It’s official. Ken Griffey Jr. is returning to the Seattle Mariners in 2010. This can only be good news for a team looking to carry over the momentum from 2009, when they rebounded from their first 100-loss season in 25 years and finished 85-77.
Griffey’s statistics in 2009 may not look particularly impressive (.214 batting average, 19 home runs, and 57 RBIs), but there’s no doubting the impact the living legend had on the Mariners last season.
He helped bring together a team, which had lacked spirit and chemistry the previous year, highlighted by successfully integrating Ichiro Suzuki into the clubhouse.
And if anyone does want to question Griffey’s declining production, he led the Mariners with 63 walks (in 117 games), proving that pitchers still have the utmost respect for "The Kid."
In any event, Junior has already advised, through his agent, that he’s willing to take on a reduced role. This will most probably include being a designated hitter on a part-time basis as well as continuing his role as a pinch hitter, which proved to be a success as the season wore on.
This turn of events also gives the Seattle fans another chance to hope for the perfect ending for the best player in team history: A World Series win.
While this may appear a bit far-fetched, there’s no harm in dreaming as Griffey looks to put a rubber stamp on his Hall of Fame career, a career, which as good as it’s been, there’s always the temptation to ask "what if?"
Just think: Take away the numerous injuries he endured in the nine seasons after he left Seattle.
Now imagine if Bud Selig had actually introduced some semblance of a drug-testing policy around the same time as the other major sports leagues in North America. Without the advantage of steroids, certain players would not have had quite so productive careers.
Suddenly, it’s not too far fetched to imagine that Ken Griffey would be very close to being the one to take over Hank Aaron’s home run record. Wouldn’t it have been great to see him breaking baseball's most hallowed record in front of his adoring fans?
Ok, ok, I’ll stop with the trip into fantasy world (reached without the aid of drugs I might add). As it is, he stands fifth on the all-time list, with 630 home runs, which is impressive enough.
Whatever you may think of Ken Griffey Jr., he has always played the game the right way. His career has never been dogged by the controversies that seem to surround many of today’s pro athletes.
And what a career it’s been. First overall pick of the 1987 amateur draft, most valuable player award in 1997, 13 all-star selections, 10-time gold glove award winner, seven silver slugger awards. His play from the center field position was considered the standard during the nineties.
Statistically speaking, as well as those 630 home runs, there has been 2,763 hits, 1,829 RBIs, 1,656 runs, and 522 doubles. We could go on all day.
Griffey has always been known for having fun and playing the game with enthusiasm. And who can forget that smile which never seems to leave his face. His charisma has always shone through. Players, fans, and media alike, clamour to spend time around the great man.
Having a father who also played professional baseball no doubt helped shape the person and the player that has been Ken Griffey Jr.
Hell, even Safeco Field is called "the house that Griffey built." While not strictly true, he was certainly a part of the chain of events, which would eventually lead to the Mariners current home being built.
His private life has also proved to be just as uncontroversial. Married, with three children (one of who was adopted), he changed his uniform number to three in 2006 in honour of his kids.
Even the reasons for leaving the Mariners in the first place were different from a lot of players, who normally cite money as the major issue.
Having previously lived in Orlando, he resided in the same neighbourhood as Payne Stewart. After Stewart’s tragic death in a plane crash during 1999, Ken Griffey re-evaluated his priorities, deciding he wanted to live closer to his relatives in Cincinnati.
Seattle did not stand in his way, trading Junior to the Cincinnati Reds, to play for the same team as his father. While not enjoying as much success with the Reds, Ken Griffey never the less enjoyed playing in the Queen City, where he had grown up.
Then after a brief stint with the Chicago White Sox, he returned "home" last season and fulfilled his desire to finish his playing days as a Mariner. Now, let’s see if the team can help him clinch a fairytale finish to his career with a World Series win.