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Mariners president Chuck Armstrong just had a conference call with reporters to discuss the naming of Ken Griffey Jr. as a special consultant to the team.
One of the first things I asked Armstrong about was the timing of the move, given how Griffey retired on June 2 of last year after a virtual cold war between him and manager Don Wakamatsu. Griffey was no longer playing and chose to retire and drive home to Orlando, Fla. without first speaking to Wakamatsu or general manager Jack Zduriencik.
“I don’t know that anything’s changed except that time has elapsed,” Armstrong said. “He and I talked over time about why he left at that time and how he left at that time. I think that’s something he should address himself. From our perspective, last season was a difficult season and during the course of the season, after he left, he and I would talk on a fairly regular basis.
“But as to how and why he did it the way he did, in his mind, it’s consistent with what he said all along — how he would retire.”
Griffey had previously said that, once he decided to retire, he’d do so without fanfare and leave a sign in his locker saying “He gone.”
But the circumstances behind his actual retirement, in which he did indeed leave without fanfare, contained numerous details not part of his prior plan. Griffey has yet to speak in public about why he left.
Sources close to Griffey said last season that he initially felt Wakamatsu had leaked the May “Sleep Gate” story — in which he was said to be sleeping in the clubhouse during a game, leading to him not being used to pinch-hit for Rob Johnson in a key situation — to a newspaper reporter. A player told me last summer that Griffey initially shared his suspicions about Wakamatsu being the leak with several other Mariners in the clubhouse, including Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Jack Wilson and Jose Lopez.
In the weeks that followed, Griffey later came to realize Wakamatsu wasn’t the source of the story, but rather that it was two young players — as first cited by the story in question. By that point, though, several weeks had already gone by and Wakamatsu had begun losing control of the clubhouse.
Armstrong said today that he’d rather Griffey speak for himself about why he left. For now, the plan is to have Griffey speak to the media as a group when he arrives for spring training in March once he fulfills overseas charity obligations.
“I don’t want to get into that,” Armstrong said of whether he felt Griffey did the proper thing. “In his mind, he thought t he didn’t have any other alternative. But I would like for him to address that. As I said, he called me. He and I talked the day that he did leave. We might have wished that he did it differently. But in his mind, he did it the right way for himself and for the franchise. He claimed he was thinking about the franchise. But that’s in the past and I’d like him to address that when he comes to spring training and then I think we can put that behind us.
“But for today, as far as I’m concerned, all that’s behind us. I’m just happy to have him back and welcome him back home.”
Photo Credit: AP
Armstrong said he and Griffey had been speaking about his post-playing career with the club ever since a meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif. two years ago that resulted in him returning to Seattle for the 2009 season.
The team plans to use Griffey in a variety of ways, starting at spring training. Armstrong isn’t certain about whether Griffey will be at Safeco Field for opening night, though they’ve spoken about it.
Griffey is about to head off on a goodwill tour of the Phillipines and then has some charity commitments that will carry into March.
“One of the things that Ken keeps coming back to, one of the themes he keeps coming back to when he and I talk about this is he wants to tell our minor leaguers, he wants to tell the kids coming through our system, what it means to be a Mariner,” Armstrong said. “And why that’s special to be a Mariner. And I can’t think of anybody who can better deliver that message than Ken Griffey Jr.”
Armstrong said Griffey’s off-field strengths are numerous.
“He’s volunteered to become involved with our corporate business partners,” he said. “He’s volunteered to participate when it’s in any types of activities that seem like they would be good fits. We know what a generous man he is. We know what he’s done even after he left Seattle as a player. He would come back into town to help out the Rainier boys and girls clubs. He would maintain his contacts here. I think he is so smart and just so savvy about things. And he said ‘I just want to help.’ He said ‘I just want to do what you guys think would be a good fit.’
“We’ve talked about any number of things off the field…he had this idea where he and his old minor league roomate Roger Hansen would go and visit our minor league affiliates and again, talk about what it means to be a Mariner, coming through our system, how hard you have to work and so forth.
“And I said ‘Well, I hope that works, Kenny. But I could imagine Ken Griffey Jr. showing up in Pulaski, or Clinton, Iowa. The whole town might turn out. So, we’ll have to figure out how we manage those situations. But he just has such a good feeling about our organization and our organization does about him. Who better than arguably the finest player in his generation?”