Seattle glad to have Griffey back

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ken Griffey Jr. wouldn’t let anyone know of his decision to rejoin Seattle and spurn Atlanta until he called Chuck Armstrong.

The Mariners president for the last 24 years had built a strong friendship with ‘‘Kenny’’ and his family from the day in 1987 when Seattle made Griffey its No. 1 overall draft choice.

A few years ago Major League Baseball gave Griffey an offseason award. The league told him he could have anyone he wanted flown to baseball’s winter meetings and present it to him. Griffey chose Armstrong. And it was Armstrong who kept lobbying Griffey to come back, even after it appeared Tuesday he was choosing Atlanta, to be closer to home.

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So when Griffey decided Wednesday he was taking the Mariners’ one-year contract worth about $2 million, plus incentives, to be their designated hitter, Griffey wouldn’t let anyone else know until he reached Armstrong. But Armstrong was in the air at the time, on a delayed flight back to Seattle after a short visit to spring training. Only after Griffey finally reached his friend did word get out.

‘‘It is great to have the icon of the Seattle Mariners back home, where he belongs,’’ Armstrong said late Wednesday night. ‘‘It’s great when a decision made for baseball reasons works for every aspect of the organization.

‘‘We could not be more pleased that Kenny is returning to Seattle.’’

Griffey hit two home runs in the last game he played in the Emerald City, June 24, 2007, when he was with Cincinnati at the end of a series between the Reds and Mariners that turned into a weekend love-fest for him. After that game, he said he wanted to retire as a Mariner.

Now he can.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik knows Griffey wanted to complete his legacy in the place it began.

‘‘Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,’’ Zduriencik said. ‘‘Everyone knows Ken Griffey Jr. is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And he’s returning to his roots.

‘‘That doesn’t happen too often.’’

Griffey, who is expected to arrive in camp Friday or Saturday, is fifth on baseball’s career home run list with 611.

He was No. 1 on the list of stars Seattle fans wanted most to reclaim.

Now that the Mariners have determined Griffey is healthy following knee surgery last fall — he passed an extensive physical on Sunday — Seattle is hoping he brings at least a semblance of the skills he provided as the dynamic leader who ushered in the franchise’s heyday in the mid-1990s.