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Griffey Jr. announces his retirement

Griffey Jr. announces his retirement

SEATTLE -- The final stop on a baseball journey that started and ended in a Mariners uniform comes almost six years from now for Ken Griffey Jr. far away from Safeco Field.

That's when the Hall of Fame doors will surely open for one of the best players of all-time.

"Jack, Chuck and I are going to be standing with tears in our eyes when we see Kenny inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown," said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon.

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Junior calls it a career
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There were no tears, but a lot of appreciation, coming from Lincoln, club president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik as they stood near the home dugout at Safeco Field discussing Griffey's decision to end a 21-plus year Major League career.

Griffey did not make himself available to the media, expressing his thoughts through a statement released by the organization almost three hours before the Mariners played the Twins.

"I've come to a decision today to retire from Major League Baseball as an active player," Griffey said in the statement. "This has been on my mind recently, but it's not an easy decision to come by. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to play Major League Baseball for so long and thankful for all the friendships I have made, while also being proud of my accomplishments."

Griffey ended his career with 630 home runs, fifth-highest in MLB history, 10 Gold Gloves, one Most Valuable Player Award -- but no World Series appearances.

"My hope is that my teammates can focus on baseball and win a championship for themselves and for the great fans of Seattle, who so much deserve one," the last of the four-paragraph statement said.

A championship this season appears unlikely as the Mariners went into Wednesday's game with a 20-31 record and in last place in the AL West, eight games behind the Athletics.

Griffey batted .184 (18-for-98) with no home runs and seven RBIs this season as the designated hitter and had just one at-bat in the Mariners' past seven games, grounding into a fielder's choice in the ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance on Monday night.

His final hit at Safeco Field came on May 20, a walk-off pinch-hit single in the ninth that gave the Mariners a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

But his overall lack of production, reduction in playing time and a recent flap over a clubhouse nap during a game apparently were the major factors in Griffey calling it quits.

"While I feel I am still able to make a contribution on the field, and nobody in the front office 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 the 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."

Armstrong, who has been a loyal fan and backer of Griffey throughout Junior's career, said he had been talking to the franchise icon and his agent, Brian Goldberg, for the past several days.

"I was surprised by the swiftness of Kenny's decision," said Armstrong, who received a phone call from Goldberg on Wednesday morning, and talked to Griffey later in the day.

He said Griffey "is at peace" with the decision.

All-time homer leaders
Player Homers Seasons
Barry Bonds 762 22
Hank Aaron 755 23
Babe Ruth 714 22
Willie Mays 660 22
Ken Griffey Jr. 630 22
Sammy Sosa 609 18
Alex Rodriguez 590 17
Frank Robinson 586 21
Mark McGwire 583 16
Harmon Killebrew 573 22
There apparently were no attempts by anyone in the organization to change Griffey's mind.

"It's very difficult with the lack of playing time and the way the situation ended up, but there's so much respect for Junior in this clubhouse," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It's a tough day to swallow the fact that you're losing a guy from the game that's been a legend and maybe one of the greatest players who's ever played the game."

It was not immediately known when Griffey would return to Safeco Field to either meet the media for a farewell press conference or on the field to personally thank the fans, which he did in the statement: "Thanks to all of you for welcoming me back, and thanks again to everyone over the years that has played a part in the success of my career."

Zduriencik was not familiar with Griffey's impact on Mariners baseball in Seattle but became acutely aware of his popularity.

"We thank him for what he did. His contributions were tremendous. What he meant to the club last year, all the fun he had in the clubhouse, and the way he contributed on the field. He's a class person.

"It is rare in this game when you get an opportunity to reunite a player and a team. We feel honored that Ken was able to end his career where it began, here in Seattle."

The first overall pick in the 1987 First-Year Player Draft, Griffey played his first 11 seasons with Seattle, before spending the next eight and half with the Reds. He played a brief stint with the White Sox in the second half of the 2008 season, before returning home to the Mariners prior to last season, when he batted .213, hit 19 home runs and drove in 57 runs.

But he meant more than numbers.

He and fellow veteran Mike Sweeney completely changed the clubhouse atmosphere with their leadership. Their influence played a huge role in the Mariners having a MLB-best 24-game improvement in the win-loss department.

More of the same was expected this season, but it never happened.

"I don't think we contemplated this," Zduriencik said. "What we hoped for was that this would be a good year for everybody, Kenny and for the ballclub. We've had our bumps this year."

Even so, there were no regrets bringing Griffey back in the first place.

"We are extremely appreciative of everything Ken has meant to this organization and to the city," Zduriencik said. "It's an end of an era. He is a sensational, tremendous baseball player, a great person and I feel honored to have been around Ken for a year and half.

"You get to the point in every superstar's career when it kind of winds down. Ken has made the decision that this is the time and we support him 100 percent. If there is anything the Seattle Mariners can do for Ken Griffey and his family, we're there for him."

Fans attending Wednesday night's game were informed of Griffey's decision prior to the first pitch and the grounds crew put Griffey's No. 24 in sand behind second base.

"This is a tough day for the people of our community who have loved Ken, admired him as a tremendous baseball player and a great human being," 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. We certainly support it and we will honor him in every way possible."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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