BY John Hickey 10:02PM 03/16/2011

Griffey a Mariner distraction no more

Icon returns, talks about — one final time — his 2010 troubles.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr.s first day as a Mariner special consultant looked back at what happened in 2010.

Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t upset when he left the Seattle Mariners two months into the 2010 season, calling from the road that he was done and driving back to his home in Florida.

How do we know this?

Griffey said so Wednesday, when he showed up in Peoria and talked for the first time about his abrupt decision to leave baseball behind, at least as an active player.

At the time he certainly seemed upset. There was the issue of decreasing playing time. And the issue that was no longer able to hit to his standards. There were the nagging injuries. And he was fried when unnamed teammates said he’d been sleeping in the clubhouse in a game.

Griffey has resisted talking about what happened for about nine months now, and it was clear he wasn’t crazy about addressing the issue of his departure even now. As the newest member of the Seattle front office, Griffey said Wednesday this would be the only time he’d talk about that part of his past.

“Things happen; I’m not upset,’’ Griffey said. “I think people thought I was upset at certain things. That wasn’t the case. I just felt it was more important to retire instead of being a distraction.’’

During the course of the almost 20 minutes in which he sat and talked with the Seattle media Wednesday, the word “distraction’’ came up a lot.

Griffey said he’d made a vow to himself and to the Mariners that if and when he became a distraction that would be his cue to quit.

“Last year I felt that it was necessary for me to remove myself from the team. I had told Chuck (Armstrong, the club president) and Howard (Lincoln, the team CEO) … that if I became a distraction then I would retire. One thing I didn’t want to be come was a distraction to the organization.

“It no longer became the Seattle Mariners, it became, `When is Ken doing this? When is Ken doing that?’ I didn’t want my teammates, who I truly care about, having to answer these kinds of questions day in and day out.’’

It’s certainly true that Griffey’s teammates were caught in the middle last year when things went sour between manager Don Wakamatsu and Griffey. Wakamatsu, who was fired a couple of months after Griffey left, agonized about writing Griffey’s name in the lineup day after day without getting any productivity for it.

And while it was a couple of Griffey’s teammates who brought up the sleeping issue, not Wakamatsu, but those close to Griffey said later the Mariner DH thought at the time it was Wakamatsu who was the source of those stories.

The two men had been close in 2009, when in Wakamatsu’s first year as a manager and Griffey’s first year back with the Mariners after a nine-year absence, Seattle won 85 games while playing an exciting, competitive brand of baseball.

At one point Griffey had a family photo of Wakamatsu altered to have Griffey included in it. When Wakamatsu instituted a coat-and-tie rule for some team flights, Griffey had a couple of different ties made, one with Wakamatsu on them and another with Griffey on them, and gave one to each member of the traveling party.

But that was a year when he contributed 19 homers and 57 RBIs and bundles of team leadership, and while he didn’t hit for much of an average (.214), he walked 63 times, he was a valued teammate.

A year later, he didn’t homer at all and had just seven RBIs in 98 at-bats and a .184 average, which made it tough for Wakamatsu to put him into the lineup as often as Griffey believed he should be.

The relationship went sour. It wasn’t the only relationship in the organization to be strained, to be sure, but it was a significant problem with Griffey and Wakamatsu not talking to one another the final two weeks of Griffey’s tenure. One might even say it was a distraction.

If fans are expecting Griffey to apologize for the suddenness of his departure and his decision not to talk about it until now, they shouldn’t.

“You want me to apologize for something that I felt was right?’’ he asked rhetorically. “I felt that it was right for me to leave. I’m not going to do it (apologize). Because it was not intended to hurt people. It was a decision that I made. There are some people who are upset and some people who are not. I can’t worry about it. I had to do what I thought was right for me.’’

Griffey and Wakamatsu, now a coach with the Toronto Blue Jays, have not talked since Griffey’s quick exit. Asked about that Wednesday, Griffey said “My phone rings.’’

Presumably it dials, too, but maybe with Wakamatsu no longer in the organization it’s not an issue.

What is an issue is Griffey’s status with the club. He’s back as a special consultant to the club. He’s going to talk with players in the organization, particularly minor leaguers, about what it means to be a pro and what they can expect from being a Mariner.

Griffey said he’s ready for that part of his life to begin.

“I’m happy to be back,’’ he said. “I’m glad the Mariners gave me an opportunity to be a part of the future and what goes on from here on out. I look forward to the challenges and I think it’s going to be fun.

“It’s a lot of learning, because it is a little different. I am still going to be the same person. I am not going to change. You are going to know exactly how I feel. It is a chance to help kids get better.’’

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts