During his first stint with the Seattle Mariners, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. posted offensive numbers that had him on pace to rewrite the history books.
Then Griffey was traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds after the 1999 season, and his career was suddenly derailed by injury after injury. His career never recovered. After 22 seasons, Griffey released a statement through the Mariners announcing his retirement, Wednesday night. While the injuries cost him a chance at the all-time home run record, there is no doubt he is one of the game's all-time greats.
While playing with the Reds, Griffey suffered season-ending injuries in 2002, 2003, and 2004. He missed 260 out of 486 games because of injuries during those years.
Griffey will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Over the course of his career, he batted .284, hitting 630 home runs, fifth on the all-time list, and drove in 1,836 RBI's. He won ten Gold Glove awards from 1990-1999. He was the recipient of the American League MVP award in 1997, a seven-time Silver Slugger award winner, and he was selected to thirteen All-Star Games.
Griffey's statement through the Mariners read:
"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. 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."
Prior to the game, the Mariners put Griffey's number 24 in the dirt behind second base, and showed a 5-minute video tribute. The crowd gave a standing ovation in acknowledgment.
Griffey was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 draft by the Mariners. After playing with the Reds from 2000-2008, Griffey was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the 2008 MLB Trade Deadline. During the 2008 with his season split between the Reds and the White Sox, Griffey only hit 18 home runs. After the season, Chicago declined to pick up Griffey's $16 million option.
In February 2009, Griffey signed a 1-year deal with the Mariners. That season, he hit .214 with 19 home runs as a part-time designated hitter. He playing time was limited by a swollen knee. He returned to the Mariners in 2010, but the bat never came to life. He came into June hitting .184 with no home runs and only seven RBI's.
According to ESPN, Griffey is regarded as the player that kept the Mariners in Seattle. 1995, Griffey returned from injury, sparking the Mariners to an improbable playoff run, which then led to the eventual construction of Safeco Field in Seattle, which ensured the security of the Mariners' franchise in Seattle.
Griffey's former manager with the Mariners, and current Chicago Cubs' manager, Lou Pinella said about Griffey:
"Junior was one of the finest young men I've ever had the opportunity to manage," said Piniella. "When we were in Seattle together, I believe he was the best player in baseball and it was truly an honor to be his manager."