SEATTLE -- Ken Griffey Jr. has always wanted to receive that one final ovation that the city of Seattle has always wanted to give to him.
This coming April, both parties may get their wish.
Prior to the Seattle Mariners' April 14th home opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team plans to retire jersey No. 24 in honor of Griffey Jr., who spent 13 years in the organization between 1987-1999 before spending the final nine seasons of his career in Cincinnati and Chicago.
"All winter long, fans have been sending emails and stopping me on the street to ask when we were going to bring Griffey back," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "Today they have their answer. I can think of no better way to pay tribute to a hallowed Mariner icon, and like everybody else in the office, I'm looking forward to the proceedings."
Griffey Jr.'s storied Major League career spanned 20 seasons. One of just six players in baseball history to hit 600 home runs, Griffey Jr. also ranks 18th all-time in career RBI (1772), 29th in career slugging percentage (.547), and 58th in career hits (2680). However, while he was productive throughout, he was at his best in Seattle, where he hit 398 of his dingers and drove home 1152 of his runs batted in. In addition, he batted .299 as a Mariner but just .269 after getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds in February 2000.
Known simply as "Junior" and "The Kid" during his days in the Pacific Northwest, fan favorite Griffey Jr. dazzled with a triple threat of power, speed, and defense. He slugged at least 40 home runs six times as a Mariner. Only once did he fail to steal ten bases. And for ten consecutive seasons between 1990-1999 he won a Gold Glove award for defensive excellence in the outfield. A national superstar, the image of Griffey Jr. leaping over a fence to bring back a fly ball was etched into America's memory.
It was in attempting a difficult defensive play that Griffey Jr. broke bones in his wrist in May 1995, knocking him out of action for two and a half months. He was able to return in time for the stretch run, though, where his contributions helped lead the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. There he hit five home runs against the New York Yankees in the Division Series and scored the dramatic winning run in Game 5, a run widely considered to be the greatest all-time moment in Seattle sports.
"There's no questioning the impact that Junior had on this organization and this city," said Seattle Mariners president Chuck Armstrong. "Just look at the response he got in 2007 as a member of another team. This city loves Junior. I love Junior. Had it not been for him, there's no telling where this organization would be today.
"He deserves to be honored. This isn't exactly how I envisioned him ending his career, but Junior deserves this ceremony. As the most iconic player in franchise history, he deserves an ovation, and he deserves to have his jersey hang from the rafters."
Brian Goldberg, agent for Ken Griffey Jr., was surprised by the announcement.
"I was on a conference call with Jack and Chuck the other day, and Jack asked if we'd support putting ol' 24 on display in Safeco next season. We both said 'yeah, of course,' but then Jack never responded. When I tried to inquire, he said something about a 'verbal contract' and hung up.
"I don't think he knew that Griffey was looking for a place to sign as a free agent. I was going to give him a call to clear some things up and explain that Ken isn't actually retired when I got this jersey ceremony press release faxed to my office. Now I, uh
"I gotta say, I don't know how Jack did it," said Armstrong. "You'd think this sort of thing would require my signature. But nothing ever crossed my desk until the press release. You can imagine my surprise.
"When I confronted Jack to explain that this wasn't really what I had in mind on the phone, he said that there wasn't any going back, because he'd already paid for the bunting and the Bounce House, and that cancelling the order would cost the team a fortune. And with the economy the way it is, we're in no position to take on that kind of hit for nothing. So I guess we're stuck.
"The ceremony should be nice."
With everything all set up to take place at The House That Griffey Built, the only big question remaining is whether the stadium's eponymous player will be coming home to attend. Goldberg couldn't yet provide a definitive answer.
"Ken's still kind of trying to make sense of the whole thing. He doesn't understand what happened, or why we can't just cancel the party. I tried to explain that it's complicated, but he's having some trouble right now.
"I guess it's maybe a little weird when a GM pretty much makes you retire against your will."
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 3:05pm PDT.