Thursday, February 19, 2009
Icons told Griffey to consider legacy
By Jerry Crasnick ESPN.com
Ken Griffey Jr. will join Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in the Hall of Fame one day. On Wednesday, the two baseball icons and Griffey's 13-year-old daughter played pivotal roles in helping him decide where he would be making the final stop in his illustrious career.
Griffey spoke by phone with both Mays and Aaron on Wednesday while trying to choose between signing with the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves, said his agent, Brian Goldberg.
Aaron, a senior vice president for the Braves, lobbied for Atlanta, while Mays refrained from recommending either club. But they both made an observation about Griffey's long-term legacy that struck a chord with him.
Caple: Where you belong
From Jim Caple's viewpoint, Ken Griffey Jr. may have wrestled with his decision, but one thing is for certain: He's going to feel a lot of love when he returns to Safeco Field.Story
"Willie hit on it a little harder, but they both said, 'You have to do what you want to do,' " Goldberg said. "They told him, 'You might have to make some short-term sacrifices. But the bottom line is, 'Go by how you want to be remembered for the next 50 years after you're done.' "
Both Hall of Famers were speaking from personal experience. While Mays will be forever known as a Giant, he played 135 forgettable games with the Mets in his early 40s. Aaron, a perennial All-Star with the Braves, hit .234 and .229 at the tail end of his career as a Milwaukee Brewer.
Griffey ended several days of introspection, speculation and premature reports of "done deals" when he signed a one-year, guaranteed $2 million contract with Seattle. He's returning to the franchise where he made the American League All-Star team and won a Gold Glove every year in the 1990s, and was such a local treasure that Safeco Field is known as "The House That Griffey Built."
The money was not a significant factor. Atlanta offered a base salary similar to what Griffey received from Seattle, with incentives that could have raised the deal to about $3 million, sources said. Griffey's deal with the Mariners will top out at $4.5 million if he attains incentives based on plate appearances and team attendance.
Griffey had a hectic few days before making the final call. Late last week, a reunion with Seattle seemed inevitable. After playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament in California, Griffey traveled to Arizona on Sunday with his wife, Melissa, to meet with Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu. He also took a physical exam with the Mariners.
Ken Griffey, shown here in 1998, made his choice to return to Seattle after talking with his daughter, Taryn.
Then Atlanta entered the equation. Third baseman Chipper Jones lobbied for Griffey to sign with the Braves, and manager Bobby Cox expressed his enthusiasm for the move. The convenience factor definitely worked in the Braves' favor; Griffey lives in Orlando, Fla., a 20-minute drive from the Braves' spring training site and a one-hour flight from Atlanta.
Griffey was also enthused over the prospect of spending more time watching his teenage daughter, Taryn, play for an AAU basketball team that's based in suburban Atlanta. But it was Taryn, ultimately, who helped seal his decision to sign with Seattle.
"She told him, 'Dad, I really think you should go back to the Mariners and not have any regrets about how you finished,'" Goldberg said. "That kind of put it over the top."
Griffey is extremely close to Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln and club president Chuck Armstrong, and indications are the Mariners will have some kind of role in the organization available for him when he retires. He'll also go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner.
This season, Griffey will play left field in Seattle and spend some time at designated hitter to ease the strain on his surgically repaired left knee. Although he's not close to the Griffey of old, he averaged 31 homers and 86 RBIs a season with Cincinnati from 2005 to 2007. Seattle's offense needs all the help it can get after the Mariners ranked 13th in the American League in runs in 2008.
As for the Braves, they're ready to move on after missing out on Griffey. Amid speculation that the team might have an interest in free agent Garret Anderson or continue to pursue a trade for the Yankees' Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady, it appears the Braves are more inclined to go with their young outfielders.
That means Jordan Schafer, Brandon Jones, Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson will get extensive looks in camp. Jeff Francoeur is Atlanta's regular right fielder, while the Braves had envisioned Griffey as the left-handed half of a platoon arrangement with Matt Diaz in left field.
"I think we are going to be open-minded and look at our kids and give them a chance," Braves general manager Frank Wren said Thursday.
Jerry Crasnick covers major league baseball for ESPN.com.