It looks like Seattle Mariners fans will have to get ready for a few more standing ovations (though it’s highly unlikely they’ll mind) with today’s news that Ken Griffey Jr. has reached an agreement on a one-year contract with the Mariners. Exact terms of the signing have yet to be released, but the contract is thought to be similar to last year’s salary of $2 million plus another $3 million in incentives (ticket sales, merchandise, etc). A bargain at any price, bringing Junior to the Mariners was a no-brainer. The Kid is an institution in Seattle, and although his numbers might not bear it out, 2009 was a rousing success for both Griffey and the Mariners.
Seattle came into last season as a franchise in limbo. The team was fresh off one of the worst years in the club’s history, losing 101 games and generally looking like a team that didn’t care whether they won or lost. The clubhouse was fractured, fingers were pointed and no one seemed to be having any fun (except of course, for the teams that played the Mariners). Enter Griffey, who after a nine-year stint in Cincinnati and Chicago, came home to the city that never stopped loving him. The Kid was integral in creating a clubhouse atmosphere that fostered winning and was even able to break the normally quiet Ichiro out of his shell, with the two soon becoming best friends. Griffey was always quick with a smile or a prank and never complained about his diminished role as a platoon player; he was a consummate professional, and the perfect fit for a Mariners team looking for leadership. Although not the sole reason for their dramatic improvement, the impact of Griffey’s return cannot be overstated as a factor in transforming Seattle from a 61-win team to an 85-win team that stayed in the postseason hunt all year long. Here are some of the highlights of his first year back in Seattle:
–>Created neck-ties featuring manager Don Wakamatsu’s image and gave them to every member of the team to promote unity on road trips. He also handed out ties that had his picture and the words “World’s Greatest Teammate” on them.
–>Hit 400th career homerun as a Mariner, becoming the first player in major league history to record 200 HRs with one team (Cincinnati) and 400 HRs with another (Seattle).
–>After Adrian Beltre returned from a freak testicle injury, Griffey had the P.A. play the theme to “The Nutcracker” on Beltre’s first at-bat back.
–>Came through with a clutch pinch-hit, walk-off single against the Chicago White Sox in the 14th inning of an August game at Safeco.
–>Homered in three of his last five games of the season, raising hopes for a return to the diamond in 2010, and finishing the year 5th on the all-time homerun list with 630 career longballs.
Does Griffey have anything left in the tank for 2010? He wasn’t great at the dish in ’09, finishing the year with a .214 average, but he still managed to hit 19 HR’s with 57 RBI’s and there is some optimism that Junior’s offseason knee surgery will help him to perform better next year. It’s unclear what kind of role Griffey will have for the Mariners next season, but his signing makes it unlikely that Seattle would go after someone like Hideki Matsui (another DH-type with bad knees). While some might argue that Griffey’s return will hinder the growth of Seattle’s younger talent like Mike Carp or Michael Saunders (players who would lose at-bats to Junior), the veteran seems content with whatever playing time he is offered, and could serve as a great mentor to the next wave of Mariners’ hitters (who better to take advice from than a first ballot hall-of-famer). Besides, Ken Griffey Jr. has done enough for the city of Seattle and the Mariners franchise (a virtual afterthought in the baseball world before he arrived) that he deserves to go out on his own terms. Think of him like Bobby Bowden, but without the straw hat, Southern accent and strong odor of Bengay.
Two thousand and nine was a great year for the Mariners, climbing from the AL West cellar into playoff contention, and now with one more season of Griffey, Seattle has its sights set on a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001. M’s fans get another year with the greatest player ever to don turquoise (apologies to Muggsy Bogues) and Junior gets one last crack at that elusive World Series title, the only thing missing from an otherwise storied career.
It’s been almost 15 years since the Mariners crashed the playoffs in 1995 and came this close to making their first Fall Classic. Can Griffey finally lead Seattle to the promised land and finish what he started all those years ago? Why not? If Jack Zdrunciek signs some key free agents to surround Griffey, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro, anything can happen. Seattle’s favorite son is back where he belongs, and Mariners magic will once again sweep through the streets of the Emerald City. The 2010 baseball season can’t start soon enough in Seattle—Ken Griffey Jr’s back, the sun is shining and there’s reason to believe that this might be the most special year in the Mariners’ history. Let’s play ball!
Filed under: AL West, Baseball, Free Agency/Trades, Seattle Mariners | Tagged: 2010 World Series, adrian beltre, Bobby Bowden, Don Wakamatsu, felix hernandez, Hideki Matsui, ichiro suzuki, jack zdrunciek, Ken Griffey Jr., michael saunders, Mike Carp, Muggsy Bogues, Safeco Field, Seattle, Seattle Mariners, The Nutcracker |