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Griffey Nixes Atlanta, Returning To Seattle

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - Ken Griffey Jr. has decided to return to
the Seattle Mariners.
"He's coming home. ... I can't begin to tell you how ecstatic
we are. He is, too," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said
in confirming the deal Wednesday night.
Zduriencik called Griffey "arguably one of the greatest
athletes to ever play in the Seattle area."
The 39-year-old star's contract is for one year and believed to
be worth $2 million in base salary, plus incentives.
"Ken is extremely excited to be coming back to Seattle,"
Zduriencik said.
Atlanta appeared to be Griffey's choice on Tuesday for the same
reason the former Mariners star left Seattle in 2000: geography.
The Braves' spring training camp is about a 20-minute drive from
the Griffey family home in Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta is about an
hour away by plane.
But after conflicting reports about where the aging star would
settle, Griffey ultimately chose to follow through on his
proclamation two years ago when he came to Seattle while playing
with the Reds - that he wanted to finish his career as a Mariner.
"We were informed tonight that Ken Griffey Jr. has decided to
return to Seattle," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We
will continue to be open to other possibilities to improve our
outfield offense and, at the same time, give our young players an
opportunity to show us they can win that job."
Zduriencik said the Mariners were the beneficiaries of Griffey
wanting to cement his legacy in Seattle.
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.
"Everyone knows Ken Griffey is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and
he's returning to his roots. That doesn't happen too often."
The Mariners have a job as designated hitter and perhaps in left
field waiting for him for 2009. The Braves were offering a spot in
the outfield - plus that cherished proximity to home.
Griffey is fifth on baseball's career home run list with 611.
He made his first opening day start with the Mariners as a
19-year-old in 1989. He stayed for 11 seasons and through 10
All-Star games before he asked for a trade closer to his home. The
Mariners obliged by sending him to Cincinnati just before the 2000
season.
Griffey's return is a jolt for the Mariners, the first team with
a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games - last season.
"A rejuvenated Ken Griffey coming back to where he started has
to be a fabulous motivator for him," Zduriencik said.
The GM had been trying to add a power hitter, and specifically a
designated hitter, for months and was also talking to the agent for
free agent Garret Anderson. The Mariners prefer a left-handed bat
because the dimensions of pitcher-friendly Safeco Field are
shortest in right field.
The configuration fits the left-handed Griffey so well, the
Mariners presented him with a framed photo of their stadium before
a Reds-Mariners game in 2007, with the words "The House that
Griffey Built" across the top. Griffey played just half a season
in it before getting the trade he demanded.
Yet the fans in Seattle still love "Junior."
Griffey has been hampered by injuries since he left and had
arthroscopic knee surgery following the 2008 season, the last half
of which he spent with the White Sox. Zduriencik said the Mariners'
extensive research, which ended with Griffey passing a physical in
Arizona on Sunday, convinced the team he is as healthy as he's been
in years.
He is the Mariners' career leader in home runs (398), slugging
percentage (.569) and trails only Edgar Martinez in team history in
games played with 1,535. He's also second to Martinez in Seattle
history in hits, RBIs, extra-base hits, at-bats, doubles, runs and
total bases.
Seattle's starting outfield currently has Ichiro Suzuki in right
field, Franklin Gutierrez in center and question marks in left, and
Zduriencik left open the possibility Griffey could play in the
field.
The loss of Griffey was another major disappointment in
Atlanta's efforts to rebuild following a 72-90 season - their worst
since 1990.
In the offseason, they unsuccessfully pursued a trade for San
Diego ace Jake Peavy and were spurned by free agent pitcher A.J.
Burnett. Team officials also thought they had a $30 million,
three-year deal to bring shortstop Rafael Furcal back to Atlanta,
but he wound up re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers - a
development that enraged the Braves.
Atlanta also lost longtime ace John Smoltz. The only player in
baseball history with 200 wins and 150 saves signed with the Boston
Red Sox, after having spent his entire career with the Braves.
Now Griffey is coming back to where he spent the heyday of his
career - to Seattle.
"I know in his heart of hearts," Zduriencik said, "he
probably wanted to be here all along."


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