," Griffey said in a statement.

"I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharper coming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be an unfair distraction to my teammates and their success as a team is what the ultimate goal should be," he said.

The announcement ends a 22-year run in the major leagues that included 13 all-star selections, 630 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves and a .284 career batting average.

Griffey, a Cincinnati native and Moeller grad, played eight seasons with the Reds before they traded him to the White Sox in July of 2008. In 2009 he then signed with Seattle, returning to the city where he began his big league career and rose to superstardom. But the 40-year-old entered Wednesday batting just .184 with seven RBI and no home runs.

"We were very honored to have a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Ken play for us for nine years," said Reds President & CEO Bob Castellini. "The Griffey family is at the center of baseball tradition in Cincinnati, and Ken and his father gave our organization and Reds fans many wonderful memories. Not only was Junior one of the best baseball players of this or any other generation, he is a wonderful person and family man. We wish Ken, Melissa and their family success and happiness in life off the field."

A recent report quoted unnamed Mariners teammates who said Griffey was unavailable to pinch hit because he had fallen asleep in the clubhouse. He denied the story, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Then, like for much of his career, Griffey appeared aloof under a media microscope. That microscope was present in his life at a young age.

The first accounts of his athletic skill appeared in The Enquirer in 1983, when the son of the Big Red Machine outfielder was a freshman football player at Moeller.

Griffey played only two baseball seasons for the Crusaders. By the time he was a senior in 1987, scouts rated him as major-league ready in all offensive and defensive categories.

“He did things most players could only dream of,” former Moeller coach Mike Cameron told The Enquirer in 2008. “You’d watch him clobber the ball out of sight or chase balls down in the outfield and you’d just say, ‘Oh, my God.’ He was that good.”

Seattle drafted him No. 1 overall and gave him a $180,000 signing bonus.

Griffey played just 129 minor league games before debuting with the Mariners in 1989. The following season, his predestination as a can’t-miss prospect came to fruition. He was the youngest player in the big leagues, and he hit .300 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI. Sports Illustrated featured the tail-end of his classically smooth left-handed swing on its cover, along with the headline “The Natural: Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle’s 20-Year-Old Wonder.”

His swing, his Spiderman-like play in centerfield, his smile and his backward-cap wearing enthusiasm endeared him to fans and advertisers. During his first decade in Seattle he became a cultural icon – from his good-as-gold rookie cards to his Nike commercials to his series of video games to his appearance in TV shows and movies.

He became known, simply, as “Junior.”

Meanwhile, the numbers accumulated – home run seasons of 49, 46, 46 and 48 between 1996 and 1999 – and so did the accolades. Fellow major leaguers voted him the player of the decade in 1999. He was on pace to break Hank Aaron’s career home run record. And he was going to do it in his hometown.

The Reds acquired Griffey on Feb. 10, 2000 in a trade for centerfielder Mike Cameron, right-handed pitcher Brett Tomko, minor-league infielder Antonio Perez and minor-league right-handed pitcher Jake Meyer.

Griffey signed a $57.5 million contract, to be spread out over 16 years of deferred payments. He was joining a team that had won 96 games the year before, a team that was losing relatively little in exchange for the best player in the game.

“Well,” Griffey said at his introductory press conference at Cinergy Field, “I’m finally home.

“This is my hometown. I grew up here. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it’s where you feel happy. Cincinnati is the place where I thought I would be happy.”

Reds fans, in turn, praised the deal. Opening Day drew 55,596 fans. In his first season in Cincinnati, Griffey hit 40 home runs and drove in 118 runs. The Reds went 85-77.

But the lovefest was short-lived.

Griffey never played on another winning team in Cincinnati. Injuries limited his output and robbed him of his natural abilities – a partial tear of his hamstring in 2001, a patellar tendon injury early in the 2002 season, season-ending ankle surgery in July 2003, a complete hamstring tear in August 2004 that required the insertion of three screws to hold the tendon to the bone.

Behind closed doors, Griffey was one of the club’s most generous players – often donating time and money to charitable causes. On the field he became of focal point of fans who were tired of losing seasons. He was often booed.

In 2007, he was moved to right field. In 2008, he hit just .245 until the team traded him to the White Sox for relief pitcher Nick Masset and Triple-A second baseman Danny Richar. Griffey’s contract gave him the right to refuse the deal.

“The chance for me winning a title was the biggest part,” Griffey said in a news conference in Kansas City, Mo., before his White Sox debut.

Griffey never won a title. The White Sox lost in the American League Division Series. The Mariners, expected to be one of the top teams in baseball this season, have stumbled to a 20-31 start.

Before he even came to Cincinnati, Griffey was viewed as a sure-fire Hall of Famer. And although his statistics dropped off significantly in his final nine seasons, his case for induction might be better now than ever. Unlike many of his home-run-hitting contemporaries like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, Griffey never has been linked to steroid use.

Griffey will be eligible for the 2016 Hall of Fame class.

The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Comments:

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PinkToeNails

Jun 2 @ 11:19PM  
Okay.... this is going to be a Brucish comment......................................

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see ya!
StraddleMyNose

Jun 2 @ 11:24PM  
I was glad to see my Reds trade him two years ago. He really wasn't the best fit for my Reds for those 8 years he was with us.

He's more of a legend in Seattle. But as far as the player he is now, not the best fit for them either.
Wordsofwit

Jun 2 @ 11:50PM  
He was never the same after his injuries, but before that, WOW!!! The man had one of the sweetest swings I ever saw that could produce a 400 foot shot without appearing to be putting forth any effort. He had a great arm too.
Sunshine79

Jun 3 @ 2:10PM  
I have his number. Seriously. He lives here locally & his wife Melissa. I've also spoke to his cousins by phone as well. I used to work for an answering service nand took message for Mr. Griffey!

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Former Reds great Ken Griffey Jr. announces retirement