PEORIA, AZ It seems the Mariners now have an Icon At Large with the news Tuesday that Ken Griffey Jr. is rejoining the organization as a special consultant.
The announcement came a week short of two years after Griffey rejoined the organization where he rose to superstar status.
“He is our iconic player, club president Chuck Armstrong said. “Were happy to have him back home.
Just what will Griffeys ultimate role turn out to be? Thats a question that will evolve over time. He and Armstrong discussed Griffey traveling to meet with the organizations minor league players to talk about “what it means to be a Mariner. Its possible he will do a little TV and radio work. Community relations? You bet. Marketing? No problem.
When Griffey was first approached in 2009 about a return to Seattle, the team he broke in with in 1989 and played with through 1999, he talked about being with the organization past his playing days.
But the way he left the team last year, waking up one June morning to decide that hed had it with playing part-time for then-manager Don Wakamatsu, then getting in his car and starting the long drive to Florida, it seemed like such a quick return to his first team was out of the question.
He was upset over suggestions that hed been sleeping in the clubhouse, something some teammates said he blamed on Wakamatsu, even though it wasnt the manager who lit those flames. He was tired of having to check the lineup everyday to see if he was going to play.
And he was at the end, the very end, of an illustrious career. He was no longer the player he once was. Although he had 1,836 career RBIs and 630 career homers, none of the homers and only seven of the RBIs came in the 108 at-bats hed been allotted in the first two months of the season.
So he left, phoning in his retirement from somewhere along I-90 near the Washington-Idaho border.
“Time has elapsed, Armstrong said Tuesday. “He and I talked about why he left at that time and how he left at that time. I believe thats something he should address himself. From our perspective, last season was a difficult season and during the course of the season after he left, he and I would talk on a regular basis.
Armstrong, who has long viewed Griffey as part of his extended family, couldnt criticize the way Griffey just packed up and left. Asked if he approved of the handling of the departure, Armstrong said Griffey was doing what he thought best, and its clear Armstrong accepts that.
“In his mind, he didnt think he had any alternative, Armstrong said. “We might have wished that he did it differently, but in his mind he did it the right way for himself and the franchise.
So what exactly will Griffeys contributions to the Mariners in the coming weeks and months be? That topic remains under discussion, and its not clear how this position will evolve.
“Im looking forward to staying very involved with the Mariners, Griffey said in a statement released by the club, “working with the players throughout the organization, staying involved with the community and assisting in other areas of the organization.
Armstrong admitted that it make take some time to know how Griffeys skill set can best be applied to the Mariners situation. Certainly the long-time center fielder can light up a room when he wants to. And hes generally adored by the public in the Seattle area, so a move like this is likely to be greeted with approval.
“Ken made it clear (in 2009) that he wanted to come back as a Mariner and finish his playing career as a Mariner, Armstrong said. “And when he finished playing, he wanted to establish what were hoping is a lifelong relationship as a Mariner.
“This is something thats been in the works for over two years. We were waiting for the time with Ken with his family duties and his other responsibilities hes got for the time he would want to do this.
The timing of Griffeys arrival in spring training hasnt been set yet. And its not clear if he will be around April 8 for the Mariners’ home opener.
“The situation is evolving, Armstrong said. “Specific dates and times and exactly what hes going to be doing, well figure out as we go along.
Although the Mariners did not say so, it seems likely that Griffey will be given a chance to get behind the microphone some as the Mariners plan to use a variety of former players on television and radio this year while the club decides what it wants to do with its broadcasts in the post-Dave Niehaus era.
Niehaus, a longtime Griffey friend who was the teams broadcaster from Day 1 in 1977, died in November.
John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)