Ken Griffey Jr. unexpectedly announces retirement

Published 12:55 am Thursday, June 3, 2010

SEATTLE — The Kid has called it quits.

Just the way Ken Griffey Jr. wanted, there will be no farewell tour for one of the greatest players in baseball history. Instead, Griffey simply informed the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night his career was over.

The 40-year-old Griffey unexpectedly announced his retirement before Seattle’s game against Minnesota on Wednesday after 22 seasons, 13 all-star appearances and widespread acclaim as one of the greatest players of his generation.

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Stuck in a limited role as a backup designated hitter and spot pinch-hitter, Griffey called Mariners’ team president Chuck Armstrong and said he was done playing. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu called his players together before the start of batting practice to inform them of Griffey’s decision.

“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.

Griffey was not in the clubhouse before the game, and the team said he would not be at Safeco Field.

Milton Bradley, Griffey’s teammate for only a few months, turned to Mike Sweeney during batting practice and said, “on a day like this, it should rain in Seattle.”

Griffey was hitting only .184 with no homers and seven RBIs this year and recently went a week without playing. There was a report earlier this season — which Griffey denied — that he’d fallen asleep in the clubhouse during a game.

He ends his career fifth on the all-time home run list with 630. He won an MVP award and was an 11-time Gold Glover. The only thing missing on his resume was a trip to the World Series.

“It’s a sad day for the Mariners, our fans, for all the people in the community that have loved Ken, admired him as a tremendous baseball player and a great human being,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said. “It’s always tough for great superstars like Ken or anyone else to make a decision to retire. This has been his life for so many years, but he has made his decision and will support it. We will honor him in every way possible.”

A star from the time he was the overall No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft, Griffey played 22 years in the majors with Seattle, his hometown Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. He hit .284 with 1,836 RBIs.

But his greatest seasons, by far, came in Seattle.

Griffey played in 1,685 games with Seattle and hit .292 with 417 homers, most coming in the homer-friendly Kingdome, and 1,216 RBIs. He won the AL MVP in 1997 and practically saved a franchise that was in danger of relocating when he first came up.

Griffey returned to the Mariners in 2009 and almost single-handedly transformed what had been a fractured, bickering clubhouse with his leadership, energy and constant pranks.

Griffey signed a one-year deal last November for one more season in Seattle after he was carried off the field by his teammates after the final game of 2009. Griffey hit .214 last season with 19 homers as a part-time DH. He was limited by a swollen left knee that required a second operation in as many offseasons.

“Of course it surprised us. You never know what is in a players mind. They debate things here and there and in this particular case Ken made his decision and there wasn’t anything anybody could say,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “You support him, you’re behind him and again, he’s a legacy in this community and certainly in the game of baseball.”

His career is littered with highlights, from homering in eight straight games to tie a major league record in 1993, to furiously rounding third and sliding home safe on Edgar Martinez’s double to beat the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series in 1995. His first major league at-bat was a double and Griffey homered the first time he stepped to the plate at home.

A year after making his big league debut, Griffey enjoyed one of his greatest highlights. Playing with his All-Star dad, Ken Griffey, they hit back-to-back home runs in a game for the Mariners.

For a time in the 1990s, he was considered the best player in baseball. And during the Steroids Era, his name was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs, a rarity among his contemporaries such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

“I think it’s pretty easy for me to personally say he’s the greatest player to ever play this game,” said Seattle catcher Rob Johnson, whose locker was just a few feet from Griffey’s. “He did everything. He wasn’t just a home run hitter. The guy played outfield as good or better than anyone ever played. … To me he is the greatest player to ever live and to get a chance to play with him and to get to sit next to his locker is pretty special.”

Griffey also is regarded as the player who helped keep the Mariners in Seattle, a point Armstrong noted during an impromptu gathering just a few steps from the batter’s box at Safeco Field. It was Seattle’s unlikely late season playoff run in 1995, spurred by the return of Griffey from injury, that led to the construction of Safeco Field and the future security of a franchise rumored for years to be on the move.

Once he left Seattle for the Reds, injuries began to take their toll and his production started to decline. Griffey’s final hit, during his lackluster final season, was fittingly a game-winning pinch-hit single against Toronto on May 20.

Colorado manager Jim Tracy and others were surprised as the news of Griffey’s decision began to make its way around baseball.

“Did he really? Wow,” Tracy said before facing the San Francisco Giants.