This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
It’s possible that someday there will be a Seattle Mariner whose career will eclipse that of Ken Griffey Jr. But there will never be another player like him.
He was the real deal, the whole enchilada: outstanding hitter with 630 home runs, 10-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder who made impossible catches look deceptively easy, 13-time All-Star and charismatic clubhouse leader.
Oh, and he was such a fan favorite that he can arguably take credit for saving Major League Baseball in the Northwest, inspiring construction of a ballpark that would keep the city’s team here. They loved him even after he left to play for another team, and they were ecstatic when he agreed to come back and end his career here.
Griffey’s abrupt – but not entirely unexpected – announcement Wednesday that his playing days were over isn’t the way anyone wanted to see him go. The perfect ending would have been at the end of the 2009 season, when he was carried on the shoulders of his teammates to huge applause from the fans. He shared that moment with his friend, Ichiro Suzuki – the only Mariner whose career can begin to compare with his.
Junior should come back and give his team and fans a chance to celebrate his storied career and say goodbye in a fitting tribute to everything he’s done for the Mariners and the region that fell in love with him. The fans want it, the team needs it and he deserves it.
Then he can move on to the next phase of his baseball career – possibly as a batting coach. Griffey has learned a lot in his 22 years in the majors, and he can pass that knowledge on to the young players who grew up idolizing him.
He would also make a great ambassador for the game. Fewer black American youngsters are playing baseball – only 8 percent of major league players are black Americans compared to 17 percent in 1997 – and Griffey could work on reversing that trend.
Griffey may be the best player the Mariners ever had, but it’s clear from comments made by teammates, coaches and fans that he was something more than that. “As great a player as he was, he is an even better person,” said former Mariner manager Lou Piniella. “Ken’s heart, his charisma, you can’t replace that – on or off the field,” said teammate Mike Sweeney.
Junior ended his playing days where they began – a fitting conclusion to a stellar career.